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The energy poor (EP) encompass between 1.25 billion and 3 billion people who do not have access to beneficial energy for their cooking, illumination, or mechanical needs. Their lives are disfigured by ill health, poverty, lack of education, and underdevelopment. The universally accepted norm of sustainable development (SD) demands that the rest of the world, spearheaded by the rich nations, address the plight of the EP. In a welcome response, the United Nations (UN) has recently embraced the need for universal access to electricity and declared 2012 the “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All” with a focus on providing electricity. Although access to electricity must remain the ultimate objective, the daunting additional costs of electricity, and the time taken to do so — realistically 30 years — will shunt the EP into limbo unless interim measures are also taken. Beneficial energy based on appropriate sustainable energy technologies (ASETs) can provide such intermediate energy. ASETs bridge the gap between capital-intensive electricity and the traditional subsistence technologies of the EP. ASETs demand serious consideration.
Forthcoming: Annual Review of Environment and Resources Vol. 36 (Volume publication date
November 2011) []
“Energy Poverty” 1
Lakshman Guruswamy, Ph.D.
Nicholas Doman Professor of Law, Director, Center for Energy and Environmental Security
(CEES), University of Colorado at Boulder
The energy poor encompass between a billion and a quarter and three billion people
who do not have access to beneficial energy for their cooking, illumination, or
mechanical needs. Their lives are disfigured by ill health, poverty, lack of education,
and underdevelopment. The universally accepted norm of sustainable development
(SD) demands that the rest of the world, spearheaded by the rich nations, address the
plight of the energy poor. In a welcome response, the UN has recently embraced the
need for universal access to energy, and declared 2012 the "International Year of
Sustainable Energy for All" with the predominant objective of providing electricity for
those lacking access to it. While access to electricity must remain the ultimate objective,
the daunting additional costs of electricity, and the time taken to do so –realistically thirty
years– will shunt the energy poor into limbo unless interim measures are also taken.
Beneficial energy based on appropriate sustainable energy technologies (ASETs) can
provide such intermediate energy. ASETs bridge the gap between capital intensive
electricity, and the traditional subsistence technologies of the energy poor. ASETs
demand serious consideration.
Running Title: Energy Poverty
ASETS (Appropriate Sustainable Energy Technologies), Sustainable
Development, MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), LDCs (Least Developed
Countries), Energy Justice
1 I am deeply indebted to Jacquelyn Amour Jampolsky (JD and MS candidate), and Jeremy Pollack
candidate) for their invaluable assistance.
The term Energy Poor (EP) refers to two categories of people. The most vulnerable
category consists of more than 1.4 billion people that live on less than $1.15 per day (1), and
have no access to reliable, safe and efficient energy for cooking, lighting, space heating, or
mechanical power. The second consists of close to 3 billion people, accounting for nearly half the
world’s population, who rely upon harmful energy like biomass-generated fire for their cooking
and heating (2).
A disturbingly large swath of humanity is caught in a time warp. They rely on biomass-
generated fire as their principal source of energy. These fires are made by burning animal dung,
waste, crop residues, rotted wood, other forms of harmful biomass or raw coal. Smoke from the
fire used for cooking leads to the premature deaths of two million people, primarily women and
children, from respiratory infection. Moreover, fire fails to supply the majority of other basic
energy needs. Even the most rudimentary forms of rural agriculture need energy for water
pumping, irrigation, plowing, harvesting, milling, grinding and processing food. Generating
income through small businesses requires energy to transport and distribute goods and services to
markets, and for telecommunications. Water treatment plants that provide safe drinking water for
communities and schools require energy. Hospitals need energy for refrigerating vital
medications and vaccinations. Education calls for energy for lighting and heating of schools,
while students need lighting at home to do their homework.
The EP have been conceptualized within a single typology based on the binary division
of the world into developing and developed countries or north and south. However, the flaws of
classifying the EP in this way are underlined by a recent joint report of the UNDP and WHO (3).
While twenty-eight percent of people in developing countries lack access to electricity, the
number in the LDCs is seventy-nine percent (3).
