May 21 2012
Approximately 1.3 billion people worldwide lack access to electricity services, while another 1 billion are served by unreliable electricity networks. At the same time, approximately 2.7 billion people use dirty, expensive and sometimes scarce fuels. The energy poor,whose lives are powered by these inadequate sources of energy, pay disproportionately high costs, but receive poor quality energy services in return.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that demand for energy will increase by 40 per cent in the next 20 years. The heavy dependence on fossil fuel to meet present needs, coupled with rising costs, negative environmental impacts and future growth in demand, has placed renewable energy at the forefront of sustainable development issues as a core component of future development, both in developed and developing countries.
A reliable energy source is a prerequisite for sustainable development and poverty alleviation, and the Millennium Development Goals cannot be achieved without first addressing energy issues. For example, health clinics, schools and other vital infrastructure cannot run properly, while access to drinking water and sanitation cannot be guaranteed without a reliable energy source.
Giving the energy poor access to energy is therefore a development imperative. Yet at the same time, successfully mitigating and adapting to climate change will require a global shift toward renewable energy. Unmanageable and unforeseen climate risks threaten to negate development efforts, so action taken to reduce energy poverty must also be compatible with climate protection.
In short, sustainable development requires sustainable energy. A green economy based on fairness, social welfare, and environmental integrity must be powered by green energy; energy from sources that do not unduly impact the environment or people. Green energy means satisfying growing energy needs, empowering local communities and supporting development, while not producing dangerous carbon emissions or causing other negative environmental impacts.
The challenge now is to put the necessary policies and commitments in place to turn this bold vision for a sustainable energy future into reality.
 Over 95 per cent of the energy poor are either in sub-Saharan Africa or developing Asia; 84 per cent are in rural areas. These are the same regions that are the mostvulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. International Energy Agency, ‘Energy for All: Financing Access for the Poor’, early excerpt of the World Energy Outlook 2011 (OECD/IEA, Paris 2011).