by Giovanni Coppola
United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals: a multilateral perspective about the implementation of objectives’ 1 and 7
How to eradicate poverty? How to ensure energy access to all? These are the questions that for centuries almost every country has asked itself without finding a right answer. In fact, although a series of policies have been implemented, nowadays the data still shows that more than 20% of the global population lives in precarious conditions and doesn’t have access to basic needs such as energy.
Since 1945, U.N. and its partner organizations have always been protagonists in this battle against poverty and starting from 2000s they have established themselves a set of goals in order to enhance humanity’s living standards.
With the present work I am trying to put myself in the shoes of the different stakeholders participating into the drafting process of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals which deal with a wide range of global issues and that from September and for the next 15 years will replace the older and less detailed Millennium Development Goals.
In particular, I will address the following goals:
Goal #1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
- Ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, in order to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, to implement programs and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions.
- Create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions
Goal #7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
- By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology.
- By 2030, expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, in particular least developed countries and small island developing countries
Why the specific choice of these two goals? The answer is simple: they are extremely interrelated since access to basic energy services is a requirement for poverty eradication.
The nations focused on are the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members belonging to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region which comprehends: Algeria, Libya, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
The specific points of view address the following perspectives:
- National Governments
- Intergovernmental Organizations
- Private Sector
- Civil Society
Domestic energy consumption in OPEC countries currently relies exclusively on oil and natural gas, with an electricity demand growth in multiple cities of the region, above gross domestic product (GDP). The population in the region is estimated to grow 2 times within 2010 to 2050, increasing the energy demand per capita, as a result of a varied consumption patterns driving high demand, increasing sometimes up to 3.9% per year of energy use.
Due to the vast land area of the region, the limitations of current public transportation systems, and extensive regime oil subsidies, demand for car fuel and electricity is high and a large amount of oil production is devoted to satisfying local demand. Since most of consumed energy is produced from conventional sources (oil and gas), the energy systems in this region are associated with a large (economic and political) uncertainty and are therefore unsustainable. Furthermore, given their vast potential for renewable technologies (solar in particular), there is a unique opportunity for improving current energy systems.
From the social side, OPEC countries in the MENA countries are experiencing a population growth that translates into an equality gap with tremendous challenges, playing three important elements into account: (1) high youth unemployment; (2) competitive imbalance between nationals and expatriate workers in the private sector, and (3) a low rate of female labor market participation.
Following the current economical and social challenges that the region is facing, as well as the potential opportunities for growth, we have selected the two SDG goals (#1 and #7) that we consider to be interdependently fundamental to the region.
The recommendations presented in this report target a holistic vision for a sustainable future; working towards accessible and clean energy, as well as equitable economic conditions, for all. The implementation process of the recommendations targets all stakeholders and would require their collaboration on various scales – at the global, national, and local levels.
- Developing global standards for green energy and energy efficiency:
Relevant organizations such as the International Energy Agency, International Renewable Energy Agency, and United Nations Environmental Program should come up with global energy standards for a green economy to universalize the shift to clean energy deployment;
- Facilitating global exchange of knowledge and resources:
Creating global conferences and summits on energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment to increase technological knowledge exchange. The annual meetings would allow for stakeholders from developed and developed nations to share technological innovations and successful policy implementations to expedite the process of globalizing equitable green economies. A number of meetings should be devoted to civil society groups and non-governmental organizations to strengthen the roles and voices of the people, especially in the ways energy accessibility are prevalent to alleviating poverty;
- Implementing stricter and more viable monitoring and evaluation measures:
Measures should be taken concerning dimensions that are covered in other SDGs such as access to education, health, natural resources, energy or sanitation a multiplicity of measurements. Developing more accurate indicators for monitoring energy efficiency as well as measuring energy poverty.
