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Governments around the world recognize the link between human development and access to safe, secure, and affordable sources of energy. Nevertheless, many people have access to only rudimentary and inadequate energy sources, depriving them of opportunities for economic development and creating serious health risks. Even in countries in which access to energy services is adequate, the provision of those services has both health and environmental effects. In particular, the production of energy using fossil fuels generates greenhouse gases that contribute significantly to climate disruption, which is likely to create disproportionate risks to the same undeveloped nations already suffering from a lack of access to adequate energy supplies.

To address these twin challenges, the United Nations Secretary General launched the Sustainable Energy for All initiative (“SE4All”) to achieve universal access to energy for all, while at the same time increasing stocks of renewable energy and improving the efficiency of energy systems to mitigate climate disruption risks. This Article places SE4All within both historical and international policy contexts. It argues that its effective implementation requires the articulation of an international legal framework that aids the transformation of SE4All’s policy actions into binding international legal commitments. It contends that an effective such framework can be derived from existing rules of international human rights law and sustainable development law. Reliance on these twin bodies of international law will increase the prospects for SE4All to achieve energy access and related goals that its predecessor initiatives have failed to accomplish.

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GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2015-37; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-37

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