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We Care Solar was given a platform to speak at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development this week, sharing side event panels with Margaret Chan (Director-General, WHO), Kandeh Yumkella (Chair, UN Energy; Dir-Gen UNIDO), Richenda Van Leeuwen (Exec Dir, Energy and Climate, UN Foundation) and Lakshmi Puri (Deputy Secretary, UN Women), among others. We were also the center of a media event promoting Linkin Park’s Power the World Initiative, hosted by Brazil’s TV celebrity Luciano Huck. Top-level government officials stated that the Solar Suitcase was an exciting part of the solution to help address the problem of energy access for the poor.

We Care Solar participated in the conference as part of the  UN’s Sustainable Energy for All (SEFA) initiative, which links governments, businesses and civil societies working to achieve three complementary objectives by 2030: (1) Ensuring universal access to modern energy services, (2) Doubling the global rate of improvement of energy efficiency, and (3) Doubling the proportion of renewable energy in the global energy mix. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded conference attendees that energy is the “golden thread” that connects all three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.

To date, SEFA has fostered over 100 public commitments, and these were announced at Rio+20. Over the last year, SEFA supported a network of Energy Access Practitioners, bringing together working groups composed of 100’s of non-profit and for-profit entities from the renewable energy sector. Working within five main areas, the practitioners developed a set of recommendations to inform the UN, policy makers, civil society organizations, and social enterprises about ways to accelerate initiatives to bring clean energy solutions to the poor.  We Care Solar was co-chair of the Energy and Health working groupThe practitioner recommendations were summarized in a report, entitled Energy Access Practitioner Network: Towards Achieving Universal Energy Access by 2030, which was officially launched at Rio. You can read more about the practitioner’s report here.

At conference panels organized by WHO, UN Energy, and UN Foundation, Laura Stachel advocated for stronger initiatives to bring reliable electricity to health facilities, thereby avoiding needless mortality and morbidity and supporting the Millennial Development Goals. By presenting examples from our studies in West Africa, we gave face to the struggles health care workers face in trying to provide critical care, reminding conference participants that electricity is necessary for sterilizing equipment, running diagnostic tests, performing surgeries, monitoring patients, and conducting safe deliveries.  We provided evidence that even a modest amount of power can transform health care, citing We Care Solar’s efforts to bring light, mobile communication, and hope to energy-poor regions. Most dramatic was an example from the DR Congo, where Dr. Jacques Sebisaho treated a village outbreak of cholera using the Solar Suitcase. For the first time in the history of the village, patients were monitored and treated throughout the night, and not a single person died. In the past, Dr. Sebisaho did not have reliable power, and would typically lose 50% of his cholera patients, most often when there was no light.

In addition to official presentations at the Rio+20, We Care Solar was highlighted at the Rio+20 Social event, when Linkin Park announced its Power the World Initiative and our recent partnership to bring Solar Suitcases to Uganda. The popular Brazilian TV host Luciano Huck interviewed Laura, Richenda Van Leeuwen (UN Foundation), and Whitney Showler (Music for Relief) on stage, and remotely interviewed band members Mike Shinoda and Dave Farrell on-line about their commitment to bring sustainable energy to those in need. After sharing three pre-recorded songs, Linkin Park members urged fans to sign their “Power the World” pledge and donate to We Care Solar.

The Rio+20 Conference resulted in an official UN document on sustainable development that can be read here. While the final document is weaker than many would have liked, including women’s groups who were outraged by the lack of inclusion of women’s reproductive rights, it is clear that sustainable energy is now an important thread within international development goals.