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U.N. representative takes part in conversation on clean energy and sustainability

| Thursday, March 21, 2019

Rachel Kyte, CEO of nonprofit organization Sustainable Energy for All and special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General and co-chair of UN-Energy sat down with Ted Fox, executive administrator in the Office of the Provost and host of Notre Dame podcast “With a Side of Knowledge,” on Wednesday evening in the McKenna Hall Auditorium for a conversation revolving around sustainable energy and climate change.

The talk was hosted by the Center for Sustainable Energy at Notre Dame and covered topics including the importance of sustainable energy, Kyte’s experience working in the private and public sector on the national and international level and achieving the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals for renewable energy.

Max Lander | The Observer
Rachel Kyte and Ted Fox speak at Mckenna Hall on the use of sustainable energy in an effort to preserve the environment.

The conversation started on the topic of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), primarily goal number seven, which focuses on developing affordable clean energy. According to the U.N.’s official website, goal seven is divided into three main objectives: ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services, sustainably increasing the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix and to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency. The U.N. aims to meet these goals by 2030.

Much of Kyte’s work involves the promotion of goal seven, which she said is important because of the importance of energy and energy access in the world, especially in relation to other U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

“I can only call SDG seven, or energy, the golden thread,” Kyte said. “Without it you’re going to have a hard time achieving the other goals that you’ve set for yourself.”

While renewable energy on the whole is growing, Kyte said some areas of the world are not meeting the quotas necessary to meet the U.N. goals.

“It’s one of those bizarre parts of the human condition that that which makes sense and would make us better off we don’t do,” she said.

Much of Kyte’s work involves showing people an achievable way forward toward renewable, accessible energy, she said.

“If you can’t imagine what it looks like, it’s difficult to imagine that you can build it, and it’s very difficult to imagine that you can build it in a short period of time,” she said.

In this vain, Kyte also said that a lot of the work she does involves showing different political leaders not only that the U.N. goals are achievable, but also the specific ways that they might be achieved through demonstrating what has worked in the past in comparable situations and why.

“There’s a huge power in that comparison,” Kyte said. “People want to know what works, they want to know what doesn’t work, they also don’t want to be left behind, they don’t want to be embarrassed and they don’t want to be shamed. So, we spend a lot of the time trying to work out what is it that’s working and what are the ingredients in that which are replicable.”

Kyte’s talk with Fox went on to cover not only the work Kyte and her organization do, but also the effect that sustainable energy and increased energy access can have. Kyte said the past few years have seen steps forward in clean energy technology.

“You see the transformative effect of this technology which has dropped in price by 80 percent in just a few years,” Kyte said.“The things that people need and want need energy.”

The effects of increased energy access go beyond simply being able to refrigerate food or being able to switch from a wood-burning to an electric stove, Kyte said, as these energy tools provide people with economic means which they otherwise would not have.

“The people that don’t have energy are often voiceless within their country,” Kyte said.

Kyte said her personal experiences have shed light on the relationship between clean energy and economic mobility.

“I remember being in the northern suburbs of Nairobi talking to a woman who was finding a way to pay for a 40-watt solar panel system, and she started to make some things in the house because she got power, so she could work at night,” shesaid. “So the next thing was that she wanted to buy a refrigerator and then she was going to start making pulp from fruit and start selling that as a base for juice. She had a whole plan, and that plan was realizable because she got her foot on the bottom rung of the ladder of what energy could do for her.”

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