2012 has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All (or SE4ALL as some abbreviate it). I’m going to set aside for the moment what “sustainable” energy means, especially in the context of solving the energy poverty problem where the simple equation between sustainability and renewables glosses over a number of factors. What I did want to highlight is the attention this issue has been getting recently, with the formation of the new Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and now a whole set of activities around this SE4All year. While various groups, firms, individuals, scholars, etc. have been working in this space for years, arguably the fact that it is getting a lot more attention at the highest levels of government and international governance bodies should help catalyze some action.
Most recently, the U.N. Secretary General released a vision statement for SE4ALL and announced a high-level working group and technical group for the initiative. Those of you working in this space will, of course, recognized a number of the names. I’m heartened to see a few folks on there that I know will bring some excellent knowledge and intellectual force to the groups. Of course, being ever careful (and slightly cynical), I do worry about these various “Year of XXX.” What does this mean for 2013 when it is no longer the year for sustainable energy. How will any efforts undertaken this year get the long-term support necessary to address energy poverty in a more comprehensive way? After all, the ~1.3 billion without electricity and the ~2.6 billion relying on traditional biomass for cooking are not going to be served in just one year. This is a multi-year and multi-decade issue.