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TO END POVERTY, INCREASE ACCESS TO ENERGY

September 21, 2018

This post was originally featured in Scientific American.

Concern about climate change has unintended consequences for the most impoverished countries

By Tisha Schuller, Seth Levey

The goal of alleviating global poverty is not controversial. Poverty creates terrible human suffering and wasted human potential, and it’s urgent that we find solutions. Some solutions are obvious and widely popular, such as vaccines, free primary schooling and better nutrition. But we have also come to understand that energy is among the most important anti-poverty tools, an underpinning for other development goals. Yet energy access as a way to fight poverty is often greatly misunderstood.

ENERGY ACCESS

We came to understand the importance of energy late, only as part of analyzing the potential for global decarbonization. The United Nations also came to this understanding in 2015 when it developed its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at “ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all.” Goal number seven: access to energy for all.

A hint at the challenges involved lies in the focus of SDG no. 7, or SDG7, on “affordable and clean energy.” This phrase conjures images of rooftop solar panels, kitchens illuminated with a single light bulb, and community wind turbines. These are important parts of fighting poverty, and they represent progress for people who rely on burning wood for heat and light. However, this basic level of energy access addresses only a tiny part of the greater challenge. It is the first step, not the destination. Yet the data indicator used by the U.N. to determine energy access success is minimum threshold of 50 kilowatt-hours per year. In other words, the goal would be considered met if a person in India or Senegal used as much energy in a whole year as an average American uses in just 33 hours.  READ MORE

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