Imagine trying to care and provide for your family, or starting a new business venture, if you had no access whatsoever to electricity.

Many of these people live in developing economies, often in very small rural communities, and are still reliant for biomass, that is burning wood that they forage for, for cooking and cleaning.

How do we as a global community help to address this situation, and what should the role of the powerful energy industry be?

Thank you Gary for the invitation. 

The debate on energy poverty is an interesting one especially in Africa where 2 in 3 people have no access to electricity. The chronic under-supply of electricity has not only hindered the economic development of the region, but also other global ambitious goals such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Recent global initiatives such as the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which were recently adopted can also not be achieved in Africa if the challenge of energy poverty is not effectively tackled. 

There is therefore a collective role for governments, civil society and the global community to address the challenge of energy poverty. Some African governments have considered taxing charcoal to discourage the use of biomass fuel which is rampant in Africa, with 2.5 billion people relying on it ( Tanzania for instance,

The role of the global community would be to help with the finances and technology needed to enhance modern energy in Africa.  Unfortunately, most of the projects sponsored by the global community to tackle the challenge of energy poverty are not well supervised and as such these tend to be fruitless and the finances get embezzled. There is also no doubt that the powerful energy industry are more interested in investing in fossil fuels which are exported from the African countries, leaving the local people in the villages with no access to the benefits of their countries' natural resources. The investments in other forms of energy such as renewables which are essential in tackling the challenge of energy poverty are still lacking. In this regard therefore, the global community can consider investing more in other energy types that can benefit the poor people.

Thank you for the invitation to this debate on an important matter that touches upon different spheres like climate and development policy.

As Victoria said, the year 2015 was decisive for a higher global equality in living conditions and environmental justice since both the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate action were adopted. This shows both the responsibility and willingness of the global community to act on existing problems like lacking access to clean energy. The next step especially for the richer countries is now to stand by their word and implement the generic targets on the ground. The EU for example needs to integrate the SDGs and the Paris commitments into its climate and energy legislation. But more importantly, the developed countries need to fulfill their obligation for funding to build infrastructure in developing countries, like Victoria mentioned.

It is true that there are problems with the administration and distribution of funds, but new initiatives are often addressing these already. For example, during the UN climate conference in Marrakesh 40 developed and developing countries as well as organizations launched a global partnership that will tie countries closer together on the implementation of national climate plans and support developing countries in financial and technological terms. A secretariat is also put up for the partnership that shall help with the planning processes of clean energy projects.

I agree that relying on biomass will lock in further environmental problems in those regions. It is important that there is a diversity of energy sources. The solar power plant Ouarzazate in Morocco for example received support from EU and member states like Germany and has been the largest plant of this kind for some time.

Victoria, Jo, many thanks for your comments. You have both raised more questions than answers, and this is a truly global issue. The fact that 2 out of 3 people in Africa have no access to electricity is shocking, and I understand that in some individual African countries the statistics are even worse. 

Jo, you mention that this issue affects not just energy issues, but also climate & development policy.

Should we now draw attention to this in the same way that we highlighted, for example, Ozone depletion and global warming? I would argue that energy poverty is as dire a problem.

Affordable energy is or should be a basic right for all people. As I mentioned before it is also a matter of justice. If it is not guaranteed we risk social uprisings as energy is a facilitator for other fundamental needs like lightning, heat and a decent level of comfort.

We definitely must raise the awareness and action on political and public level. Compared to environmental problems like global warming and ozone depletion, the social dimension of energy poverty is even more visible. This might help to stress the urgency of the matter.

Jo, the point you made about raising awareness and action on political and public level is an interesting one. However, I am of the view that there is enough awareness about energy poverty, but perhaps majority of the concerned people choose to ignore it. Different initiatives have been set up at national, regional and international level but the problem of energy poverty keeps escalating mostly because it is the poor people who are largely affected especially those in rural areas.

The challenge of energy poverty is actually a complex one considering the fact that we have to address the issues of accessibility, reliability and affordability. Efforts to address the issue of accessibility and perhaps reliability can be envisaged regionally through the development of regional power grids and establishment of regional power pools- but there is still a big challenge with regard to the issue of affordability given the fact that majority of the people in rural areas will not afford modern energy like electricity since most of them rely on less than 3 dollars a day. So, even if modern energy is accessible and reliable, if the majority of people mostly in rural areas can not afford it, then they will opt for cheap energy such as biomass fuel-and this will definitely escalate deforestation (and of course climate change comes into play here)

I would suggest that the global community especially those international organisations such as UN and World Bank, take some steps to address the challenge differently. There is a need to re-define the problem of energy poverty and all the strategies that have been used previously, because clearly the challenge of energy poverty keeps escalating in Sub-Saharan Africa despite all the efforts and initiatives we have been seeing globally. The global community also tends to duplicate initiatives instead of discussing how the challenge can be tackled differently.

Thanks! We'll send you an update as soon as a new conversation starts.