The LDCs consist of forty nine countries and 767 million people located primarily in
Africa and Asia. The LDCs have been officially identified by the UN as “least developed” in
light of their low income (three-year average gross national income (GNI) per capita of less than
US $905), weak human assets (low nutrition, high mortality, lack of school enrollment and high
illiteracy), high economic vulnerability, exposure to natural shocks and disasters, prevalence of
trade shocks, economic smallness, and economic remoteness (4). These figures accentuate some
of the differences between the LDCs, of sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, and the newly
industrialized countries (“NICs”), like China, India, the Asian Tigers2, and Brazil. It is therefore
necessary at the outset to acknowledge at least two major categories among the developing
countries: LDCs and NICs. Many segments within NICs are in fact served by electricity derived
2 Originally called the Four Asian Tigers or East Asian Tigers, the term referred to the economies of
Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea, but the term has been extended to include Thailand
and Indonesia.
from fossil fuels. These NICs have advanced up the energy ladder, in contrast to the LDCs who
are trapped at the bottom of the energy ladder.
A general lack of access to beneficial energy plays an enormous role in both creating, and
promulgating the condition of the LDCs, and because the phenomenon of energy poverty is
overwhelmingly a problem of the LDCs, the primary focus of this article will be on them. The
article will begin with a reassertion of the thesis that the development of civilization has been
dependent upon, and continues to be controlled by, the use and exploitation of beneficial energy.
It will then evaluate the arguments for electricity and attempts to provide electricity to the EP,
and next canvas access to non-electrical energy specifically citing cooking and mechanical
The current era of globalization is driven by modern innovation and advanced
technologies that occur in industrialized countries. These technologies are not necessarily
affordable, appropriate or accessible for the EP. On the other hand, traditional uses of energy, and
the technologies surrounding them, are frequently harmful, inefficient and unproductive.
Appropriate Sustainable Energy Technologies (ASETs) seek to bridge the gap between the
capital-intensive advanced technologies of the developed world and the traditional subsistence
technologies of the EP. The purpose of ASETs is to free the EP from the oppressive impacts of
unhealthy and unreliable energy, and to facilitate sustainable development in the LDCs. This
article will discuss the benefits of ASETs as an immediate solution, or the first step toward
beneficial energy for a significant segment of the energy poor.
Poverty is defined by how it is measured. Consequently, the metric used to quantify energy poverty is
critical in establishing its prevalence, and defining the energy poor. Different metrics for defining energy
poverty are discussed by Bazilian et. al. (17), and much remains to be done in arriving at dispositive
metrics. The functional definition of energy poverty in this paper is generally based on the 2009 UNDP
Report “The Energy Access Situation in Developing Countries: A Review Focusing on the Least
Developed Countries and Sub-Saharan Africa,” largely a compilation of data from publically available
information from government reporting agencies.
This article posits that the needs of the energy poor must be addressed within the ethical,
political and legal framework of sustainable development (SD). In order that the universally
accepted principles of SD be applied in earnest, it is essential that the world accept a rational
justification for SD. The great political philosopher John Rawls provides a cogent justification
for doing so, particularly in his Law of Peoples. This article briefly reviews his thesis and arrives
at a crucial conclusion: SD, as informed by John Rawls, obligates the world to address the needs
of the EP. Finally, this article presents the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as an
embodiment of Rawlsian principles, and highlights the potential of ASETs to achieve each of
these goals.
I. The Connection Between Energy & Poverty
A somewhat neglected seam of scholarship, depicting how societies have used energy,
has illuminated the interface between physical or natural phenomena, and social systems created
by humans. Energy penetrates and impacts almost all facets of the human and social world (5).
The dominant conceptualization of this relationship remains a slightly nuanced version of the
original hypothesis of Herbert Spencer in the 1800s. He concluded that the ability for societies to
harness energy defines what they can produce, and thus the ability to harness energy is the basis
of both social progress, and development disparities among societies (6).
In the 1950s Leslie White refined this idea by discussing cultural progress in terms of a
“continuum,” where progress is conceptualized in terms of a linear path from poor, to advanced
energy use. He posited that development is propelled by societies’ ability to exploit new, better
forms of energy, and that access to energy per capita does not only dictate the progress of
peoples, but is inextricably linked with cultural developments and the shape of modern society
based on who has access and control over production (7). Fred Cottrell further developed this
idea by discussing energy as a limiting factor, where the ability (or inability) to harness energy
limits human capacity for growth (8). Even a soft conceptual superimposition or application of
this framework within a modern milieu reveals that access to energy is essential to development,
and that inability to access energy can both cause, and propagate poverty where the energy poor
are forced to rely on human energy and inefficient conversion of biomass to complete their daily
A recent report by the United Nation’s Secretary General’s Advisory Group on Energy
and Climate Change endorses the linear framework for energy development, and advocates
universal access to “modern” energy. To achieve increased global energy efficiency, the report
suggests a number of priorities that demonstrate an understanding of solving energy poverty as
“indispensable for global prosperity” (2). In the end however, the report is based on an
unarticulated major premise: Leapfrogging (2). This is the notion that countries and peoples
using poorly-developed technology like open fires for cooking, heating and illumination, can
morph into societies employing modern energy systems without the need for an intermediary
stage. For example, the linear progression model assumes the energy poor will “leapfrog” from
fire and harmful biomass to modern energy involving large scale, mini grid, and off grid
electrification, without the need for intermediate steps.
