History of Energy in the Sustainable Development Agenda
The complex challenges of energy and sustainable development were highlighted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Energy was discussed throughout Agenda 21. Agenda 21 highlighted the fact that current levels of energy consumption and production are not sustainable, especially if demand continues to increase, and stressed the importance of using energy resources in a way that is consistent with the aims of protecting human health, the atmosphere, and the natural environment.
Nevertheless, energy was not explicitly considered in the Millennium Development Goals, but at the 9th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-9), held in 2001, countries agreed that stronger emphasis should be placed on the development, implementation, and transfer of cleaner, more efficient energy technologies and that urgent action was required to further develop and expand the role of alternative energy sources.
The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI), adopted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, addressed energy in the context of sustainable development. Among other things, the JPOI called for action to: (1) improve access to reliable, affordable, economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally sound energy services; (2) recognize that energy services have positive impacts on poverty eradication and the improvement of standards of living; (3) develop and disseminate alternative energy technologies with the aim of giving a greater share of the energy mix to renewable energy and, with a sense of urgency, substantially increase the global share of renewable energy sources; (4) diversify energy supply by developing advanced, cleaner, more efficient and cost-effective energy technologies; (5) combine a range of energy technologies, including advanced and cleaner fossil fuel technologies to meet the growing need for energy services; (6) accelerate the development, dissemination and deployment of affordable and cleaner energy efficiency and energy conservation technologies; (7) take action, where appropriate, to phase out subsidies in this area that inhibit sustainable development.
In 2004, UN-Energy was created in response from a call of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development for a more coordinated and coherent programme on energy activities by UN agencies. CSD-14 and CSD-15 in 2006 and 2007 focused on a cluster of thematic issues, which included energy for sustainable development.
In 2011, the Sustainable Energy for All initiative was created by the UN Secretary-General to pursue three major objectives by 2030: ensuring universal energy access to modern energy services, doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
In 2012, the resolution by the UN General Assembly declaring 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All was successfully implemented with many activities and commitments promoting a sustainable energy future. In the outcome of the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development (The Future We Want) in the same year, Member States: (1) recognize the critical role that energy play in the development process; (2) emphasize the need to address the challenge of access to sustainable modern energy services for all; and (3) recognize that improving energy efficiency, increasing the share of renewable energy and cleaner and energy-efficient technologies are important for sustainable development.
In 2014, the resolution by the UN General Assembly declaring 2014-2024 the United Nations Decade of Sustainable Energy for All entered into effect with many activities and commitments, and with the establishment of technical hubs around the world to accelerate the objectives of the SEforALL initiative. Also in 2014, the UN General Assembly proposed a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which included a dedicated and stand-alone goal on energy. SDG #7 calls to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all".
In 2015, intergovernmental negotiations continue on defining a corresponding set of indicators for monitoring progress towards the SDGs and their related targets.
As of 2015, energy stands at the centre of global efforts to induce a paradigm shift towards low-carbon energy systems, green economies, poverty eradication and ultimately sustainable development.