September 17, 2019 / 12:04 PM / a month ago

INTERVIEW-Fund smarter to switch on lights for the poor - UN envoy

BARCELONA, Sept 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Everyone in the world could be provided with clean, affordable electric power by a global deadline of 2030 if international funding toward the effort is used more intelligently, the U.N. official in charge of the task said.

Rachel Kyte, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for sustainable energy for all, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation finance was not being directed as needed to reach the 840 million people still living without electricity.

“It’s not like we have to go out and find a lot of new money,” she said in a telephone interview from Vienna.

“We can use the resources that we already have, deploy them better ... and we would get better results,” said Kyte, who will step down at the end of September as head of the international body working to meet global energy access goals.

Tens of billions of dollars in aid committed by rich countries are sitting unspent, she said, partly because developing-state governments find the multitude of requirements for accessing different pots of money bewildering.

Meanwhile, development agencies are channelling too little to places with the least clean energy access - put off by instability in many - and paltry amounts to off-grid renewables such as solar power that are the best way to get power to the rural poor, Kyte said.

But she hopes a clean investment platform, to be launched at a U.N. climate action summit in New York on Monday, will help developing countries - which are “screaming that the money is not flowing” - to navigate the fragmented funding system.

The open-source platform plans to push donors - from development banks to international funds and governments - to team up to guide poorer nations on reforming regulation, creating markets, preparing projects and where to seek finance.

“The idea is... (not) to duplicate what anybody else already does. It is an attempt to start forcing them to work together,” Kyte said.

Her organisation, Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), has been helping prepare initiatives for the U.N. summit, aiming to raise investment in a global transition to clean energy and low-carbon economies, without neglecting the neediest.

The former World Bank climate envoy said there would likely be new alliances of governments and businesses announced to cut planet-warming emissions from shipping, and to speed up improvements in energy efficiency.

“Despite the fact you may have some insular, national populism in some parts of the world, coalitions are still forming among those countries that want to see action spurred forward,” Kyte said.

Governments in the United States, Brazil and Australia that oppose deeper and faster emissions cuts are “a shadow moving over the light”, she said.

She urged support for people pressing on with efforts to curb climate change in those countries despite hostile politics.

A big part of the Sept. 23 summit will be showing “what climate leadership looks like”, she added.

‘NO EXCUSE’

Kyte, who has led SEforALL since early 2016, will take up a new post in October as dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

She will be the first woman to lead the United States’ oldest graduate-only school of international affairs, her alma mater.

She will use her experience in pushing global efforts to tackle climate change to equip the world’s fledgling diplomats with the expertise to take that work forward, she said.

Younger generations are “blowing a whistle” on global warming - which can be uncomfortable not just for climate change sceptics but for many older people in the environmental movement too, she noted.

As students increasingly take to the streets calling for urgent action, and more businesses show a “can-do” attitude, it is time for governments to stop “faffing around”, said the straight-talking expert from the east of England.

Kyte, who lives in the United States and has two children, said there was “no excuse” for the world to miss its 2030 goal to provide electric power to all those still living without it, about two-thirds of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

“We know who they are, we know what they need, and we know how to get it to them,” she said.

"It won't be easy but it's not beyond our capability. If we can't muster ourselves to solve a problem for one in seven people on the planet, then who are we?" (Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)

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