II. The Case for Electricity Examined
The incontrovertible predicate that energy is a sine qua non for development has given
rise to a linear framework calling on the energy poor to leapfrog from primitive to modern
electrical energy. This analytical supposition continues to dominate how energy and poverty is
conceptualized today.
A report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the United Nations Development
Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Industrial and Development Organization (UNIDO)
(hereinafter the IEA Report) delineates how the EP can benefit from access to electricity and
cooking facilities (13). It emphasizes that billions of people are without access to electricity or
cooking facilities, and that extreme poverty cannot be eradicated without acknowledging and
confronting the lack of energy.
One of the important conclusions of this valuable report however is significantly flawed
because with one exception, it equates electricity with energy. The one exception made is for
addressing indoor pollution by introducing non-electric cookstoves. Beneficial energy for
cooking is a basic and fundamental need of the energy poor, and cookstoves are an example of
ASETs that supply this need. With the exception of cooking the report considers electricity for
all as its aim and objective.
But having recognized an exception dealing with energy for cooking, the rest of the IEA
Report is premised on the linear leapfrogging model that equates electricity with energy, and
advocates the sole goal of universal modern electrical energy by 2030. This is puzzling. Once the
salience of non-electrical energy for cooking is recognized, a parity of reasoning commends
equal recognition of the need for non- electrical energy for illumination and mechanical needs as
interim technologies. Unfortunately, the IEA Report glosses over the needs of the EP for energy
for illumination and mechanical energy during the thirty-forty years that it would realistically
take to provide energy access to all. It seems that the non-electric energy needs of the EP, with
the exception of cooking, have been placed in limbo awaiting the eventual arrival of electricity.
Enigmatically, the IEA Report does so despite recognizing the almost prohibitive
additional cost of the generation, transmission, distribution, and installation of electricity, which
it quantifies as $788 billion of additional investment, and acknowledges that this presents a
“major challenge.”(13) But the daunting nature of the challenge may have been misread. While
the IEA Report estimates the costs of access to modern electric energy for the EP by 2030 to
amount to an additional $788 billion, others have argued that this figure underestimated some
costs and omitted others, and that the actual cost may be as high as $134 billion per year (14).
Moreover, the report offers an unrealistic time frame. In light of the political and financial
difficulties identified by the report, it will take at least until 2040 or 2050 for this goal to be
realized. If and when that were to happen, electricity can provide numerous energy services such
as illumination, cooking, refrigeration, telecommunications, education, transportation, and uses
stemming from mechanical power, (9) that affect all aspects of life, including access to
education, healthcare, water quality, and communications (10).
But, it remains demonstrably clear that the EP need immediate access to basic energy
services, with or without a modern electrical system, because they are forced to rely upon
unreliable, and often expensive sources of energy to complete daily tasks. For example, in the
Peruvian Andes, Caritas and the University of Colorado at Boulder are conducting a project to
improve access to energy in the indigent Quechua communities just outside the city of Ayaviri
(12). We found that almost none of the families have access to electricity, with the majority of
families using candles to illuminate their homes. Some families live more than twenty miles of
unpaved Andean countryside from the nearest market, and the simple task of illuminating their
home places a substantial physical, temporal, and financial burden on the families who must
walk hours to the nearest store to purchase the candles. Families that do not have the means to
procure candle lighting are unable to illuminate their homes, and are forced to stop all
productivity at sundown. In the Andean winter, this is approximately six o’clock.
While this article concludes that electricity will not offer an immediate answer to
significant segments of the energy poor because it costs too much and will take too long, it has
been argued otherwise. These contrary claims need to be considered.
It has been contended, for example, that the actual amount of energy the EP need to
satisfy their basic needs make it a feasible endeavor. It has been suggested that the typical per
capita amount of electricity needed to satisfy basic energy services for off-grid households in all
developing countries, assuming five people per household, is only about 50 kilowatt hours per
year (15). To provide that much more energy per year for all of the EP would only amount to less
than 0.5% of global annual production of electricity (15).
