Michelle Bachelet’s keynote speech at the EU Summit on Sustainable Energy for All

Date: Monday, April 16, 2012

Speech delivered by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet at the EU Summit on Sustainable Energy for All in Brussels, on Monday 16 April, 2012.

[Check against delivery]

Mr. Chair,

Honourable Ministers,

United Nations Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to join you today at this EU Summit on Sustainable Energy for All.

Here in Brussels and other cities around the world, lights stay on all night and can be seen from space in satellite images.

If you've seen the global map of night-time luminosity, you see a geography of intensive economic activity. Each white dot on the map represents the light of a city, and you can see Western Europe aglow with night lights as are other regions of the world.

But if you look at the Sahara of northern Africa, the jungles of south-central Africa, and large areas of the Amazon basis, you see darkness, areas largely void of light.

You can imagine rural families going to sleep in total darkness, with no light to read by, no way to charge a mobile phone, no electrical appliances.

Even here in Europe, most houses were without gas or electricity until the 20th century. Then rapid industrialization made electrical transmission lines and grids a critical part of the economic infrastructure in most industrialized nations.

Today emerging economies are experiencing rapid growth and development, and yet one in five people on our planet, more than 1.3 billion people, as we have heard, still lack access to electricity.

So I thank the European Commission and the Danish Presidency of the Council of the European Union for organizing this timely and relevant EU Summit on Sustainable Energy for All. This meeting is so important for Rio+20, the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June.

Every person should have access to energy. And with climate change, we need to reduce CO2 emissions and move to energy that is efficient and renewable. The current model of development is not sustainable.

Today I will argue that we need to place inclusion and equity at the forefront of our efforts. Any serious shift towards sustainable development requires gender equality.

This is why I especially thank the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, Mr. Christian Friis Bach, and the EU Commissioner for Development, Ms. Andris Piebalgs, for their leadership in bringing a strong focus on gender equality and women's empowerment to the agenda of this Summit.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A quarter of a century ago, the Brundtland report introduced the concept of sustainable development as a new paradigm for economic growth, social equality and environmental sustainability. Yet while the concept has been embraced, we have yet to translate it into reality.

The recent report of the Secretary-General's High Level Panel on Global Sustainability puts forth a vision to eradi­cate poverty, reduce inequality and make growth inclusive, and production and consumption more sustainable, while combating climate change and respecting a range of other plan­etary boundaries. It says it is time to empower people to make sustainable choices.

But for too many of us, the problem is not unsustainable choices, but a lack of choices in the first place. And this is especially true for girls and women.

Real choice is only possible once human rights, basic needs, and human security are assured. That is why sustainable development requires governments to deliver on their international commitments to eradicate poverty, to promote human rights and human security, and to advance gender equality.

Today we see that poor women, especially in rural areas, are particularly affected by the continued depletion of natural resources. They are on the frontlines. They bear primary responsibility for ensuring and sustaining their household's needs for energy, food and water. They are overworked and under-paid, if paid at all, and have very few choices.

Today some 2.7 billion people rely on open fires and the traditional use of biomass for cooking. Almost half of the world's population still depends on solid fuels such as wood, dung, crop waste, coal or charcoal.

It is estimated that poor rural women can work as many as 16 to 18 hours a day, doing fieldwork as well as handling other domestic responsibilities, most of which is unpaid. They are responsible for water collection in almost two-thirds of households in developing countries.

In Fiji, for instance, women spend around 35 hours each week on cooking and washing. And, this represents only half of all their time spent on household chores.

Therefore energy policies need to address two neglected but very important issues: the time poverty experienced by women and the ill-health they experience from the smoke and soot from cooking.

The opportunity cost of these activities frequently excludes women from undertaking income generating activities, which deprives poor families of much needed income.

By investing in infrastructure and time- and labour saving technologies, such as renewable fuels, fuel-saving stoves and mills, more time can be freed up for women and this will expand their freedom and opportunities.

