• English

Expert Opinions

Delivering on the mission of UNECE through energy

Sigurd Heiberg

Independent Consultant


UNECE was established after World War II with a mission that can be summarized in two words:  Never again. An essential tool for fulfilling this has been, and still is, to foster economic interdependence and growth, and to make every effort to secure affordable and sustainable energy.  

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and its member States cannot secure affordable and sustainable energy on their own and in isolation. They need both intergovernmental and public-private partnerships. Governments, investors, industry and civil society need to cooperate. They must mobilize the full and comprehensive use of the convening power of the United Nations to pave the road for success. The responsibility rests with the member States and their ambassadors in Geneva.

The UN allows all affected parties to convene and agree peacefully on how to deal with situations where a resource such as air, water, oil, gas or finance in one country can be exploited or degraded by action in another.  The UN also allows the building of robust functional standards on a multilateral basis. For investors, the standards reduce the risk of them not being able to use the facilities they finance or of the commodities, goods and services they develop not being able to cross international boundaries as foreseen. 

In brief, the obstacles to investment that uncertain framework conditions create need to be removed if the market is to provide the very large amount of capital that is required to reform our energy systems to meet future needs. UNECE’s record of accomplishment in airborne pollution, in international watershed management, in energy (such as with the United Nations Framework Classification for Energy Reserves and Resources) and in sectors such as transport and food is impressive and shows the way.

It is now high time to redouble the efforts in energy!  Industrial history is littered with examples of how investments in energy have flowed and economic growth has flourished when the framework conditions referred to above have been in place – and how investments have dried up and economies stagnated when they have not been. It suffices to refer to Thomas P. Hughes’s Networks of Power–Electrification of Western Society, 1880-1930. Although we will not relive the past, there is always great value in learning from it. Circumstances are different now, but human nature does not change.  

Read more about what UNECE does: