The United Nations General Assembly has designated 2012 as the International Year for Sustainable Energy for All, and Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has appointed a High Level Group on the same topic. But what does it mean?

In this article, Nilsson differentiates between providing access to basic energy services for the world’s poor, such as lighting, cooking and heating for household-level poverty alleviation, and energy services to support larger-scale, long-term development. While the former will have limited impact on our ability to stay within the planetary boundaries, the latter provides a significant challenge.

What will be required, Nilsson argues, is an unprecedented energy transition over the coming three to four decades, backed by strong political endorsement and financial resources. Still, given the stalemate in recent climate talks, the strategic importance for all governments to secure energy for development make it a truly shared agenda and thus, possibly, a more viable avenue for securing global agreements.

If a global agreement in Rio+20 acknowledges the absolute right of all nations to secure energy for long-term development, taking into account potentials for efficiency and renewable supply options, this may unlock some of the rightful concerns of developing countries, he concludes.

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