“We cannot realistically talk about bridging the digital divide and improving livelihoods without addressing the needs of the 2 billion people in the world who have no electricity,” said Mohamed El-Ashry, the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which sponsored the event. “And if we keep on encouraging countries to generate energy by burning fossil fuels, we threaten not just to push them further into debt, but also to pollute the air they breathe and increase global warming.” The issue of renewable energy is not so much an issue of technologies, but an issue of business planning, Mr. El-Ashry said. “It is a question of looking at capacity, looking at policies, looking at incentives.”Co-chaired by Mr. El-Ashry and Nitin Desai, UN Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, the panel featured Ugandan Energy Minister Syda Bbumba, Professor Jose Goldemberg of the University of Sao Paulo (former Minister of Energy of Brazil) and Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, Chairman of the Royal/Dutch Shell Group. All of the panellists agreed that high cost was one of the prime obstacles to wider use of renewable energy technologies. “Solar panels cost between $600 and $800,” Minister Bbumba said, stressing that such an amount was prohibitive for most people in developing countries. Insufficient technical capacity, lack of maintenance services and manufacturing capacity were other impediments, she said. Mr. Moody-Stuart, the co-chair of a G-8 Task Force charged with “working out the barriers” to the use of renewable energies, said the group had identified high cost, insufficient human and institutional infrastructures, “relatively weak incentives” and inconsistent policies as the main obstacles to the use of renewable energy technologies. “If we want to drag the costs down, we have to expand the market,” he said. “And the biggest market is in the developing countries.” Professor Goldemburg, referring to a major assessment prepared for the current session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, said the use of fossil fuel in developing countries was the main contributor to environmental health problems, and that social access to energy was a major cause of political instability. “People [in developing countries] have to be helped on all kinds of grounds and energy is one area where they can be helped to address their problems,” he said, warning that “in 15 years, the developing countries will be consuming as much energy as the developed countries.”Issues related to energy, particularly renewable energy technologies, are high on the agenda of the 9th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, which is meeting in New York through 27 April.