However, it should be noted at the outset of this discussion that 50 kWh per year will
hardly satisfy the basic energy needs for illumination, mechanical energy or water purification of
a five-person household. According to the World Bank, the per capita consumption in India,
which has one of the lowest per capita consumption rates in the world, is 639 kWh (51).
Two main ways are popularly proposed to address the lack of access to electricity in the
LDCs: centralized grid-extension, or decentralized systems (10). For example, large scale grid
extension is the increased distribution of electricity from a big central system. This approach is
most efficient in densely populated areas where the physical task of increasing in-home
connections is more cost effective. On the other hand, a decentralized system could consist of a
small hydro-dam creating a relatively inexpensive central system, with mini-grid extensions
serving one or two communities.
Although large scale grid extensions have seen some positive applications, for example,
in China, Viet Nam, and South Africa (2), it is less apt to address the energy access situation in
the LDCs for a number of reasons. First, grid extension requires State run programs to increase
access, and assumes functioning, and financially sound national governments. The LDCs are
often characterized by a general lack of financial or federal means, and without creative
intervention would be unable to complete the task. Second, because the majority of people
lacking access to electricity in the LDCs are rural dwellers, grid extension would be costly, tardy,
and possibly completely unfeasible in remote regions.
As opposed to grid extension, decentralized electricity allows for the optimization of the
use of indigenous natural resources. The power is generated on site, thereby avoiding
transmission losses and long distribution chains and satisfying energy demand directly. The
standardization and modularity of the technology provides a high degree of flexibility to adapt to
different locations and environments and at the same time allows the installed technology to be
scaled up when demand increases. Furthermore, the relatively simple installation and
maintenance, combined with minimal running costs, facilitate local training and income
generation opportunities, which in turn guarantee the sustainability of the system. Moreover, it is
cost competitive compared with the conventional options on a life cycle basis (16).
The photovoltaic (PV) system has been posited as an example of the benefits of
decentralized electricity. The modular nature of PV generators means that installations can be
redesigned to meet an increase in demand; PV water systems can also be easily moved with little
dismantling and low reinstallation costs. This technology is also highly efficient – direct solar
pumping technology covers applications ranging from 500–1500 m3/day – requires minimal
maintenance and, of course, does not use fossil fuels. Since 1994 around 24,000 solar pumping
systems have been installed worldwide providing drinking water to several thousand households
and community services (health clinics, schools and the like), as well as irrigation services.
Gambia, Tunisia and Algeria are some of the locations that have benefited from this technology.
By the year 2010, the EU predicts that 150,000 PV pumps will have been installed (16).
Hybrid systems are presented as another promising example. A typical hybrid system
combines two or more energy sources such as PV panels with wind, or other conventional fuels
such as diesel. Hybrid systems capture the best features of each energy resource and can provide
‘grid-quality’ electricity with a power range between several kilowatts and several hundred
kilowatts. This combined technology can be used for a range of applications, from village
electrification to professional energy solutions such as telecommunication stations or emergency
rooms at hospitals, and as a backup to the public grid in case of blackouts. Hybrid systems are
integrated in small electricity distribution systems (mini-grids) and can be incorporated into both
available and planned structures, as replacements for diesel mini-grid systems. Retrofitting
hybrid power systems to the existing diesel-based plants will significantly minimize delivery and
transport problems and will drastically reduce maintenance and emissions, representing a more
advantageous solution for rural areas. Even if such systems include a generator as a backup,
renewable energy will still supply, at least, between 60%–90% of the energy, with generators
providing as little as 10% of the energy. (16)
These are offered as just two examples of how rural electrification can be achieved
without the high-capital, time intensive traditional ideas of grid-extension. However, it must be
recognized that decentralized electricity requires initial investment, and some sources estimate
that at a minimum, rural households will consume at least 250 kWh, which would provide for a
floor fan, two fluorescent light bulbs and a radio for about five hours per day. On the other hand,
urban households consume approximately 500 kWh per year. This would amount to total growth
of incremental electricity output of around 950 TWh, representing 2.9% of the 33,000 TWh
estimated to be generated in 2030 (13).
Whether centralized or decentralized, substantial investment will be needed to revitalize
the generating systems and associated transmissions and distribution networks in the LDCs.
