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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Fri Sep 22 14:20:32 2000
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2000 23:18:59 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: DEVELOPMENT: World’s Current Energy System Unsustainable
Article: 105310
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

World’s Current Energy System Unsustainable

By Thalif Deen, IPS, 20 September 2000

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 20 (IPS)—The world’s current energy system is not sufficiently reliable or affordable to support widespread economic growth, according to a new study released Wednesday.

The 440-page study, titled ’World Energy Assessment’, says the productivity of one-third of the world’s peoples is compromised by lack of access to commercial energy and perhaps another third suffer economic hardships and insecurity due to unreliable energy supplies.

Of the world’s 6 billion people, at least 2 billion rely almost completely on traditional energy sources, including solid fuels and wood burning.

Since they have no access to electricity, one-third of the world’s population have been deprived of the unprecedented comfort, mobility and productivity afforded by modern methods of energy.

Lack of electricity usually means inadequate illumination and few labour-saving appliances, as well as limited telecommunications and possibilities for commercial enterprise, the study notes.

Greater access to electricity and modern fuels and stoves for cooking can enable people to enjoy both short-term and self-reinforcing, long- term advances in their quality of life.

The study, produced jointly by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the World Energy Council, concludes that unless governments adopt new policies to encourage the delivery of energy services in cleaner and more efficient ways, there is little hope for a prosperous, equitable and environmentally sustainable world.

The report is based on the findings of about 100 scientists, energy experts, social researchers and development practitioners worldwide.

Between 1970 and 1990, however, about 800 million additional people were reached by rural electrification programmes. Some 500 million saw their lives improve substantially through the use of better methods for cooking and other rural energy tasks, particularly in China.

Despite these enormous efforts to improve energy services to rural populations in the last 20 to 30 years, the unserved population has remained about the same in absolute numbers—about 2 billion people.

Although the unavailability of adequate energy services in rural areas is probably the most serious energy problem confronting humanity in the near future, rural energy remains low on the list of priorities of most government and corporate planners, the study points out.

And the increased demands of the more influential (and rapidly growing) urban population will make it more difficult to keep rural development on the agenda, it notes.

The study says that an effective strategy to address the energy needs of rural populations is to promote the climbing of the energy ladder.

This implies moving from simple biomass fuels (dung, crop residues, firewood) to the most convenient, efficient form of energy appropriate to the task at hand—usually liquid or gaseous fuels for cooking and heating and electricity for most other uses.

According to the study, hundreds of millions of people—mainly women and children—spend several hours a day in the drudgery of gathering firewood and carrying water, often from considerable distances, for household needs. Because of these demands on their time and energy, women and children often miss out on opportunities for education and other productive activities.

Current methods of energy production, distribution and use worldwide are major contributors to environmental problems, including global warming and ecosystem degradation at the local, regional and global levels.

The environmental impacts of energy use are not new. For centuries, wood burning has contributed to the deforestation of many areas.

Even in the early stages of industrialisation, local air, water and land pollution reached high levels. What is relatively new is the acknowledgement of energy linkages to regional and global environmental problems, and of their implications, the report adds.

These problems could be addressed through changes in public policy and private sector initiatives. However, since energy systems are capital intensive and have long lifetimes, new approaches are needed now or the world may find itself locked into unsustainable patterns of energy production and use resulting from current investment decisions, the study says.

Meeting the energy-related challenges ahead will require both the dynamism of the private sector and enlightened public policies to guide it. But government guidance and regulations are crucial, because without them the market will not meet the needs of the poor, nor will it protect the environment.