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Opening a New Era in Partnership at the UN


By: Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Planning, United Nations

One of the great tectonic shifts of the last fifty years is the explosion in non-state actors on the international stage. Business, finance, philanthropy and civil society all play an increasingly important role in forging creative solutions to shared global challenges. This phenomenon presents both challenges – and significant opportunities – for partnership with the United Nations.

Many of the key issues of our time – climate change, public health, energy, food security – are global in nature. Their effects cut across society. For the United Nations, this means we must collaborate not only with governments, but also with the private sector, civil society, philanthropic organizations, and academic and scientific institutions, to meet the full scope of needs.

Indeed, one of the biggest challenges for the United Nations in the 21st century is addressing these needs and reaching all whom the Organization serves in the most effective, efficient and accountable way possible. To do so, the United Nations is mobilizing the power of partnerships.

The Secretary-General has identified partnership as a top priority for his second term and an increasingly essential element in meeting the Organization’s mandated objectives. Of course, partnership is not a new concept for the UN. Some UN entities have long been involved in partnerships, often with impressive results. Others have yet to enter this space, but are looking to do so.

There is also much that is new about partnerships with the United Nations, including the size, depth, and range of collaboration that has evolved over the last two decades. One of the most promising developments is the rise of large-scale multi-stakeholder engagement, in which the Secretary-General, drawing on his unique convening authority, is able to bring all key stakeholders together around a common table to work in common cause for the common good.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships transcend the capabilities and agendas of any one entity, institution or donor and thus are better equipped to forge comprehensive and innovative cross-cutting solutions to shared global challenges. The Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, for example, has demonstrated the remarkable potential of this multi-stakeholder partnership model.

The Secretary-General has called energy the “golden thread” that connects economic growth, increased social equity, and an environment that allows the world to thrive. However, the task of making sustainable energy available to all is too large for governments alone to undertake. The private sector has a crucial role to play in unleashing the massive investment flows needed to transform the global energy sector.

The Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, launched in September 2011, recognizes that business must be a central player in bringing about this transformation, along with governments, civil society, investors and international institutions. Working together, stakeholders committed to meeting three objectives set by the Secretary-General, to be achieved by 2030: provide universal access to modern energy; double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and double the share of renewables in the global energy mix.

As of the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, over 50 developing countries had begun activities in support of the initiative, including efforts to create more conducive policy frameworks for catalyzing private investment flows. More than one billion people are expected to benefit from tens of billions of dollars in commitments made thus far. These include funds from governments to provide technical assistance and de-risk private investment, as well as from businesses that are expanding activities and investments in renewable energy and energy access and efficiency, both in developed and developing countries. The initiative has also commenced work to establish a global baseline report and monitoring systems to track progress.

This is an impressive start, but it is just the first step. The real work in transforming the world’s energy systems is about to begin. The next phase of Sustainable Energy for All’s work will focus on creating a structure and process that will build on the momentum generated thus far.

Private sector stakeholders can make a significant contribution toward achieving the Sustainable Energy for All objectives, both on their own and – more importantly – through partnerships. Businesses can support sustainable energy throughout their value chain – demanding innovation from their suppliers, in their own operations, and from their partners. Firms can make direct investments, but they can also invest through social and philanthropic projects such as by partnering with local businesses or governments to develop new capacity or new markets.

As advocates in the public policy arena, the private sector should work with governments to identify regulatory policies that will create a thriving market in sustainable energy. Banks and financial institutions can help by developing financial models and instruments to reduce the risk associated with sustainable energy investments while also building expertise to properly assess such projects.

Additionally, energy technology companies can engage in pre-competitive partnerships to bring new technological solutions forward. The Global Compact’s Framework for Business Action provides a template for further substantiating and structuring private sector commitments.

The success of the initiative will ultimately be measured by its impact on the ground: in the lives of those now able to benefit from electricity and other modern energy services, and in communities and countries better equipped to accelerate low-emissions development and green growth.

Multi-stakeholder partnership is the way of the future for the United Nations. Working together, we can help create the future we want – a more prosperous, sustainable, and livable world for us and for our children.

For more information on Sustainable Energy for All, please visit: www.sustainableenergyforall.org/.