According to the World Bank, Sub-Saharan Africa would need to spend 2.7 percent of annual
GDP on capital equipment alone. Today, the majority of rural people without access to electricity
live in Sub-Saharan Africa (approximately 500 million), and South Asia (approximately 470
million). These two growing regions have the lowest average electrification rates in the world,
estimated at not more than twelve percent and forty-eight percent, respectively. Even more
worrying is that these low rates have shown very little improvement over time.
The investment required to provide electricity will amount to between four and five
percent of annual GDP. Such a rate of expenditure would be necessary to eradicate energy
poverty in the least developed countries over the next 20 years. The governments of poor
countries cannot begin to tackle such vast financial requirements without assistance. This is
where ASETS come in.
III. Why Appropriate Sustainable Energy Technologies (ASETs)?
a. Existing Challenges
Before discussing ASETs, it is important to briefly delineate some of the challenges
confronting their fabrication, distribution, and deployment. First, there is the information
challenge. The primary objective is to convey the extent to which most of the ills of the poor are
attributable to lack of energy. Presenting arresting and compelling information via TV, print and
electronic media, theater and community communication is as much a challenge for civil society
as it is for governments at all levels. Second, there is the behavioral challenge. Even where
presented with good information, some among the energy poor may choose to continue doing
what they have been accustomed to doing. The reasons for their reluctance may include tradition,
taste, cost, convenience, or fear of change. Meeting this behavioral challenge calls for the same
coalitions as those dealing with the information challenge. Implementation strategies should be
informed by local conditions, and could be enhanced by education, persuasion, and in
appropriate circumstances, law and legislation.
Third, there is the challenge of financing ASETs. The current lack of funding is
undeniable; extensive funding from private and public sources for every aspect of ASETs from
research, development and demonstration to investment, manufacture, marketing and
distribution, is required. Investment in ASETs from private investors is particularly lacking,
possibly because ASETs are largely new and unfamiliar. Part of the novelty of funding ASETs is
that it falls somewhere between philanthropic giving and regular investment, which may cause
potential investors to vacillate.
Moreover, public policy must be reshaped so as to allocate public resources to ASETs.
There is a pressing case to educate and influence decision makers in the public sector where
large sums of money are set aside for social programs both nationally and as foreign aid. This
must be accompanied by a re-contouring of existing institutions like aid agencies and foreign
offices to respond to the needs of the energy poor. Nationally, institutionalizing the moral
predicate and the obligation to reach out to the EP can be achieved through legislation and
policy. Internationally, it requires a focus on the right to sustainable development and the duty
placed on rich countries by the principle of common but differentiated responsibility to help the
EP. Furthermore, the flexibility mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol can be utilized to give
credit not just for the reduction of carbon dioxide but also of black soot and other non GHG
causes of global warming that is more relevant to the LDCs.
b. ASETs Described
ASETs refer to the simplest level of energy technology that can satisfy basic energy needs
of the EP including cooking, illumination, agriculture, communication and drinking water. They
are based on sustainable engineering tailored to the particular environmental, ethical, cultural,
social, political, and economic aspects of the community it is intended for. ASETs require fewer
resources, are easier to maintain, and have less of an impact on the environment compared to
techniques derived from mainstream technology. Investing in research and dissemination of
ASETs will capitalize on the many different environmental and social capabilities of energy-
deprived communities, side step the financial and temporal constraints of large scale energy
projects like grid expansion, and address the needs of the energy poor immediately.
Cooking Efficient cook-stoves, charcoal, biogas, passive solar, and
Pyrolytic cook stoves
Water Filtration &
Cloth Filters, desalination, solar water disinfection (SODIS),
ceramic and sand filtration, nano filters (TATA Swach),
Heating Efficient cook-stoves, passive solar
Agricultural Technology Improved plows, harnesses, feed systems, better yokes
sustainable farming practices, passive solar greenhouses, fog-
collection, rainwater harvesting, hippo water roller, shallow
and deep wells with lining
Irrigation Drip irrigation systems, treadle-pumps, ram-pumps, rope-
pumps, and play pumps
Lighting & Refrigeration Multifunctional biodiesel platforms, hand-held solar-lamps,
mini-electric, LED lighting, Pot in Pot, and solar refrigerators
Transportation Local biodiesel, mechanical enhancement, improved cart-
design, bicycles, faraday flashlight
Waste Management Composting, pit latrines, urine-diversion dehydration toilets,
composting toilets, treatment ponds, constructed wetlands
Housing Improved construction practices, solar thermal heating
Local Electric Pico Hydro (under 5 kw) Wind-belt micro-wind, micro-hydro,
small-solar, small scale wind power, handwheel generators
Human Power Improvement Round-abouts, gear-driven shell-crackers ,universal nut
shellers, screenless hammer mills
The following two subsections demonstrate the potential of ASETs to meet the needs of the EP in
the crucial areas of cooking and mechanical power.
