by Rahul Goswami
Taken from

How do 'developing' countries prioritise energy goals? How should they in the face of climate change? These countries, with per capita energy consumption and CO2 emissions which average one-sixth those of the 'industrialised' world, are not primarily responsible for climate deterioration, but on the other hand they are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts because, says the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) they have fewer resources to adapt – socially, technologically and financially.

The answers are not difficult to find. Quite apart from the outcomes of climate change summits such as the just-concluded UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, for the majority of the populations in these countries climate change issue is not a priority concern compared with problems of poverty, natural resource management, energy and livelihood needs. In 2008, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that world energy consumption will increase by 45% in 2030 from its 2006 level, and that a 'developing' country like India will account for 13.5% of that growth. India's high energy demand is driven by its current high growth path, one supported by industry, its economic and social planners and by its urban middle classes. However, India like many 'developing' countries of the South, has a large populace deprived of modern energy services; 45% of its rural households and 8% of its urban households do not have access to electricity and 90% rural households and 33% of urban households do not use clean cooking fuel.

Yet national approaches to providing energy access to those who lack it is, from a poor person's perspective, fractured and incoherent. National energy planning still assumes that the formal energy sector is the primary provider of energy and the principal means of ending energy poverty. In South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the energy provided by rural electrification programmes is rarely sufficient or affordable for cooking, the most energy-consuming household activity. This leaves millions of households preparing their evening meal in a smoke-filled kitchen over a wood or dung-burning stove. Women in particular spend many hours in drudgery, gathering fuel, cooking over inefficient stoves and cleaning soot-laden pots, clothes, walls and ceilings. The opportunities lost to women who spend so many hours labouring for energy each week have been reported in studies worldwide. These studies suggest that 2-8 hours per day per family could be spent on more fulfilling activities with improved cooking facilities.

Moreover, indoor smoke from solid fuel is the cause of approximately 21% of deaths caused by lower respiratory infection worldwide, 35% of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and about 3% of deaths from lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Of these, about 64% occur in low-income countries, especially in South-East Asia and Africa, said WHO in 2009. Other health issues associated with indoor air pollution for which further evidence is emerging include increased cases of active tuberculosis, pulmonary disease, increased adverse pregnancy outcomes, low birthweight, and non-life threatening ailments such as cataract and eye infections.

Energy poverty is also a major impediment to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In September 2010 the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon launched the target of universal energy access by 2030. He described the importance of energy access in poverty reduction and the role of energy services in meeting the MDGs: "Universal energy access is a key priority on the global development agenda. It is a foundation for all the MDGs. … Without energy services, the poor are cut off from basic amenities. They are forced to live and work in unhealthy, polluted conditions. Furthermore, energy poverty directly affects the viability of forests, soils and rangelands. In short, it is an obstacle to the MDGs."

With new energy supply and infrastructure being cornered by industry and manufacturing, the services sector, cities and towns and the transport sector, the addition of new megawattage tends to disproportionately benefit the urban middle classes at the expense of the rural poor. This is an imbalance which becomes visible in the impact of many energy-consumption subsidies. Although intended to make energy services more affordable and accessible for the poor, studies have repeatedly shown them to be an inefficient and often ineffective means of doing so. The cost of these subsidies falls on the entire economy, but benefits are conditional upon the purchase of subsidised goods and thus tend to accrue disproportionately to middle and higher-income groups. Poor households may be unable to afford even subsidised energy or related services, or may have no physical access to them (for example, rural communities lacking a public transport network or a connection to an electricity grid). In general, subsidies for liquid fuels are particularly difficult to target, given the ease with which such fuels can be sold on the black market.

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