Poor Countries Need Relief From Climate Change. They Need Electricity More.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Last week, environmental campaigners walked out en masse from the U.N. climate talks taking place in Warsaw. The conference hadn’t been shaping up to be a great success: During the meetings, Japan announced that, rather than cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by one-quarter below 1990 levels, it would actually increase them by 3 percent, largely because of the country’s decision to end its nuclear program.

Campaigners pointed out that those with the most to lose from the failure of the climate talks are the world’s poorest people—certain to suffer the greatest impact of the floods, droughts, and rising temperatures that climate change is bringing. At the same time, the world’s poorest people are also those with the lowest access to modern sources of energy such as electricity and natural gas. In order to foster economic growth and improvements in health, developing countries will need to generate huge amounts of additional power. How to achieve considerable reductions in carbon dioxide at a time of massive increases in global energy consumption is of the most complex—and urgent—challenges facing policymakers in the developed world.

Some 1.3 billion people around the planet lack access to electricity, and twice that number still use such fuels as wood, dung, or coal for household cooking and heating. That has a dismal impact on quality of life: Working under kerosene light is the health equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. A recent report by the nonprofit group DARA (PDF) suggested that 3.1 million people died from the effects of indoor air pollution in 2010—and that on current trends, indoor air pollution will be killing five times as many people in 2030 as will die that year from the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek (link opens in a new window)