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First Sustainable Energy for All Forum held at UNHQ (4-6 June)

arton4435The first Sustainable Energy for All Forum was held from 4-6 June at UN Headquarters in New York, bringing together approximately 1,000 representatives from governments, the UN and other international organizations, the private sector and civil society active on energy issues.

Day 1 of the Forum was a multi-stakeholder partnerships day and included a thematic segment entitled “Growing the Movement” under which five parallel discussions were held. These sessions focused on civil society’s role in SE4ALL; leveraging multi-stakeholder partnerships; catalyzing business action; harnessing the power of youth; and women’s empowerment to scale up energy access. This was followed by another thematic segment, “Catalyzing Investment through Innovative Business Models,” that explored subjects as diverse as the water, food and energy nexus; and accelerating sustainable energy deployment through support for innovation. The afternoon of day 1 saw a number of parallel multi-stakeholder sessions, followed by segments on “Sharing Knowledge and Experiences, Developing Capacity,” and “Accelerating Country Action.” These segments each included five parallel discussions. Day 2 of the Forum saw the launch of the UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All 2014-2024 and a series of Global Leadership Dialogues, under which parallel panel discussions were held. Day 3 concluded with a High-Level Ministerial Dialogue that focused on energy in the post-2015 development agenda.

UN-NGLS assisted the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in identifying civil society speakers for several of the sessions through an open nomination process. This process led to the inclusion of the following five speakers in the Forum, with travel funding provided for the first three:

Opening Plenary Winona LaDuke - Honor the Earth (Anishinaabe / US)

Panel discussion on “Why SE4ALL Needs Civil Society” Mariam Mohamed Abdallah Abdelhafiz Allam - Arab Youth Climate Movement/IndyACT (Egypt)

Panel discussion on “Scaling up decentralized and ‘bottom-up’ energy solutions” Fabby Tumiwa - Institute for Essential Service Reform (Indonesia)

Parallel session on “Wind for Prosperity” Sergio Oceransky - The Yansa Group (Mexico) Reginald Vachon - World Federation of Engineering Organizations (US)

The remainder of this article focuses on the panel discussion on “Why SE4ALL needs civil society.”

Why SE4ALL needs civil society

This panel discussion, falling under the “Growing the Movement” theme of the SE4ALL Forum, was moderated by Gerard Bos, Director of the Global Business and Biodiversity Programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Panellists included:

> Aaron Leopold, Global Energy Advocate at Practical Action

> Dan Riley, Lead Specialist Renewable Energy Policy at WWF US

> Sarah Wykes, Lead Analyst Climate and Energy at CAFOD

> Mariam Mohamed Abdallah Abdelhafiz Allam of Arab Youth Climate Movement/IndyACT

> Lizeth Zúñiga, Director of the Renewables Association of Nicaragua

> Ishmael Edjekumhene, Executive Director of the Kumasi Institute of Technology, Energy and Environment in Ghana.

Opening the session, moderator Gerard Bos outlined three questions that would frame the discussion:

1. What role can civil society and non-for-profit organizations play in delivering energy to the poorest?

2. What opportunities and challenges does SE4ALL present for a bottom up-participatory approach?

3. What can we learn from innovative public-private partnerships for scaling up energy access in different contexts?

Aaron Leopold and Sara Wykes presented results of a survey that was conducted to better understand the current and potential roles of civil society in the current SE4ALL process. This research was conducted collaboratively between Hivos, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), CAFOD and Practical Action across six countries (Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Zimbabwe) with assistance from other organizations (including at the national, regional and local levels).

The objective behind the research was to gain understanding and insight of how SE4ALL is being implemented at the national level, based on a survey that sought to assess progress in engaging civil society organizations on the following points: commitment by all actors; consultation design; timely engagement; access to information; gender awareness and outreach to vulnerable and excluded groups; capacity building (for informed input); clear roles and responsibilities; and involvement in implementation/monitoring. A “traffic-light” rating was given to each of the categories listed above (green for excellent, yellow for mediocre, red for needing improvement) across all six countries.

Aaron Leopold of Practical Action underscored that the research showed the participation of civil society must be an equal pillar along with the participation of government and the private corporate sector, as the credibility and success of SE4ALL hinges on the meaningful and proactive participation of all stakeholders. He further noted that both civil society and community-based organizations (CBOs) have trusted relationships with people living in poverty and have expertise in designing and delivering energy services. As trust with the affected communities is a critical to sustaining progress on alleviating energy poverty, civil society is an essential actor, he stressed.

Sarah Wykes of CAFOD presented a brief overview of traffic-light responses that came out of the survey, noting that the SE4ALL process was “hovering” over yellow and red. She drew attention to one of the few “green lights”: Zimbabwe’s commitment to multi-stakeholder engagement. Dr. Wykes informed the audience that the survey results show a strong desire from civil society organizations and communities to fully participate in SE4ALL, as they recognize it as a real opportunity to engage in sustainable energy development.

