Friday, March 04, 2011

Energy: ‘Make Access to Energy a Right of All Citizens’

By Richard Johnson
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

PARIS (IDN) - The 28-nation International Energy Agency (IEA), linked with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development -- also known as the ‘rich man’s club’ -- is calling for urgent action to secure adequate funds so that universal energy access becomes a reality.

"As we build up to the 'International Year of Sustainable Energy for All', the global community must rally together to make sure that access to energy becomes a right that is not only enjoyed by the majority, but by each and every citizen of the world," says the IEA's chief economist Dr. Fatih Birol.

The UN General Assembly declared in December 2010 the year 2012 the 'International Year of Sustainable Energy for All'. But there are miles and miles to go to achieve the goal.

"Although there is now greater awareness about lack of access to energy, and we have a good sense of the cost of achieving universal access to modern energy services, we have still not determined a path for raising and administering the necessary funds required to deliver energy access to those in need," Dr. Birol points out.

That is why, he says, the World Energy Outlook 2011 will publish a special excerpt that presents a new architecture for financing universal modern energy access. This analysis will be presented to a special high-level meeting hosted by the government of Norway in Oslo in October 2011. The meeting will be attended by top representatives of governments, international institutions and other key groups.

"We sincerely hope this meeting will spur further progress towards global energy access by setting the necessary milestones," says the IEA chief economist.

Presently, one-fifth of the world population counting some 1.4 billion has no access to electricity. Five hundred and eighty-five million live in Sub-Saharan Africa -- more than 76 million in Nigeria and 69 million in Ethiopia -- and most of the remaining in Asia: 400 million in India and 96 million in Bangladesh.

The IEA's flagship publication 'World Energy Outlook 2010' points out that if governments only implement broad policy commitments they have already announced, the problem of 'energy poverty' will persist for long time to come. 1.2 billion people -- 87 percent of them living in rural areas -- will still lack access to electricity in 2030.

"This is an alarming picture of what the future might look like, and one which the global community must work together to counter," says Dr. Birol.

"A family with no electricity access suffers severe and life-changing disadvantages every day. Children being unable to do their homework once it gets dark and those who are unwell not being able to keep medicines because they don't have a fridge are just two of many major obstacles," he adds.

The IEA has calculated that in order to bring modern energy services to the energy impoverished people who will not have access to electricity if government policies remain as they are now, additional cumulative investment of USD 700 billion until the year 2030 is required. That amounts to USD 33 billion per year.

Picking up one criticism levied against universal access to electricity that it would lead to a dramatic increase in greenhouse gas emissions, Dr. Birol argues: "This is simply not true," adding that "the increase in CO2 emissions would actually be less than 1%." He points out that the impact of access to modern energy services cannot be underestimated, and that it will have a significant effect on tackling poverty.

In a statement posted on its website, the IEA notes that over the last few years, international momentum has been building on the issue of access to energy. High global energy and food prices, for example, have brought greater international focus on the impact on both the global economy and the world's poor.

In addition to the UN General Assembly's decision to adopt 'Sustainable Energy for All' as the theme for 2012, the UN Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change – chaired by Kandeh K. Yumkella, Director-General of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and head of the inter-agency mechanism known as UN-Energy -- has called for the adoption of a goal of universal access to modern energy services by 2030.

"I welcome these moves by the UN to draw attention to, and focus on ensuring access to energy for all," says Dr. Birol. "These moves show positive progress despite the decision not to include energy in the Millennium Development Goals back in 2000," he adds, and stresses that "action is needed now in order to translate the goal of universal access to modern energy into tangible progress supported by adequate financing."


As well as access to electricity, the World Energy Outlook also highlights the extensive reliance on traditional use of biomass for cooking as the other major dimension of energy poverty. "The number of people who use traditional biomass, such as wood and manure, is projected to rise from 2.7 billion today, to 2.8 billion in 2030," says the IEA.

According to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) and IEA projections, it is estimated that household air pollution from the use of these traditional sources of biomass in stoves with inadequate ventilation would lead to over 1.5 million premature deaths per year in 2030.

While the number of deaths due to the effects of breathing smoke from these traditional biomass fuels is set to rise in the next two decades, by contrast, the WHO expects the number of premature deaths from malaria, tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS to decline over the same period.

In order to combat this problem, and achieve universal access to clean cooking facilities for some 2.8 billion people, IEA analysis found that additional cumulative investment of some USD 56 billion would be required in the next 20 years, or USD 2.6 billion every year.

By combining this figure, with the sum needed to achieve universal access to electricity, the total investment needed between now and 2030 is USD 756 billion.

"While at first glance this seems to be an impossible sum to raise, it actually works out at just 3% of the projected global energy investment of over USD 26 trillion that will be spent between 2010 and 2030," Dr Birol explains.

When the IEA was founded in response to the 1973-74 oil crisis, it was tasked with helping countries coordinate a collective response to major disruptions in oil supply through the release of emergency oil stocks to the markets.

The IEA says that while this continues to be a key aspect of its work, it has evolved and expanded. "It is at the heart of global dialogue on energy, providing authoritative and unbiased research, statistics, analysis and recommendations."

Meanwhile the IEA is devoted to: energy security by way of promoting diversity, efficiency and flexibility within all energy sectors; economic development; ensuring the stable supply of energy to IEA member countries and "promoting free markets to foster economic growth and eliminate energy poverty"; environmental awareness aimed at enhancing international knowledge of options for tackling climate change; and engagement worldwide by way of working closely with non-member countries, especially major producers and consumers, to find solutions to shared energy and environmental concerns.