c. Access to Fuels for Cooking
In the LDCs, 715 million people rely on solid fuels for cooking, 703 million rely on
traditional biomass, and 615 million of those relying on biomass live in sub-Saharan Africa alone
(3). In the LDCs, the overwhelming majority of people forced to use solid fuels for cooking are
rural, and more than eighty percent of rural dwellers rely on solid fuels for cooking, including
wood, coal, charcoal, crop residues, and dung; and eighty-five percent of those people rely on
wood and its by-products only (3). This means that a mere fifteen percent of the EP in the LDCs
enjoy access to modern fuels for cooking.4
The general lack of access to modern fuels, and overwhelming reliance on biomass for
cooking has a number of adverse consequences on human health, and also on the global
phenomenon of climate change. First, the EP that rely on biomass for cooking fuel generally
cook over an open fire, or with some other form of a traditional stove. This process is
4 The percent of people that use electricity, liquid fuels, or gaseous fuels as their primary fuel to
satisfy their cooking needs; aka liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), natural gas, kerosene, ethanol, or
exceedingly inefficient, as only about eighteen percent of the energy from the fire transfers to the
pot (17). Depending on the type of fuel and stove being used, indoor air pollution can contain a
variety of dangerous pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, sulfur oxides,
formaldehyde, carcinogens (such as benzene), and small particulate matter (18). Second, two
million deaths per year (3.3% of all deaths) are caused by indoor pollution due to combustion of
solid fuels world-wide, with more than ninety-nine percent of these deaths occurring in
developing countries (3). Specifically, though the population of the LDCs makes up a mere
twelve percent of the global citizenry, these countries account for thirty percent of all deaths
caused by indoor pollution (3). For some perspective, consider the health recommendations of
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). The EPA sets a limit of 150 <<mu>>g/m3
for small particulates in the United States; the World Health Organization (“WHO”) reports that
a typical twenty-four hour mean level for homes burning biomass fuels is between 300 to 3,000
<<mu>>g/m3 (18). This results in pollution levels that are far more deadly in the LDCs than the
atmospheric pollution allowed by the developed world. According to the WHO, exposure to high
concentrations of indoor air pollution presents one of the ten most important threats to public
health worldwide (19), resulting in diseases such as pneumonia, chronic pulmonary disease
(COPD), lung cancer, asthma, and acute respiratory infections (ARI). Furthermore, three
published studies suggest that people who live in homes using wood for cooking are at 2.5 times
greater risk of active tuberculosis than those who do not (17), and there is growing evidence
suggesting that indoor air pollution causes cataracts (17).
Third, women and children are disproportionately affected by the use of biomass for
cooking. Women are traditionally responsible for cooking and childcare in the home, and they
spend more time inhaling the polluted air that is trapped indoors. Thus, women and children have
the highest exposure to indoor air pollution and suffer more than anyone from these negative
health effects (20). Specifically, the risk for child pneumonia increases 2.3 times in homes that
burn solid fuels for cooking, and women are about twice as likely to be afflicted with COPD than
men in homes using solid fuels (3). Beyond suffering adverse health effects, women and children
are also disproportionately affected by the time constraints needed for collecting fuel. As with
water collection, women are burdened with the majority of the work to collect fuel, which can
present other serious risks such as an increased chance of being raped, as occurred in the refugee
camps of Darfur (21).
Fourth, there are severe environmental impacts of biomass dependence. The reliance on
wood as a fuel source puts considerable pressure on local forests, particularly in areas where fuel
is scarce and demand for wood outstrips natural re-growth (22). Depletion of woodland can lead
to soil erosion and loss of a carbon sink (23). Furthermore, it is well established that burning
dung and agricultural residues emits carbon dioxide and methane (24). Arresting new research
findings – well-received, though they have not yet garnered universal consensus among the
scientific community – have now identified emissions from the burning of biomass as a
significant cause of anthropogenic global warming. For example, according to an article in
Nature Geoscience (25) discussed in Science (26), the black carbon emitted by burning biomass
is the second largest contributor to current global warming after carbon dioxide emissions. The
article concludes that black carbon warms the atmosphere more severely than other GHGs such
as methane, halocarbons, and tropospheric ozone by absorbing both direct and reflected solar
radiation (25). Unlike GHGs, ambient black carbon dissipates in a very short period of time.