She indicated that the survey looked at levels of inclusion, including: a) how involved civil society was in the design, implementation and monitoring phases of the process; and b) the level of outreach to vulnerable and excluded groups. According to initial findings attempts to involve civil society haven’t been done systematically and process does not seem consistent within different countries that are engaging with SE4ALL. Many civil society respondents indicated that they do not know what happened with their inputs to national consultations, or whether their inputs ending up influencing the final documentation produced by their country. The survey revealed that in all countries, respondents felt that gender considerations had not been truly taken into account, both in terms of who was invited to consultations and also in how well gender issues were ultimately reflected in national planning. Dr. Wykes flagged this as a particular concern given that women and girls’ health and energy access will remain the focus of the first two years of the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All.

Concluding, Dr. Wykes presented three points to improve civil society participation in SE4ALL: 1. commitment from government and private sector actors to ensure civil society participation from the start of national engagement with SE4ALL, along with clear guidelines to help guide participation in all stages of the process;

2. capacity building, including financial and other resources, to enable a broader range of civil society participation; and

3. increased access to relevant documentation and timely dissemination of information to allow sufficient time for civil society to self-organize and prepare inputs.

Dan Riley of WWF-US opened his remarks by underscoring that governments and other stakeholders should understand civil society as partners, facilitators and solution providers.

He drew attention to “a lack of social structures” to promote civil society participation and engagement. Civil society can provide solutions, he explained, to expedite the achievement of national and local goals and objectives. He noted that civil society could create these structures themselves, but this requires self-organization and a shared platform for effective communication. He shared that WWF-US is collaborating with the World Resources Institute on a roadmap to structure such platforms and processes, which will be available soon.

The roadmap aims to provide a practical set of operational instructions that civil society can use: 1. What can and should civil society do? Should they work towards transparency, accountability and finance planning? Should they work on the planning and priority planning at the national level, engaging governance and institutional issues? Can they do all of the above?

2. How should such an engagement platform be structured? Should it be a network? A series of processes?

3. What types of outcomes are expected and what are the capacities needed to push them forward?

4. It should include practical recommendations for scoping exercises for capacity-building options and next steps for rolling out.

Lizeth Zúñiga of Renewables Association of Nicaragua – 38 entities working to develop energy from renewable resources in their country – noted that her association represents 80% of the energy production in Nicaruagua. While the initiative has been regarded as successful, she stressed that civil society engagement in the process could be done more efficiently and comprehensively. Ms. Zúñiga indicated that in Nicaragua, civil society is clearly the voice of local communities and can play a strong role in coordination efforts, at the local, national or regional levels. The challenge is finding the mechanisms to enable the participation, she concluded.

The next panellist, Ishmael Edjekumhene of the Kumasi Institute of Technology, Energy and Environment in Ghana, pointed out that Ghana was the first country to prepare a SE4ALL country action plan. He indicated that the Ghana Action Plan adopts a bottom-up approach, and builds on a project that his organization developed in 2006 that sought to identify the energy needs of people living in poverty, but was never implemented. Civil society was consulted in the development process of the Ghana Action Plan, he said, but the inputs should have been reflected to a greater extent. He further stated that funding for civil society participation is needed, as only those organizations with resources are able to commit to the process.

Mariam Mohamed Abdallah Abdelhafiz Allam of Arab Youth Climate Movement/IndyACT provided a youth perspective on the SE4ALL process, noting that youth from all countries want sustainability and and end to poverty, including energy poverty. She explained that sustainable energy is not just about technology; people will have to change their lifestyles, norms and values to transition from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy. She highlighted the role of civil society in reaching out to communities and helping to make them more resilient to climate change through community based-solutions, emphasizing the need for a bottom-up participatory approach to the design and delivery of services.

In the discussion that followed, participants raised a number of points. A representative of Hivos, based in the Netherlands, called for more attention and financial support for the process at the national level. A representative from IIED noted that a distinction must be made between “decentralized” and “bottom-up” approaches: decentralized is about infrastructure while bottom-up is process. A representative from the Union for the Mediterranean pointed out that governments must work closely with civil society on the same policy processes.

The moderator, Mr. Bos, pointed out in his summary remarks some key points from the discussion. A bottom-up, participatory approach is more likely to result in a durable solution, but participation must exist throughout the process. The local community must be engaged; in that regard civil society has a critical role to play. Partnerships built on trust need to be established between the not-for-profit sector and the private corporate sector, and civil society will help to ensure that sustainable methods are being implemented. Civil society has demonstrated interest to participate fully in the SE4ALL process, but more resources and capacity are critically needed.

More information

For the webcast of the session “Together we’ve got the power: Why SE4ALL needs civil society” click here.

For the webcast of the opening session of the Forum, click here.

Click here to access the IISD SE4ALL Bulletin.

Access the SE4ALL website here.

See also: Poor People’s Energy Outlook (PPEO) 2014

Practical Action has produced the Poor People’s Energy Outlook reports to catalyze change in energy access, and to provide information to support this change. The 2014 edition of the PPEO was launched during the SE4ALL Forum. It looks back at three years of innovative approaches to defining energy access and addressing energy poverty as presented in previous PPEOs. It emphasizes the key enabling role that energy plays in lifting people out of poverty, and the need to focus efforts on boosting the decentralized energy sector to expand energy access.

Access the report here.

Access the webcast of the press conference launching the PPEO 2014 report at the Forum here.

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.


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