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Energy access is a social justice issue

Jim Yong Kim's picture
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Dignity-DTRT, a garment factory in Accra, Ghana, employs 1,500 workers, 75% of them low-income women. © Dominic Chavez/World Bank.
Dignity-DTRT, a garment factory in Accra, Ghana, employs 1,500 workers, 75% of them low-income women.
© Dominic Chavez/World Bank. More photos from Ghana.

ACCRA, Ghana — Energy rationing is popularly nicknamed “dum-sor,” or “on-off” in Ghana, an expression that people use to talk about the country’s frequent power outages. This is a challenge faced by countries across the region — sub-Saharan Africa loses 2.1% of gross domestic product from blackouts alone — and across the developing world.

While the lack of a consistent electricity supply is one of Ghana’s largest economic challenges, the truth is that the country has made progress in increasing access to energy. Today, about 75% of the country is connected to the national electricity grid. This is significantly higher than the regional average: only one in three people in sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity.

Unleashing private investment in renewable energy

Korina Lopez's picture
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Angus McCrone, Jin-Yong Cai, and Rune Bjerke discuss renewable energy. © Franz Mahr/World Bank

More than 700 million people live in extreme poverty around the world. If that number seems daunting, then consider this: 1.1 billion people – more than three times the population of the United States – live without electricity.

So it goes without saying that ending energy poverty is a key step in ending poverty itself. And world leaders agree – a sustainable development goal just for energy was adopted last month. It emphasizes the role of renewable energy in getting us to the finish line of reaching sustainable energy for all by 2030. What will give us a big boost in that race? Private financing.

Guide to 2015 Annual Meetings webcast events

Donna Barne's picture
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The global economy, climate change, infrastructure, the food system – these are just a few of the hot topics that will be addressed in Lima, Peru, in the lead-up to the Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund the week of Oct. 5. 

The annual gathering of ministers from 188 countries takes place just two weeks after a historic vote at the United Nations to adopt Sustainable Development Goals. Government ministers will again discuss the SDGs at the Oct. 11 meeting of the Development Committee of the World Bank Group and IMF.

The Global Goals: Economic transformation in an interconnected world

Paul McClure's picture
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Men at work pouring concrete in Timor-Leste. © Alex Baluyut/World Bank

This week, the world’s countries are coming together at UN headquarters in New York to affirm the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will guide global development efforts through 2030. While the SDGs have had plenty of active involvement and support from the World Bank Group and our multilateral counterparts, the countries themselves have set this agenda.

The agenda is both ambitious — more than doubling the eight Millennium Development Goals that will officially expire at the end of 2015 — and more comprehensive. For example, where the first MDG set out to “Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger,” its successor SDGs take on these challenges in their entirety: “End poverty in all its forms everywhere” (Goal 1) and “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture” (Goal 2).  And in a world whose “emerging markets” now include larger economies than many members of the European Union, countries have chosen to make these goals universal, equally applicable to the globe’s richer and poorer nations.

New efforts aim to mine opportunities, tackle bias and abuses in DR Congo

Caren Grown's picture
“Before the war, the fields produced and the men were still working,” one woman, a mineral transporter in the Democratic Republic of Congo, told researchers studying the impact of mining there after two decades of conflict. “Now we make money by growing in the fields of others and carrying things from the mines. What has changed life now is that the fields no longer produce and our husbands are no longer working,” she said, adding, “After the war, it’s resourcefulness” that keeps people going.

Old fuel for a new future: the potential of wood energy

Paula Caballero's picture
A woman buying a clean cookstove in Tanzania. Klas Sander / World Bank

The use of wood energy – including firewood and charcoal – is largely considered an option of last resort. It evokes time-consuming wood collection, health hazards and small-scale fuel used by poor families in rural areas where there are no other energy alternatives.

