Remarks at the Launch of "Connect 2022" Initiative at CEO Summit

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Cartagena, Colombia
April 13, 2012

 SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. There will be a lot of important aspects of this Summit of the Americas, but I think there will be none more important than this first-ever CEO Summit of the Americas, and in particular this initiative that Minister Cardenas just was describing, to connect our hemisphere. I wish to thank the Minister Andres Gluski, Luis Alberto Moreno, and Luis Carlos Villegas for their leadership in pulling this together. Let me also recognize the World Bank and the Organization of American States for their support of the Connecting the Americas 2022 initiative that we are highlighting today.

Virtually every issue that we discuss at this summit, from fighting poverty to preventing and responding to disasters to improving physical safety, security for our citizens requires support from the private sector. So we need your ideas, your perspectives, and, yes, your resources. We need to hear from you and we need to work with you. I am very grateful that Colombia has included this summit in the agenda for the overall summit, and I thank all of you for being part of it. And I also wish to thank President Martinelli for being here with us.

I appreciated Mauricio’s showing that cookstove, that pot cooking on the burning wood because he’s absolutely right. This is one of the solvable problems that we face in the world today, and I have been pushing the global alliance for clean cookstoves, because it is a triple winner. It slows down and, hopefully, even ends the environmental degradation, the erosion that comes from the cutting down of trees and using charcoal for fuel for cooking. It improves the health of women and children in particular. The respiratory disease rate is very high, and the death rate of two million worldwide every year, is absolutely unacceptable. And it also provides a greater danger for the children, and particularly the women, who go on these mile-long hunts everyday to find fuel, whether it is wood or dung or some other form of bio-mass.

So through the Global Alliance, which I’m proud to say Colombia is a member, we’re working to promote clean, affordable cookstoves, new fuels, in order to avoid the image that we saw on the big screen. There is no doubt that connecting up this hemisphere and making progress on the provision of electricity, not only to the 30 million who lack it, but also, as you heard the minister describe, making it possible for us to be bound more closely together throughout the hemisphere.

Now in the last few years, the countries of this hemisphere have made a major push to bring electricity to those places where it is still in short supply. As a result, 93 percent of the people in the Americas now have access. That’s better than the global rate. But despite that, this persistent gap remains. And for those 30 million-plus, electricity is still out of reach. And for hundreds of millions more, the supply of electric power is unreliable and too expensive.

Just think about what we would do, those of us lucky enough to be in this room at this meeting, if we could not count on a reliable, affordable electricity supply. In places where there is none, the streets are dark at night, children can’t really study, hospitals find it difficult to provide care, businesses and factories can’t operate. Life is more expensive, less healthy, less safe, and frankly, holds less potential. Without electricity in today’s world, there is a limit to how far people’s hard work and abilities can carry them and how advanced their economic prospects can become.

So we need to make a mission out of this connection goal. The Connecting the Americas 2022 campaign aims to give every person the sustainable energy they need at a price they can afford, so they can live their lives, do their work, educate their children. We’ve set ourselves a deadline of 10 years. We know it won’t be easy. Those 30 million-plus who are not yet able to access electricity are the hardest to reach. Otherwise, companies like some of those represented here would’ve already gotten them power long ago.

So we need to expand power grids, develop effective off-grid solutions to reach remote communities, and more broadly, modernize the power infrastructure throughout the hemisphere. So not only can we can make power more affordable, reliable, and efficient, but we can make it more economically viable to add renewable energy to the mix. We know that there are some Caribbean countries that are totally dependent on imported oil and diesel, these beautiful places that are paying much too much for the least clean and, certainly, nonrenewable form of energy.

So everybody needs to come together here and pull in the same direction. This is an economic opportunity. Closing the electricity gap will allow millions more to join the digital and global economy. It will create more jobs. It will connect businesses to new markets. It will allow millions of women to stop spending so much of their time collecting fuel so they can focus on those aspects of their lives, like educating their children or pursuing even profitable market activities that will add to the family income. It will reduce inequality, it will broaden opportunity, and yes, it will strengthen our democracies. If we modernize our energy infrastructure and link our power systems and implement cutting-edge smart grid and power storage technologies and deploy more renewable energy, we will all benefit from cheaper, more reliable power that causes less harm for the environment.

Now during the next decade, it is predicted that our region will need to increase our capacity to generate power by 26 percent just to keep up with our projected economic growth. So we need to start now to lay the groundwork to attract future investment and secure long-term prosperity.

Energy transformation is already underway. Every country in the Americas is using more renewable energy. Several countries have already connected their power systems, resulting in fewer blackouts, and now they’re working on how to expand those links.

The United States is providing financial and technical support through the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, which President Obama launched at the last Summit in 2009. And I’m pleased to announce today we will increase our support. In addition to helping nations across the hemisphere use smart grid and renewable energy technology, we’ve been working with Central American nations to address the market and regulatory barriers that impede energy trade as they near the completion of the SIEPAC line linking six Central American nations. Now, we and our partners need to increase our focus on the policy frameworks that are required to connect power grids from Mexico all the way to Colombia, as well as the parallel effort now underway in the Andes which will one day reach Chile. Our ultimate goal is an interconnected power grid that stretches from Canada in the north down to the southern tip of our hemisphere, as well as into the Caribbean.

The United States has also funded studies to explore the feasibility of underwater energy connections in the Caribbean. And we will increase our technical assistance, because if Caribbean islands like Dominica and Saint Kitts and Nevis can link to each other through underwater cables, they can begin to build a market large enough to make it economically viable to develop their own renewable energy resources, which means they then can reduce their dependence on imported oil which now comprise about a hundred percent of their energy.

Now I’m well aware that this is going to take political and economic resources and will. But I urge everyone here to embrace this goal. It’s a mission, not only for public officials or energy experts, but really for all of our communities and citizens. So let’s take the advantage of this summit in Cartagena to start an energized, focused campaign to connect the Americas. And let’s not quit until we achieve that goal.

People will look back in a decade to this CEO summit, to this commitment by the leaders, having this on the agenda for the Summit of the Americas, and really be able to say it made a difference; that political and private sector leadership came together to make it a goal to improve the lives and increase the economic opportunities throughout the hemisphere.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)