If you live on an island in the ocean, energy and climate issues come together in a palpable way. Most small island developing states depend heavily on imported fossil fuels, especially diesel, for their power. For remote islands, in the Pacific for example, the fuel must be shipped over long distances. It’s expensive, the supply is limited and intermittent, and paying for it stretches government budgets. Because of this, low-income families and communities often rely instead on kerosene, and wood or other biomass for lighting and cooking.
When I heard that Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank’s new president, was to meet staff in the energy department where I work on his first day at work July 2, it occurred to me that a good way to introduce him to our work in sustainable energy would be a quick demo of solar lanterns.
The December 2011 Climate Conference (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa, presents a tremendously important opportunity to advance both the globally critical goal of climate protection, and to do so synergistically with a local agenda of sustainable development and poverty alleviation.
The COP 16 meeting in Cancun last year, while in many ways an important step forward, particularly on the role of energy efficiency, did not result in decisions on the global accord, and much remains to be done. One remedy for this situation may be to achieve local successes that demonstrate how climate protection and clean and efficient uses of energy can directly benefit the poor.
The fact that the COP will take place in Africa, which has the highest unmet need -- and demand for reliable and affordable energy access – brings to a head the need to find new tools and paths that can meet both goals. As the plans for the Durban Conference evolve, there must be a premium on action that implements this strategy.
A new multi-donor program which is part of the Climate Investment Funds and is managed by World Bank Group and Regional Development Banks, may be an ideal component of that plan: the new Scaling up Renewable Energy in Low-Income Countries (SREP) program, provides an exciting avenue to meet both goals. Six pilot countries, Ethiopia, Honduras, Kenya, the Maldives, Mali and Nepal, were selected for initial blocks of funding to bring clean energy technologies rapidly to meet the unmet demand for energy. Discussions are underway to bring in funding to double this pilot group.
Last month in South Africa, I had the opportunity to see just how a program like the SREP could build on both local innovative capacity, and the political attention that COP17 can bring to climate and development needs. The World Bank office in Pretoria hosted a meeting of African Ambassadors to South Africa, where I had the opportunity to discuss with them (see picture above) both market changes taking place in the region, and technology options to rapidly bring clean energy to the poor.