- Reforming large energy consuming sectors and infrastructures for more sustainable processes:
The most energy consuming sectors in this region are electricity production (mostly for the industry, but also for residential consumption), transportation, and water desalination. Many measures can be taken to make these infrastructure systems more efficient and sustainable — relying on renewable energy for production (solar power in particular, given its vast potential), developing public transportation systems, reducing electricity and gasoline subsidies, investing in carbon capture and storage (and other technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions), and taxing carbon emissions. The opportunity gain by reducing oil and gas consumption could be used for export then reinvested in renewable energy projects that create employment opportunities locally;
- Expanding clean energy markets in developing countries:
Adding support for clean energy markets by making sure all stakeholders take steps to ensure new financial mechanisms to mitigate risk, revise regulatory frameworks to ensure returns on investment, and create programs of education and capacity building to support thriving markets. Implementing clean energy regulations opens markets for additional technology companies providing cleaner processes in heating and cooling, more efficient buildings and appliances, and smart technologies for demand-side management — while opening employment opportunities for high-skilled local laborers;
- Reforming national electricity production and supply:
Looking into micro-grids as opposed to utility-scale supply (which allow for easier application for photovoltaic technologies), optimization of renewable energy resource supply and demand (such as using concentrated solar thermal for industrial/utility-scale generation and photovoltaic technologies for residential consumer demand), the gradual transformation of national oil companies to holistic energy companies, and exporting a bigger share of oil and gas production as opposed to using it for local consumption with reinvesting profits in clean energy projects;
- Reducing socioeconomic class gap in energy accessibility:
Studying the possibility of creating an electricity cost tier system depending on wealth, where more electricity subsidies are granted for smaller (or working-class) consumers, and higher prices are given for more affluent consumers. Possible to even grant more subsidies for other marginalized groups in society based on gender, sect, or ethnicity; and regulating energy supply and demand by requiring affluent or elite consumers to install micro-grid renewable sources (such as photovoltaics) for partial energy production;
- Enhancing collaboration between national governments, private sectors, and civil societies
Supporting local small and medium enterprises that bring new clean technologies to local markets by adding funding for research and innovation in those fields, and creating incubators and support programs for small companies working on energy innovations. Additionally, targeting foreign investment by allowing foreign companies in energy innovative business to export their products to nations in these regions, while regulating their activities: requiring them to collaborate with local enterprises, setting up quotas for numbers of native workers, requiring training programs for the local populations, and focusing on integration programs of women and other disadvantaged minorities;
- Increasing cross-country collaboration
Increasing global energy accessibility and supply by regulating electricity trade across oil exporting countries. For instance, connecting electrical grids to account for variations in temporal electricity demand and renewable energy supply. Additionally, selling subsidized electricity to poorer nations to maximize global accessibility to electricity and supporting development organizations such as OFID;
- Unifying inter-governmental goals with private sector needs to empower job opportunities.
Private companies have a potential to minimize poverty, focusing in youth unemployment through education. Oil and gas companies have the possibility to re-invest savings coming from the collaboration between private sector and the Ministry of Labor from different countries should work towards a common goal to enhance the skills of the youth Arab workforce, creating key skill development programs, to support and upcoming and growing solar power industry.
Potential Obstacles and Challenges
- National Governments
- Bureaucratic processes in these countries (since they’re developing nations with incompetent infrastructures and decision-making processes).
- Monarchy systems of governance that rely on heavy electricity production subsidies and make integration of renewables difficult without very heavy government subsidies/support.
- Particular weather and climate conditions that add specific energy requirements (water desalination, air-conditioning, etc.).
- Intergovernmental and International Organizations
- OECD/IEA: facilitating negotiations and regulations between different countries with colliding foreign policies.
- UNDP: identifying the target countries and which kind of support do they need as well as raising funds for financial aids.
- OPEC: sustaining a mission based on oil export and production in a world growing with climate change awareness and call to action.
- ILO/UNEP: working with independent agents without agency to overlook or interfere with their governance or policies.
- Private Sector
- Lack of human and industrial expertise/capital to fuel economic growth.
- Bureaucratic processes that increase challenges for foreign and local investment and entrepreneurship
- Infancy/nonexistence of renewable and clean energy sectors and markets
- High subsidies for thermally-produced energy that make renewables deployment costly
- Social and cultural constraints (such as the issue of women) that place obstacles on employment programs and opportunities
- Civil Society
- Working with nondemocratic systems of governance where civil society groups are heavily monitored, censored, and constrained.
- Lack of society awareness of social, political, or cultural issues backed by mobilized action.
- Lack of funding and access to media sources for visibility and more efficient work.
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