Commentary by Selene Lawrence, Analyst, G&A Institute
June 4th, 2014
Today I fittingly utilized New York City’s waterways and hitched a ride on the East River Ferry to the United Nations complex, where the first day of panels at the SE4ALL — Sustainable Energy for All — Forum — takes place.
SE4ALL echoes the UN’s Sustainable Development goals, and is also coming on the heels of the most recent Climate Summit, as well as an accelerating movement towards sustainability as a necessary part of our futures as a society.
The initiative has three ambitious global objectives for 2030: (1) universal energy access; (2) twice as much energy efficiency improvement; and (3) doubling the proportion of renewable energy use.
The forum featured a host of big industry players, including representatives of UNDP, World Bank, Bloomberg, WHO, US Department of State, academia — and of course, SE4ALL representatives.
There was a wide range of conversation taking place surrounding the topic of “Energy of Now and of the Future”; the main focal points being access, distribution, and of special interest to me as a representative of Governance & Accountability Institute, reliable and accessible sustainability reporting and data.
One of the sessions that I attended had discussion exploring how the private and public sectors could effectively collaborate on renewable energy solutions. The panel tried to lead as an example, offering spokespersons from the Accenture Foundation such as Executive Director Scott Fast; Zia Kahn, the VP for Initiatives and Strategy of the Rockefeller Foundation; Harvey Rubin, a Professor of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania; and Christine Eibs-Singer the Senior Advisor for SE4ALL.
Various experimental projects from around the world implemented by Accenture and their recruited partners from both the public and private sector were used as examples. The conversation led us to better understanding of the meaningful partnerships that can be developed with academia, NGO’s, investors, and both the private and public sector. This argues that the ability to succeed in Sustainable Development is dependent on the fostering, advocating, and closing of such partnerships.
Depending on the other sectors, and also cross-sector collaboration to break down sectorial silos, was key to the success, we learned, and I believe also key and relevant here in sustainability reporting.
A panel I found most relevant to our work here at G&A and with our partner GRI, was one entitled: Knowledge Hub for SE4ALL: Research consortium & analytical agenda. The panel included the Deputy Director of IIASA, a research and data hub, Nebojsa Nakicenovic ; Vivien Foster, Sector Manager of Sustainable Energy Unit at the World Bank; Letha Tawney from World Resources Institute; and Doug Arent, Acting Center Director of the Strategic Energy Analysis Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.
This panel introduced the SE4ALL data hub, which has a Global Tracking Framework to measure how countries are performing in the field of Sustainable Energy. This resource measures Access to Energy with indicators such as measuring the percentage of a population with an electricity connection, but also looks at Renewable Resources and emissions.
Vivian Foster of the World Bank described the framework; it has encountered difficulty measuring output (common in the field), but its strong point seems to be measuring access.
I met with panel speaker Letha Tawney, the Senior Analyst at WRI, discussing with her which norms companies commonly use to assess their GHG emissions (against other companies’ performance). I asked her how the transparency of GHG emissions and use of renewable energies provided by sustainability reporting for public sector utilities in place now by GRI, and others could be useful here. Also, how SE4ALL indicators could help build on them.
Her response gave voice to the general complaints on the lack of regulation in the reporting numbers that WRI’s corporate partners could actually use. She described it as the dilemma of not using apples-to-apples for comparison, and that reporting in this field should produce numbers that are more useful for comparison. That seems to be the problem across the field, where numerous metrics and frameworks are being produced but few are apples to apples, as the saying goes.
Further collaborations (as emphasized in the earlier panel) between the public and private sectors) might produce solutions. And although sustainability reporting is chiefly intended for stakeholders and the public, reporting is not (yet) regulated, the way financial performance is.
The common question I heard several times during the sessions: why not make the reporting translatable to public policy and the rigors of academic research?
In the USA we are one of the few countries where information about energy output and use is systemically gathered, facilitating comparisons and knowledge that can be easily shared. Having data and information about sustainability issues that is comparable and share-able is the way to make real progress.
At the forum there was considerable buzz about President Barack Obama’s new carbon rule (announced early in the week). This action was cited by speakers on various panels and in informal chatter in the UN complex hallways.
As for sustainability reporting with inclusion of more data and more emphasis on energy, we will soon see if the future has in store for us regulated and standardized metrics for providing data on energy use from the public, private (or both) sectors of our economy.