23 November 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Need for New Climate Deal to Tackle Energy Poverty


One out of four people in the world lived in the dark, without access to electricity or fuel, and 2 million died every year from diseases associated with exposure to indoor pollution owing to reliance on solid fuels, Olav Kjorven, Assistant Administrator and Director of Development Policy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said at Headquarters today.


At a press conference on the need for a new climate deal that would tackle energy poverty, Mr. Kjorven stressed that, less than a month before the Climate Conference in Copenhagen, the issue heeded urgent attention.  “For a climate deal to work, it also has to be a development deal,” he said, adding that it was “a disgrace” that 3 billion people were risking their health due to a lack of clean energy options.  “At present, half of humanity is completely disconnected from the debate.”


Speakers at the press conference highlighted the findings of a new report, “The Energy Access Situation in Developing Countries:  A Review Focusing on the Least Developed Countries and Sub-Saharan Africa”.  Produced by UNDP and the World Health Organization (WHO), with support from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the report found that about 1.5 billion people in the developing world lacked access to electricity and about 3 billion depended on solid fuels for cooking.


The report also found that, despite wide variations in access to energy among developing countries, it was especially constrained in poorer developing countries, placing them at a distinct disadvantage.  “Energy is not just about light bulbs.  It’s also about pumping water,” said Mr. Kjorven, who was accompanied on the podium by IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol and Luiz Augusto Cassanha Galvão, Manager of Sustainable Development at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).


Mr. Birol outlined three major and converging challenges:  energy security, climate change, and energy and the poor.  With respect to the first problem, higher energy prices had become a particular burden on developing countries and must be addressed.  Regarding the second, current energy trends suggested that the global temperature would rise by 6° C in the coming decades, an increase that would have a major impact in terms of food security and migration.  As for the third challenge, 1.5 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia lived without access to electricity, which was “definitely unacceptable” on economic, security and ethical grounds.


Mr. Galvão said almost 2 million people worldwide died annually from pneumonia, chronic lung disease and lung cancer associated with exposure to indoor pollution, resulting from cooking with biomass and coal.  Women and children, especially in the developing world, were disproportionately affected.  “This is also about equity,” he added.


In response to a question about investment in energy infrastructure, Mr. Kjorven said during the 1990s, it was seen as a job primarily for the private sector, whereas today experts agreed that that was neither practical nor possible.  Private-public partnerships were preferable.  With regard to subsidies, he said it was clearly a problem that high-carbon energy was subsidized in many countries, especially because the subsidies tended to benefit not the poor, but rather the privileged, who already enjoyed access to fuel and energy.


Also responding to a question, Mr. Birol clarified that the number of people with reliable access to electricity had improved slightly, but mainly as a function of demographic change as people moved from the countryside to the cities.  Electricity had not come to the rural areas, “people went to the electricity”.


Underlining the relative energy consumption of urban and rural populations, he said the amount of electricity used in New York City in a single day was the equivalent of that used to service 350 million people in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) in a single day.


Mr. Birol refuted an argument that improving energy access for the disenfranchised would have a significant impact on the environment, saying that a recent study had found that if everyone in the world got access to electricity, carbon dioxide emissions would rise by only 0.9 per cent -- “mere ‘peanuts’”.


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For information media • not an official record