And to a certain extent this picture is accurate. A study by the Alliance for Clean Cookstoves found that women in India spend the equivalent of two weeks every year collecting firewood, which they use to cook and heat their homes. Indoor air pollution caused by the smoke from burning firewood is known to lead to severe health problems: the WHO estimates 4.3 million deaths a year worldwide attributed to diseases associated with cooking and heating with solid fuels. Incomplete combustion creates short-lived climate pollutants, which also act as powerful agents of climate change.

But wood is a valuable source of energy for many of the 2.9 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean cooking facilities, including in major cities. It fuels many industries, from brickmaking and metal processing in the Congo Basin to steel and iron production in Brazil.  

In fact, the value of charcoal production in Africa was estimated at more than $8 billion in 2007, creating livelihoods for about seven million women and men, and catering to a rapidly growing urban demand. From this standpoint, wood energy makes up an enterprise of industrial scale. 

So, instead of disregarding wood energy as outdated, we must think of the economic, social and environmental benefits that would derive from modernizing its use. After all, wood energy is still one of the most widespread renewable fuels at our disposal. We already have the technological know-how to enhance the sustainability of wood energy value chains. Across the European Union’s 28 member states, wood and solid biofuels produced through “modern” methods accounted for nearly half of total primary energy from renewables in 2012.

Clean energy, not coal, is the solution to poverty

Rachel Kyte's picture
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 Dana Smillie / World Bank

It is the development conundrum of our era. Extremely poor people cannot lift themselves out of poverty without access to reliable energy. More than a billion people live without power today, denying them opportunities as wide-ranging as running a business, providing light for their children to study, or even cooking meals with ease.

Ending poverty requires confronting climate change, which affects every nation and every person. The populations least able to adapt – those that are the most poor and vulnerable – will be hardest hit, rolling back decades of development work.

How do we achieve the dual goals of expanding energy production for those without power and drastically reducing emissions from sources such as coal that produce carbon dioxide, the primary contributor to climate change?

There is no single answer and we cannot ask poor communities to forego access to energy because the developed world has already put so much carbon pollution in the air.

An array of policies and programs backed with new technology and new thinking can — if combined with political will and financial support — help poor populations get the energy they need while accelerating a worldwide transition to zero net carbon emissions.

What you need to know about energy and poverty

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture
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Portable solar systems in rural Mongolia © Dave Lawrence/World Bank

First, we need to address “energy poverty” if we want to end poverty.

We find that energy poverty means two things: Poor people are the least likely to have access to power. And they are more likely to remain poor if they stay unconnected.

Around one in seven, or 1.1 billion people, don’t have access to electricity, and almost 3 billion still cook with polluting fuels like kerosene, wood, charcoal, and dung.

What developing countries can learn from Alaska

Ted Chu's picture
The White Pass & Yukon summit train. © Ted Chu

I recently returned from vacation in Alaska, America’s final frontier. This place is massive, twice as big as Texas. It’s so remote that many of the conveniences Americans take for granted simply aren’t available. Prices are high, cell-phone coverage is sparse, and the state capital, Juneau, isn’t even accessible by road. It’s wonderful in summer, but during winter there are only six hours of dim sun.

For the 737,000 people who call Alaska home, life can be a challenge most of the year. The economy relies heavily on energy extraction (80% of state revenue is from petroleum) and the federal government (subsidies and military spending), plus fishing and tourism.

The case for inclusive green growth

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture
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Women fishers in Ghana. (Andrea Borgarello/World Bank - TerrAfrica)

Over the last 20 years, economic growth has helped to lift almost a billion people out of extreme poverty. But 1 billion people are still extremely poor. 1.1 billion live without electricity and 2.5 billion people without access to sanitation. For them, growth has not been inclusive enough.

In addition, growth has come at the expense of the environment. While environmental degradation affects everyone, the poor are more vulnerable to violent weather, floods, and a changing climate.

Development experts, policymakers, and institutions like the World Bank have learned a major lesson: If we want to succeed in ending poverty, growth needs to be inclusive and sustainable.