Green Energy for All by 2030?
VIENNA - While industrialized countries struggle to switch from climate-damaging, carbon-based energy to greener energy sources, much of the world is desperately energy poor, with 1.6 billion people having no access to electricity and 2.4 billion relying on wood and dung for heat and cooking.
"Over 1.6 million deaths a year are attributed to indoor use of biomass for cooking and heating," Kandeh Yumkella, director-general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), told more than 600 participants from 80 countries at the Vienna Energy Conference this week in Austria's capital city.
The conference concluded with a recommendation to create a 20-year plan to end energy poverty by 2030.
Women and children in many parts of the world have little choice but to spend hours each day in search of firewood, trapped in a vicious cycle of deforestation that increases erosion and reduces the fertility of their land. "Energy interacts with all of the development challenges we face," said Yumkella.
The developing world - and especially those without access to electricity - must be part of the new green energy revolution, he said. "We can't leave people out. We must have climate justice and energy justice," he told IPS in an interview.
While energy is a major topic in the run-up to the final round of climate negotiations this December in Copenhagen, access to energy is not on the agenda. Energy is essential to economic development, making it the key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), he said.
"A country's quality of life is directly proportional to the amount of energy and the efficiency with which it is used," said Albert Binger, director of the Center for Environment and Development at the University of the West Indies and an advisor to the Alliance of Small Island States.
"That is the best definition I've seen regarding the importance of access to energy," Binger said.
Small island states have contributed the least, less than 0.05 percent of total global carbon emissions, and yet will be the most affected. "We don't want to be refugees," he told conference participants. "Educate your populations about the dangers we face,"
Oil and natural gas production is declining in many non-OPEC nations, leaving the bulk of oil and other fossil fuel production in the hands of a few countries and increasing the likelihood of future price volatility, said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Climate concerns aside, that's very bad news for many developing countries dependent on fossil fuel imports. If oil stays at 100 dollars a barrel for any length of time, some countries simply couldn't afford the price and their economies could collapse.
Business as usual - increasing reliance on fossil fuels - will result in stark climate, food and energy crises, leading to failed states, Pachauri told IPS.
"Renewables (green energy sources) can buffer you from that. We need a major revolution in the energy sector," he said.
But who will finance that revolution when many developing countries are living hand to mouth?
Small island states in the Caribbean and Pacific are locked in short-term survival mode, dependent on imported fossil fuels that is keeping them poor, said Susan McDade of the U.N. Development Program. The oil tanker comes in one day and the next it leaves with much of a country's money, making it impossible to invest in longer term projects McDade told attendees.
"These states have plenty of sun and wind resources but can't make the green investments they need," she said.
There have been plenty of green energy pilot projects but no support to help them get over the 'energy revolution hump'. "Why not a balance of payments support program to help them buy the oil they need, freeing up their capital to make the green energy investments?" she suggested.
One-third of the world lacks access to modern energy, which is a major burden on the poor and on the environment, said Irene Freudenschuss-Reichl, director general of the Austrian Development Corporation.
The Vienna Energy Conference shows that there is a need for energy development goals to supplement the Millennium Development Goals. And the first of those energy development goals is to develop a 20-year plan to bring access to energy for all by the year 2030, said Freudenschuss-Reichl.
There is plenty of money in the rich countries of the world to pay for all this, suggested UNIDO's Yumkella. "The North needs to see and understand that doing so is matter of enlightened self-interest," he stressed.
Trillions of dollars were found to prop up the world's banks because there was the perception of a "clear and present danger". If there is agreement that climate change represents the same risk then the funds will be mobilized, he said.