Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future

  • AuthorInterAcademies Council
  • Release Date1 October 2007
  • Copyright2007
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5.1 Conclusion
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Meeting the basic energy needs of the poorest people on this planet is a moral and social imperative that can and must be pursued in concert with sustainability objectives.

Today an estimated 2.4 billion people use coal, charcoal, firewood, agricultural residues, or dung as their primary cooking fuel. Roughly 1.6 billion people worldwide live without electricity. Vast numbers of people, especially women and girls, are deprived of economic and educational opportunities without access to affordable, basic labor-saving devices or adequate lighting, added to the time each day spent gathering fuel and water. The indoor air pollution caused by traditional cooking fuels exposes millions of families to substantial health risks. Providing modern forms of energy to the world’s poor could generate multiple benefits, easing the day-to-day struggle to secure basic means of survival; reducing substantial pollution-related health risks; freeing up scarce capital and human resources; facilitating the delivery of essential services, including basic medical care; and mitigating local environmental degradation. Receiving increased international attention, these linkages were a major focus of the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, which recognized the importance of expanded access to reliable and affordable energy services as a prerequisite for achieving the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.

Recommendations

    Place priority on rapidly achieving much greater access of the world’s poor to clean, affordable, high-quality fuels and electricity. The challenge of expanding access to modern forms of energy revolves primarily around issues of social equity and distribution—the fundamental problem is not one of inadequate global resources, unacceptable environmental damage, or unavailable technologies. Addressing the basic energy needs of the world’s poor is clearly central to the larger goal of sustainable development and must be a top priority for the international community if some dent is to be made in reducing current inequities.
    Formulate policy at all levels, from global to village scale, with greater awareness of the substantial inequalities in access to energy services that now exist, not only between countries but between populations within the same country and even between households within the same town or village. In many developing countries, a small elite uses energy in much the same way as in the industrialized world, while most of the rest of the population relies on traditional, often poor-quality and highly polluting forms of energy. In other developing countries, energy consumption by a growing middle class is contributing significantly to global energy demand growth and is substantially raising national per capita consumption rates, despite little change in the consumption patterns of the very poor. The reality that billions of people suffer from limited access to electricity and clean cooking fuels must not be lost in per capita statistics.

Needed actions

    Given the international dimension of the problem, multinational organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank should take the initiative to draw up a plan for eliminating the energy poverty of the world’s poor. As a first step, governments and NGOs can assist by supplying data on the extent of the problem in their countries.
    The private sector and the S&T community can help promote the transfer of appropriate technologies. The private sector can, in addition, help by making appropriate investments.
    The media should make the general public aware of the enormity of the problem.

Document Date: October 1, 2007
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