Sustainable Development Goals – considerations from Latin America

Sustainable energy is one of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) that the UN has come up with. Lillian Sol Cueva reflects what this means for Latin America and how the goal could be achieved.

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A sustainable energy system needs to accomplish more than just carbon neutrality. (Photo by Cristiano Oliveira, CC BY-NC 2.0)


In June 2012, it was agreed by the Member States of the United Nations to start a process to set a new development agenda: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals transfer the methodology of the poverty-focused Millennium Development Goals and the environmental-focused Agenda 21 to meet the sustainability development challenge based on the economic, social and environmental pillars of development. The SDGs address challenges such as hunger, poverty and environmental degradation plus other topics not considered before, for instance, sustainable urban development, sustainable production and consumption, climate change, among others.

Considering that sustainable energy is a basic precondition to reach development and eradicate poverty, it has been decided that there should be a specific energy goal included in the SDGs agenda.

As a result, Goal 7 of the Open Working Group proposal for SDGs aims to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for allthrough “ensuring universal access to energy”, increasing renewable energy in the global energy mix and improving energy efficiency” globally by 2030. Goal 7 is based on the global initiative SE4ALL promoted by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2011. Indicators for every goal are expected to be decided upon in early 2016.

Considerations from Latin America

In Latin America, almost 95% of the population has access to electricity according to the Inter-American Development Bank. However, it is not based on a just and equitable distribution, since 68 million people (11% of total population) – the majority of them living in rural areas – rely on traditional biomass for cooking as the Renewables 2014 Global Status Report points out; fossil fuels account for 80% to 90% of total energy supply according to the Economic Commission for Latin America; rural women spend up to 2-4 hours collecting/purchasing and administrating firewood and coal as pointed out by the UNDP; and that just about 20-25% of the renewable energy jobs are created for women according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Moreover, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ public hearings, extractive industries have violated several human rights including, among others, violation of the right to adequate standard of living, food, water, health and subsistence as well as the specific indigenous rights to prior consultation, established in the 169 Convention of the International Labor Organization.

Regarding Goal 7 the above-mentioned considerations from Latin America tell us that in order to achieve sustainable development, it has to not only focus on what kind of energy and how much is needed but also on how this energy is provided and to whom. Therefore, to talk about sustainable development Goal 7 content requires not just ensuring access to energy for all, but broader measures that at least tackle the following elements:

  1. It has to consider inequalities and not assume that this is a gender-neutral sector.
  2. It has to be aligned with the human rights framework and promote it.
  3. It has to internalize environmental and social implications.

In conclusion, it is necessary to set indicators in Goal 7 that address the need to change domestic policies and norms in order to reduce negative social and environmental external effects (“do-no-harm indicators”), stop reiterative human rights abuses associated with the exploration and exploitation of – both renewable and non-renewable resources – by host and home States (e.g. Peru hosts Canadian mining companies so Peru is the host State, Canada is the home State), guarantee gender equality, reach economic development for all, and avoid conflict and deepen poverty, inequality and injustice in the region.

Lillian Sol Cueva is a Mexican citizen and holds a degree in International Relations from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a master’s degree in Humanitarian Action from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Her professional experience includes work in public policy, human and womens rights, sustainable development, energy and climate change. She has gained professional experience as a researcher, project coordinator, volunteer and public official in several national and international NGOs, as well as the Mexican government.

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Lillian Sol Cueva

Lillian Sol Cueva is a Mexican citizen and holds a degree in International Relations from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a master’s degree in Humanitarian Action from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Her professional experience includes work in public policy, human and womens rights, sustainable development, energy and climate change. She has gained professional experience as a researcher, project coordinator, volunteer and public official in several national and international NGOs, as well as the Mexican government.

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