Page last updated at 19:09 GMT, Tuesday, 17 August 2010 20:09 UK

Time to close the global energy gap

Carlos Slim (left) and Kandeh K Yumkella
Carlos Slim and Kandeh K Yumkella

It is time to close the global energy gap, say Carlos Slim and Kandeh K Yumkella. In this week's Green Room, they explain how universal access to modern energy sources can help make progress towards a number of Millennium Development Goals.

Woman cooking on wood-burning stoves (Image: AP)
The financial implications of ensuring universal energy access are large, but not overwhelming when weighed against the enormous benefits

If you are reading this article, you most likely have electricity and heat at home and never think of that fact as at all remarkable.

Yet more than two billion people - one in three people on our planet - have no access to modern energy to light and heat the dwellings in which they live.

The obstacles to energy access are not technical. We know how to build power systems, design modern cooking stoves, and meet energy demand efficiently.

What is missing is a global commitment to move energy access up the political and development agendas.

Half of the world's population uses solid fuel - such as wood, charcoal, or dung - for cooking. According to the World Health Organization, 1.6 million women and children die each year as a result of indoor smoke inhalation, more than those who lose their lives to malaria.

Add the pollutant emissions from such stoves, together with the deforestation that results from using firewood, and you have several pressing global challenges that can be tackled at once by closing the energy gap.

2030 vision

Efforts to close this gap have so far been insufficient in scale and scope. However, a plan of action now exists, developed in recent months by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (AGECC).

A D Light Design solar lamp
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The group brings together top UN officials and business executives, including representatives from Edison International, Statoil, Suntech Holdings and Vattenfall.

Through this innovative public-private partnership, we analysed global energy access and recommended in our resulting report that the international community committed itself to universal access to modern energy services by 2030.

The report also called for a 40% reduction in global energy intensity by 2030, which, if implemented, would reduce global energy intensity at approximately double the historical rate.

The AGECC is now working on how best to deliver on the plan. This was the focus of the group's last meeting, held in Mexico City in July.

It was hosted by the Carlos Slim Foundation, which works in support of implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in policy areas such as health, deforestation, and closing the digital divide.

Sharing the benefits

Mexico will be the location for key UN climate talks later this year, and the AGECC is interacting with the country's energy ministry to ensure a co-ordinated and effective approach.

A child holds its hand under a water tap (Getty Images)
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The financial implications of ensuring universal energy access are large, but not overwhelming when weighed against the enormous benefits.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that over the next two decades, ensuring universal access to electricity would require about 10% of total annual investment in the energy sector, which can be mobilised by the private sector.

Universal energy access is a new market opportunity, but one that needs the right support to thrive.

Many clean technologies are already available, so we are not talking about investing billions in research. It is a question of transferring the technologies and adapting them to local conditions and needs.

But increasing energy access is not only about supplying better, more efficient cooking stoves or light bulbs.

To promote economic development and growth, energy services must also work in the interest of creating wealth and jobs by providing power for businesses and improving healthcare, education and transportation.

In September, world leaders will meet at the UN to assess progress on the MDGs. While there is no goal on energy, it is central to meeting the other MDGs, especially those concerning poverty and hunger, universal education and environmental sustainability.

Governments alone will not be able to deal with all of these challenges. We need a firm commitment from all sides: private businesses, academia, civil society and international organisations and NGOs.

The deadline for delivering universal energy access is 2030. Will you join us?

Kandeh K Yumkella is director-general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, chairman of UN-Energy and chairman of the UN secretary general's Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (AGECC)

Carlos Slim Helu is chairman of the Carlos Slim Helu Foundation and a member of AGECC

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Carlos Slim and Kandeh K Yumkella? Is delivering universal energy acccess by 2030 a realistic goal? Will this help make progress on a number of Millennium Development Goals? Or are there too many barriers in the way to make any meaningful progress?

Universal access to clean, modern energy is a right for every human. It is also a highly realistic goal, particularly when planning and implementation includes decentralised models of generation, distribution and ownership.The lack of any explicit mention of energy in the Millennium Development Goals is probably the greatest of a number of editorial (or worse) blunders in those noble targets' shortcomings. Of course, with universal access as defined above, a great many of the MDGs become so much more realistic. I refer to examples, but not in any way as a promotion, given in two books I wrote recently: 'Sustainable Energy: Less Poverty, More Profits' at the World Bank, and 'Out of the Shadows - The Energy Transition of Indonesia' at NL Agency.
Paul Osborn, Uithoorn, The Netherlands

