The United Nations Foundation’s energy and public affairs team, led by UN Foundation President Timothy E. Wirth, have been in Brazil the past week for the Rio+20 summit. There has been a buzz in the halls about energy, touching two points: There’s a BIG and urgent need to enable everyone in the world to have access to electricity and modern fuels, and that creates a market opportunity.  Those two themes came together in United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s initiative on Sustainable Energy for All, which the UN Foundation has been supporting for the past year.  This week, countries and companies stepped up with specific commitments to action and pledges to invest billions of dollars as part of the global effort to achieve Sustainable Energy for All by 2030.

Nearly 3 billion people in the world – 2 out of every 5 – still rely on dirty, polluting fuels like charcoal to cook their food and heat their homes. Michelle Bachelet, the head of UN Women, reminded us of a heartbreaking fact: Of the nearly two million people a year who die from breathing that smoke, 85 percent are women and children.  Some 1.3 billion people also have no access to electricity or modern fuels that provide light for homes, businesses,  and medical clinics, as well as mechanical power for small businesses.  During Rio+Social this past Tuesday, we were treated to a beamed-in message and mini-concert by Linkin Park from California, urging us to help them Power the World. The moment served as a powerful reminder of the ways in which energy can connect us and provide opportunities, as well as a clear call to action for people to get involved.

The Prime Minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, said the money that small islands spend on imported oil for power generation takes away from education, health, and low-income housing.  With partnerships between governments, businesses, and non-profit groups, we can create change and build a better future.  In fact, a new report from our Energy Access Practitioner Network, bundling recommendations from 350 energy entrepreneurs around the world, shows that clean, renewable energy is not just the best alternative, but also the cheapest in many places.  We made a good start in Rio this week toward increasing access to modern energy services, improving energy efficiency, and using more renewable energy all over the world.  Our challenge now is to deliver continued successes that justify those new investments and make a real difference in people’s lives.

Let’s keep the halls buzzing with talk about energy. Help us today, as we join together to help create a more sustainable future for all.