Leaving no one behind means ensuring access to sustainable energy for ALL

mrfToday’s post, by Mary Robinson, President, Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice and member of the Sustainable Energy for All Advisory Board, is one in a series of ‘In my view’ pieces written by prominent authors on issues covered in the “Development Co-operation Report 2015: Making Partnerships Effective Coalitions for Action”

Work to provide access to sustainable energy for all lies at the intersection of development, human rights and climate change: the building blocks of a climate justice approach.

The focus on sustainable energy, in particular renewables, is fundamental for the transition to a carbon-neutral world – an essential path to avoid dangerous climate change. The focus on ALL, on universal access, recognises that access to sustainable energy is both a driver of development and an enabler of human rights, from the right to health to the right to food.

The report of the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the discussions of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals highlight the need for the international community to commit to leaving no one behind. In this sense, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to ensuring universal access to sustainable energy; it will require a continuum of approaches, from market-based ones to those supported by the public sector.

This is no surprise to development practitioners, who know the importance of specialised approaches for reaching the poorest and most marginalised communities. Social protection, including social safety nets, prevent chronic food insecurity and enhance health and education outcomes by targeting public resources to those most in need (an important theme in the OECD Development Co-operation Report 2013: Ending Poverty).

Targeted approaches are also fundamental to ensuring that the transition to a sustainable, zero-carbon world is fair and inclusive (Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, 2013). Market-based solutions will deliver sustainable energy services to the majority, but the majority is not our goal; the goal is ALL. Targeted solutions, based on social protection for example, will help ensure that the extreme poor, women, marginalised communities, displaced people and refugees reap the benefits of the transition to clean, renewable energy.

The Sustainable Energy for All initiative encourages governments, businesses and civil society to work in partnership to make universal access to sustainable energy a reality by 2030. The United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared the decade 2014-24 as the United Nations Decade of Sustainable Energy for All, underscoring the importance of energy issues for sustainable development and for the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda.

Women are a fundamental part of the ALL. When enabled to realise their rights, women will be the entrepreneurs, technicians and primary users of sustainable energy. But all too often women are not included in decision making on energy supply and access, despite the fact that their energy needs are different than those of men. Women prioritise energy for schools, health centres and productive uses over men’s preference for enterprise-based activities (Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, 2012). This is the reason behind the decision to focus the first two years of the decade of Sustainable Energy for All on women, energy, children and health. This focus presents a real opportunity to place women and gender equality at the heart of all activities – national and international – that contribute to fulfilling the goals of the initiative.

Sustainable Energy for All gives us the opportunity to deliver climate action, enable development, protect human rights, and galvanise the resources and political leadership needed to make universal access to sustainable energy a reality. To do so effectively, actors at all levels need to understand the needs of people on the ground, taking into account their circumstances and their ability to access technologies, knowledge and financing. This understanding must inform the design of all energy service delivery.

The goals of this initiative will only become a reality by ensuring the right to participation, so that people’s voices are heard and access to sustainable energy does, indeed, reach ALL.

Useful links

Development Co-operation Report 2015: Making Partnerships Effective Coalitions for Action

World Energy Outlook: Locking ourselves in to an unsustainable future

The neighbour of a friend has a plan to supply cheap, sustainably-sourced energy using a combination of tidal power and electric eels. I can’t tell you the details because he doesn’t want the big oil companies to steal his idea, but he’s not the only one promoting crackpot schemes to fuel the world economy. The latest World Energy Outlook 2011 published today by our colleagues at the IEA describes a number of insecure, inefficient and downright dangerous approaches, known as the “business as usual” scenario.

A couple of examples: subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption of fossil fuels jumped to over $400 billion last year, and despite promises to increase energy efficiency, global energy intensity worsened for the second straight year.

Fukushima and the turmoil in the Middle East have cast doubts on the reliability of energy supply, while the sovereign debt crisis has both distracted government attention from energy policy and limited their means of intervention. That doesn’t look promising for attempts to limit global warming. The IEA warns that at present rates, emissions are consistent with a long-term average temperature increase of more than 3.5°C, and that without new policies “we are on an even more dangerous track, for a temperature increase of 6°C or more.”

Four-fifths of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permissible by 2035 in the so-called 450 Scenario for limiting global warming are already “locked-in” by existing capital stock – power plants, buildings, factories, and so on. (it’s called 450 because it means limiting the long-term concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere to 450 parts per million of CO2 equivalent.)

Without stringent new action by 2017, the energy-related infrastructure then in place will generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario up to 2035, leaving no room for additional power plants, factories and other infrastructure unless they are zero-carbon, which would be extremely costly.

Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.3 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.

All of this would be of only theoretical interest to the 1.3 billion people without access to electricity if they weren’t concentrated in poor countries that are likely to suffer most from climate change. Lack of access to cheap, safe power doesn’t just hold back development, it can kill you. As we pointed out in this post last year, if nothing is done, household air pollution from the use of biomass in inefficient stoves will lead to over 1.5 million premature deaths per year, over 4000 a day. Many of them are young children who are at home all day, breathing in the pollution from the stove.

It wouldn’t cost a fortune to provide access. Around $9 billion was invested globally to provide first access last year, but $48 billion, needs to be invested each year if universal access is to be achieved by 2030. It sounds a lot, but that’s only around 3% of total energy investment to 2030.

A change of policy could help too. Only 8% of the subsidies to fossil-fuel consumption in 2010 reached the poorest 20% of the population.

Here’s the IEA’s Chief Economist Fatih Birol presenting the main points of the Outlook:

If you can’t see the video, click here

Smoke kills

Click to go to the 2010 World Energy Outlook

Cooking will soon kill more people in developing countries than malaria, tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS. That’s the shocking message from a chapter on energy poverty in the 2010 World Energy Outlook, released today.

Our colleagues at the International Energy Agency combined their projections of traditional biomass use with WHO figures on mortality. They estimate that if nothing is done, household air pollution from the use of biomass in inefficient stoves would lead to over 1.5 million premature deaths per year, over 4000 a day. Many of them are young children who are at home all day, breathing in the pollution from the stove.

Access to modern energy services, and better stoves, would change this. The IEA point out that 1.4 billion people in the world today don’t have access to electricity (other than costly batteries). That number will drop by 2030 thanks to general economic expansion, but only to 1.2 billion.

The Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2015 is unlikely to be met unless an additional 395 million people are provided with electricity, and a further 1 billion with clean cooking facilities. That would require an annual investment of $41 billion a year over 2010-2015, or 0.06% of global GDP. To achieve universal access to modern energy services by 2030 would cost $36 billion a year.

Another way of looking at it is that adding under 2% to electricity tariffs in OECD member countries would raise enough money to bring electricity to the entire global population within 20 years, while in the past year, the prospective cost of the additional global energy investment to 2035 to curb greenhouse-gas emissions has risen by $1 trillion because of the caution of the commitments made at the December 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference.

More generally, the world energy outlook to 2035 hinges critically on government policy action, and how that action affects technology, the price of energy services and consumer behaviour. For instance, consumption subsidies to fossil fuels in 2009 cost $312 billion, compared with  $57 billion in support given to renewable energy.

Removing fossil-fuel consumption subsidies could make a big contribution to meeting energy-security and environmental goals, including mitigating carbon-dioxide and other emissions. However, as  Nobuo Tanaka, Executive Director of the IEA said this morning at the launch of the Outlook,  “The Copenhagen Accord and the agreement among G20 countries to phase out subsidies are important steps forward. But, these moves still fall a very long way short of what is required to set us on the path to a truly sustainable energy system”.

Useful links

International Energy Agency

OECD work on green growth

OECD work on development