Thus, helping to move one-third of the global population away from biomass burning will have
the effect of reducing global warming more immediately than merely reducing carbon dioxide
emissions. Furthermore, removing black carbon would reduce the effects black soot has on
impairing the albedo, or reflectivity, of polar ice (27). The presence of overlying black carbon
may result in ice retaining more heat, leading to increased melting and further global warming.
The dependence on biomass for cooking can be addressed in two ways. First, agricultural
waste or animal dung can be converted to other useable forms of energy, to create better fuels by
using biogas digesters. The National Biodigester program, perhaps the best documented and
most successful program of its kind, is a joint enterprise between the Cambodia Ministry of
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the Netherlands Development Organization
(SNV). Unfortunately, the cost of each biodigester runs into the hundreds of dollars, which
places it outside the reach of most of the EP (28). Other forms of fuel pellets or converted fuels
have not proven to be practicable and have not gained wide currency.
The other way to address indoor pollution is to increase access to improved cookstoves.
The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (29) is a new initiative, led by the UN Foundation,
supporting large-scale adoption of clean and safe household cooking solutions as a way to save
lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and reduce climate change emissions. The
Alliance’s founding partners have set a goal of enabling an additional 100 million homes to
adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020.
Improved cookstoves can utilize a number of different fuel types, but in general are
designed to conduct more efficient combustion, and reduce particulate indoor air pollution. For
example, Envirofit (a non-profit corporation) has created a stove that can reduce emissions by as
much as eighty percent and use up to sixty percent less fuel while reducing cooking cycle time
by up to fifty percent compared to traditional open fires (30). The University of California at
Berkeley designed a cookstove for refugee camps in Darfur that saves more than 1.5 metric tons
of CO2 per year. In term of CO2 reductions, this is equivalent to removing one average US
vehicle from the road for an entire year (31). Both of these examples use local solid fuels in
order to facilitate sustainable practices within the community, but there are a number of other
stoves that use ethanol, gas, or other forms of liquid fuels to increase combustion efficiency and
reduce the particulate indoor pollution. Average clean cookstoves can cost anywhere from $5-
$40 USD depending on the model and region in which it is assembled, again demonstrating a
relatively low cost-benefit ratio, and presenting a timely opportunity to address the needs of the
d. Access to Mechanical Power
“The 2.5 billion people without access to modern energy services still depend on
unimproved versions of mechanical power equipment that inefficiently use human or animal
power to meet their energy needs” (32). Mechanical power refers to “the transmission of energy
through a solid structure to impart motion, such as for pumping, pushing, and other similar
needs...” (3). In a practical sense this means either using human and animal power, or “modern”
energy sources such as wind, solar, gas, or electrical power to complete daily tasks. The energy
services that stem from access to mechanical power include agriculture (irrigation, farming, and
processing), water pumping, and small-scale industry (32). Unfortunately, specific data
quantifying exactly how many of the EP in the LDCs lack access to mechanical power is few and
far between.5 It is clear however that access to mechanical power is a problem for the EP, and
that it has begun to receive attention on the international energy agenda.6
For the EP, inability to access modern forms of mechanical energy results in the use of
inefficient human and animal power to satisfy the most basic needs. To have water for drinking,
5 In the 2009 UNDP report only 3 of the LDCs had data to report on access to mechanical power.
6 Increased investments in mechanical power interventions by the Gates Foundation, UNDP,USAID,
CID, the World Bank etc. (49)
women (primarily) must perform the arduous task of walking to the natural source, and
collecting it for use in the household (32). Depending on the season, in parts of Africa this can
require spending up to four hours per day collecting water. In Uganda, women spend an average
of 660 hours per year (about a month’s time) collecting water (32). Even a very simple ASET,
such as a water pump, could drastically cut collection time. Less time spent collecting water will
also aid development and gender equality by allowing women to spend the time saved on other
productive activities – be it economic, educational, or domestic.
While water pumps are widely used in parts of the developing world, they are most
commonly operated through the use of human power – by either hand or foot. This is also a
physically demanding and time consuming method for collecting water. In some locations it may
be appropriate to employ windmill, water wheel, or photovoltaic solar technologies to ease the
burden on manual pumping. Selecting an effective ASET based pump for lifting potable water
requires investigating the groundwater depth, water characteristics, capacity demand, preferred
method of operation and maintenance sustainability in the target region. Fortunately, there are
numerous non-electric or fossil fuel based pumps that are up for the task (33).