In Kenya, improved stoves have reduced fuel wood requirements by some 40 percent. This has reduced deforestation, and freed up time that women can devote to education and paid employment, which will reduce poverty.

Furthermore, as I mentioned, cooking from biomass is very harmful to the health of women and children. Of the two million annual deaths attributed to indoor air pollution resulting from smoke generated by fuels such as coal, wood, charcoal and dung, 85 percent are women and children who die from cancer, respiratory infections and lung disease.

And these numbers are not going down, they are on the rise. If drastic action is not taken, by the year 2030, over 4,000 people will die prematurely each and every day from household air pollution.

So clearly this is a matter of life and death. And the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is part of the solution. This public-private partnership is working to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and combat climate change by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions.

The Alliance's ‘100 by '20' goal calls for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020.

Solutions include biogas digesters and solar cookers that offer lower emission options for cooking than traditional biomass stoves. In India, introducing 150 million cleaner burning biomass cook stoves over a 10-year period could mean 2.2 million avoided deaths. It has also been estimated that one improved stove—requiring 50 percent less biomass fuel—can reduce greenhouse gasses by one to two tonnes per year.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Women's access to energy contributes substantially to their empowerment and sustainable development. Women are acutely aware of this reality and, in many parts of the world, have formed groups to work collaboratively in setting up community-based energy initiatives.

One such initiative is the Solid Waste Management and Community Mobilization Programme in Nepal. Reaching more than 1,000 households and businesses, the programme recycles landfill organic waste and uses it to produce gaseous energy called biogas.

It is led by women and run by a women's environment committee. It promotes poverty reduction, social capital, solidarity and environmental protection within the community. It also reduces the time burden of women since they no longer need to walk long distances to collect firewood.

UN Women is also working with the Barefoot College of India promoting community managed and owned solar lighting. Under this program, rural African women travel to India to get hands-on training to become solar engineers, each covering 60 households within their communities.

These rural women return home with the capacity to fabricate, install and maintain solar lighting systems and the knowledge to ensure that their villages become technically and financially self-sufficient.

While these small-scale interventions are impressive and moving in the right direction, they are not enough to sustain the energy needs of future generations.

As the global population grows from the current 7 billion to almost 9 billion by 2040, and the number of middle-class consumers increases by 3 billion over the next 20 years, the demand for resources will rise exponentially.

By 2030, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water — all at a time when environmental boundaries are throwing up new limits to supply.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Needless to say, bringing energy to women will open up a world of possibilities that will benefit women and all of us.

If energy were universally available, whole windows of new opportunities would open up for women, including access to modern means of communication and information, new livelihood and training options and even leisure time. Realizing these opportunities will involve a sustained push to connect communities which remain off the electrical grid.

Today countries have the opportunity to leap-frog directly to clean energy sources, such as solar and wind energy. In Brazil, for instance, the share of renewable energy in power generation is over 80 per cent.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 2011 showed a record $206 billion in total clean energy investment — five times the total obtained only seven years ago. This includes an increase in total investment in solar power to $136 billion. Simultaneously, over the past decade the energy intensity of the world economies has continued to decline. Notwithstanding these advances, the energy sector continues to face major challenges in all dimensions of sustainable development.

Although we need to do more research on the gender dimension of energy use, especially within the household, it is becoming clearer and clearer that women and men utilize energy differently and are affected by energy policy in various ways.

Recent studies have shown that in Europe, for instance, single men used up to 22 per cent more energy - directly and indirectly - than single women. Women have also been found to be more receptive than men to energy conservation efforts and more willing to change their everyday behavior to save energy.

In response, we need sustainable and equitable energy policies and programmes that involve local communities and women. Today energy policies not only distort the true costs of environmental damage and social exclusion, but can also favour the wealthy through the provision of unfair subsidies.

In Indonesia, for example, it was found that the top 40% of high income families benefited from 70 per cent of energy subsidies while the bottom 40% of low income families benefited from only 15 per cent.

So the shift to sustainable development requires political will and decisions that go beyond short-term gain and promote inclusion and equity.

