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A recent multi-agency study led by the World Bank and the International Energy Agency has found that if we continue as we do, i.e. a business as usual approach, it will be nowhere near sufficient to achieve the goals of the UN's Sustainable Energy for ALL (SE4ALL) Initiative. As a natural cynic, I am hardly surprised, as the report concludes that the world needs to almost triple its spending to about $400 billion a year, to fulfil the Initiative, bringing clean water and modern electricity to the entire population by 2030.
So how are we doing then? Well, according to the report, 1.2 billion people still don't have access to electricity. That's almost the population of India. A whopping 2.8 billion people still have to use wood to cook and heat their homes, and of this, every year 3.5 million women and children die from respiratory illness directly related to inhaling the wood and biomass fumes. This is more than twice as high as deaths due to malaria (1.2 million) and even HIV/AIDS (1.5 million). So you can say that energy poverty is a gigantic problem.
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A seemingly encouraging statistic shows that 1.7 billion people did gain access to electricity between 1990 to 2010, however, factoring in population growth of 1.6 billion during that time and the numbers don't look so good. In fact, the pace of electricity expansion needs to double to meet the 100% energy access target by 2030. And to put that into perspective of just how much energy we in the developed world use, bringing electricity to that 1.2 billion people using conventional energy sources would only increase global carbon dioxide emissions by less than one percent.
What about the largest polluters, China and India? Both countries have achieved a lot, but they still face huge challenges. India has moved faster than any other country in the world to deliver electricity to people, extending its grid to reach over 24 million more people each year since 1990. China has been the best in the world at achieving energy efficiency, with energy savings that add up over the past 20 years to an amount equal to the amount of energy the nation used over the same time frame. To date, there are still 306.2 million people in India without electricity and 705 million still relying on wood and biomass cooking fuels. In china the number is at 621.8 million. Both countries have come a long way, hopefully they will keep at it.
The report recommends that a broad range of initiatives be used to fight energy poverty and boost clean energy development, including government actions to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, establishing a carbon floor price. It also claims that achieving the massive funding necessary to achieve these goals will not be possible without "substantial investment" from the private sector. And as for the public, we too can do our part, by supporting non-profits that aim to end energy poverty and engaging with our politicians and asking them to put energy poverty at the top of their agendas. The energy poverty issue is one that is larger than most of us realize, but is one that is so fundamental to human development. Providing access to clean fuel and electricity is the foundation that enables improvements and developments in health, education and business and provides the key to leaving poverty behind.