Slim and Yumkella are hitting the nail head-on. Energy, and in particular clean energy in developing countries is quintessential to all kinds of development. Progress on the MDGs is intimately linked to the increased production of energy. There is however one problematic aspect of energy politics that the authors underplay in this article - and that is the issue of access.Not all energy is 'good' energy - energy in itself is not a highway to salvation. At the centre of the energy conundrum in relation to development is the issue of who gets access and at what price? Is the best solution to build energy off-grid, or on-grid? Should ener gy be subsidised, and if so, for whom and on what terms? These are sensitive political issues - both in international development policy circles, but not least at local and national political levels. I would have wished for at least an allurement to these central issues in this article - issues which after all are decisive with respect to the development-efficiency of an increase in energy production. That said, we, through Norway's development policy, have already planned increased effort in the energy sector for the years ahead - using more or less the same argument that the authors use, but making sure that the focus is on access. Arvinn Gadgil, Junior Minister for International Development Norway
Arvinn Gadgil, Oslo, Norway

i share absolutely with the ambitions of Carlos and Kandeh on reaching universal energy access by 2030. This is a realistic, but only if we as a people come back to ourselves that it is possible to provide cheap solar panels in villages in Africa, to exploit the usefulness of human waste, bio-fuel etc as sustainable sources of clean energy, to bring wind energy closer to villages. The world's resources are limited, but at the same time abundant for us to live cleanly, devoid of harm to mankind and the resources that sustain us.
peter narh, bayreuth, Germany

i agree with project proposed as it may create more opporunities. leaving a question the action plan and targets to be achieved in framed time may have to achieved at nominal cost only but not at huge cost
kiran kumar, warangal, india

Absolutely, I am agreed with Carlos Slim and Kandeh K Yumkella. A lot of thanks to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (AGECC)to develop their existing action plan. Yes, there are no alternate beyond the innovative public-private partnership clean global energy access project. Under this public-private partnership, any governments will establish internationally-recognized certification programs to recognize facilities that adopt approved energy management systems and achieve significant and independently validated efficiency improvements over time.
Engr Salam, LGED, Bangladesh

I have been dealing with renewable energy for more than 40 years. Providing electricity, while very desirable, will not solve the need for oooking fuel. Wood and other forms of solid biomass will continue to be used indefinitely, principally because it is available and renewable. Using wood for fuel and other products is NOT the principal cause of deforestation. It is clearing land for arable and pastoral agriculture as a result of population increase and to obtain cash income. In fact for developing countries as a whole, the annual growth of wood is 3 to 4 times annual demand. Of course there are pockets of shortage, but these can be mitigated through better kitchen practices and improved stoves etc. Increasing agricultural productivity and reducing the rate of polulation increase are key elements in a rational policy to achieved the millenium development goals. Examining the costs and benefits of rual electrification as opposed to other energy initiatives should be given priority. This is as important as 'universal energy (electricity) access'!
Keith Openshaw, Vienna, VA, USA

Delivering universal energy access has only one barrier in front of it. Our slavish dependence on Oil. Workable solar electricity farms delivering salt and pure water as by-products and creating hydrogen for export would shift the balance of economic power towards the equatorial countries we traditionally refer to as 3rd world, and no one seems to want that.
Peter T, London

It's true that many clean technologies are available today. Solar energy solutions, wind energy, hydro and geothermal power, and new generation fuel cells have important roles to play. But a renewable energy system to power industry, transportation and homes needs to be partly centralized and partly decentralized. Universal access to energy thus consists of empowering the poor with free or inexpensive portable, home scale solutions, plus the choice for big, best available, zero impact infrastructures in democratic societies that cooperate in an enriching world for all. If the UN has a facilitating role in this as its focus, it may work. But government and foundations would seriously need to step up their empowerment efforts, while governments and business need to cooperate closely to implement best available infrastructures.
Garsett, Malle, Belgium

Instead of visiting "nice" parts of the world, wouldn't it be a good idea for the UN Climate Talks to be held in one of the countries/locations where there is no electricity or clean water, etc, and none specially laid on for the delegates? That might just open a few eyes (and minds).
Brian Kellett, Rhossili, Wales

I really support such initiative we at the village are concern
Peter talam, Nandihills kenya

The Green Room has just changed colour! You're going to supply 2 billion people with electricity and this is affordable? Where will this clean energy come from? How much infrastructure, materials (e.g. copper) will it need, how much will they all cost? So that this is not misconstrued as yet another PPPP (public pays, privates prosper), Mr Slim, as the richest man in the world, should easily be able to do this out of his own pocket for, say, everyone in Mali. Once he's done this, he could come back and tell us how he got on.
P Baker, Ascot UK

The potential pitfall is that bit about reducing energy density for the rest of us who have power to waste . . er 'spare'. The planet is long past the point where it can cope with 6 billion of us all wasting it equally. It can only cope with the present situation becasue we limited to only about 2 billion of us being able to live as we do. The "fair shares for all" bit will go down very well at the conferences. The fist fights will start when they have to point out that the rest of us have got to curb our habits. "So here it is folks, you too can finally enjoy what we have enjoyed for years, and now you have it; everybody switch it off !" Fair shares for all ! - that's going to be the tough bit.
steven walker, Penzance

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