Steps need to be taken to promote coherent social, economic and environmental objectives through targeted policies and measures, such as technology development and transfer, public investments and allocation of expenditures, and regulations and incentive systems through subsidies and taxes that encourage reduced pollution, sustainable use of natural resources and equitable distribution of benefits.

We also know that sustainable energy efforts are more successful when women are consulted in the design and implementation of new technologies.

Certain modern household appliances requiring modern energy, such as modern clean cooking stoves, are generally developed by male engineers in laboratories rather than with inputs from or in consultations with the end-users, whom we know tend to be women.

This top-down approach has led to failure to take into account local and cultural contexts, such as local cooking traditions and preferences; and the limited capacity of poor households to afford or carry out maintenance or replace spare parts of energy technologies.

How can we then ensure stronger linkages with the end-users, in particular women? One way is through stakeholder consultations for key national energy strategies and programmes.

Greater consultation is urgently needed. A review done in 2010 of 423 national climate change adaptation programmes found that only 12 percent of these action plans mentioned women as key stakeholders or primary participants for energy initiatives.

In moving forward, women should be involved at all stages of decision-making processes within the energy and other related sectors. Evidence from India and Nepal suggests that women's involvement in decision-making is associated with better local environmental management. A global study found that countries with higher female parliamentary representation were more prone to ratify international environmental treaties.

Yet in 2012, women occupied less than 6 per cent of all ministerial positions in the field of environment, natural resources and energy.

We also need to make sure that women and girls have equal access to and receive education in areas important to the energy sector, such as science, technology, manufacturing and engineering.

Today only a fifth of students in engineering, manufacturing and construction are female. As a result, the share of women employees in the energy industry remains very low: only 20 percent of the work force. And, these women are mostly working in the non-technical fields.

And this brings me to my main point today. As long as women continue to face discrimination and barriers to their full participation in society, we will not be able to tackle our most pressing challenges. Whether we are talking about participation in the economic or political arena, or the freedom to make decisions about their own lives and bodies, or sustainable energy for all, women continue to be silenced and marginalized. And this social exclusion of women is hurting not just women, it is hurting all of us.

For the sake of current and future generations, we must nurture and develop half of humankind's collective intelligence and capacity. The full and equal participation and leadership of women is no longer an option. It is an urgent necessity if we are to achieve the transformational change that is needed at all levels and spheres of society for sustainable development.

Let me give you an example. In developing countries 43 percent of the agricultural workforce is women. Yet despite their major role in providing food security, women do not enjoy equal access to land, agricultural services and other productive assets, and this limits their output and potential.

The Food and Agriculture Organization finds that if women were provided with the same access as men to fertilizers, seeds and tools, national agricultural yields would rise by between 2.5 and 4 percent and hunger would decline dramatically. There would be 100 million to 150 million fewer hungry people.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If women are given the opportunities and resources, they can become drivers of sustainable development.

Solar energy can provide entire villages with lighting, pumped water, refrigeration, and the electrification of health centers, schools and other public facilities.

Renewable energy can provide a window to the outside world, via access to mobile phones, the Internet, television and radio, and power women's and men's small businesses.

Availability of street lightening can prevent violence against women.

In closing I would like to stress that UN Women fully supports the UN Secretary-General's initiative on Sustainable Energy for All and its three goals to be reached by 2030: universal access to modern energy services; the doubling of the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and the doubling of the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

We believe that sustainable energy for all should be a major goal in the post-2015 development agenda. All stakeholders need to get involved, from Governments and the international community, to civil society and the private sector.

We need research that measures the sustained social exclusion of women and quantifies the economic cost of this tremendous lost potential. We need an international monitoring system to assess progress.

We need improvements in gender statistics and sex-disaggregated targets, indicators and data collection to promote enhanced accountability and transparency. Gender equality in energy access should be an explicit principle and component for global energy governance.

It is time to empower women.

UN Women looks forward to working with all of you to ensure sustainable energy for all in a world that is more equitable.

I thank you.