Another example of how ASETS can be used to provide useful mechanical energy
involves the method for processing grain. Before grain can be consumed or sold, the EP must dry
it in the sun or with a handheld fan, and then grind it by hand or with a flail. Because post
harvest processing is “arguably the main factor in helping farmers increase their income,” simple
technologies such as watermills could drastically cut the amount of physical labor needed,
increase production, and improve both food security and profit margins for farmers (34).
Although improving access to some basic services achieved through mechanical power can be
addressed through expanding access to electricity, this energy deficit can also be addressed
through non-electric, non-fossil fuel ASETs.
A particularly innovative application of ASETs to the EP is the Gravity Goods Ropeways
project conducted by Practical Action, Nepal. The project, initiated in 2002, was conducted as a
way to reduce the transportation time it took communities to walk their agricultural produce from
the village farmyards in the highlands down to the main roads. The technology was beautifully
adapted to fit unique local conditions. It is basically a system of gravity operated pulleys that can
carry up to 130kgs of goods in a trolley carriage 1.3 km from an elevated platform to a lower
platform, and about 40kgs of goods from the lower platform to the higher one. The ropeways
have reduced transportation costs for farmers by 85%, and transportation time from 3-4 hours a
day to just 5 minutes. Each individual pulley is locally managed, and operational costs are
funded by use charges. The communities contributed 40% of the initial investment, and the rest
was funded by external sources. In sum, the ropeway required only about $6,500 USD (4,200
GBP) of initial external investment. Examples like this demonstrate the feasibility of applying
efficient, simple, and sustainable solutions to the problems of energy poverty.
IV. Right to Sustainable Development & Access to Energy
The problem of access to energy relegates the EP to a life of desperation that affronts
international concepts of justice and sustainable development (SD). The concept of SD was
originally formulated by the World Commission on Sustainable Development, also known as the
Brundtland Commission, as a distributional principle to address the needs of the world’s poor
while maintaining environmental integrity. SD mandates that global environmental protection
must be pursued in tandem with economic and social development. International law
unequivocally institutionalizes SD.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”) is the most important
energy convention to date. Having obtained 194 instruments of ratification, it is probably the
most extensively adopted treaty in the world. Art. 3(1) of the UNFCCC states that the Parties
have a right to and should promote sustainable development, and that economic development is
essential for adopting measures to address climate change, while Art. 3(2) affirms that full
consideration be given to the special circumstances of developing countries. Parties are required
to protect the climate system on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but
differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities. The principle of common but
differentiated responsibility affirms the responsibility of the developed country parties to take the
lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.
The UNFCCC coalesced with another widely accepted treaty, the Convention on
Biological Diversity (“CBD”), by forcefully and unequivocally expressing the developmental
priority of SD. Art. 4(7) of the UNFCCC, and Art. 20(4) of the CBD, re-affirm in unison that
parties “will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty
eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties . . . .”
Specifically, therefore, energy poverty can only be addressed within a framework of distributive
justice, as part of the overall right to economic and social development established by the
foundational norm of sustainable development.
John Rawls & Sustainable Development
John Rawls's foundational concept of international justice, which began with liberal
democratic societies, but was expanded to include even non-democratic societies, provides a
moral justification for SD (35). Rawls discusses a “realistic utopia” grounded in socio-political,
institutional, and psychological reality. (35). This section attempts to reconcile Rawls's ideas
with present realities insofar as they apply to SD and the EP.
Rawls's “original position,” a thought experiment expounded in A Theory of Justice, and
developed in numerous other works, envisioned a collection of negotiators from liberal
democratic societies. The negotiators assembled behind a veil of ignorance and shorn of any
knowledge that might be the basis of self-interested bias – such as knowledge of their gender,
wealth, race, ethnicity, abilities, and general social circumstances. Rawls explains that the
purpose of such a negotiation was to arrive at legitimate principles of justice under fair
conditions – hence “justice as fairness” (36).
In The Law of Peoples, concerning justice and international law, Rawls extends his
theories from liberal democratic states to “decent” peoples living in non-democratic international
societies. Rawls envisions such “well-ordered hierarchical societies” to be “non-liberal societies
whose basic institutions meet specified conditions of political right and justice (including the
right of citizens to play a substantial role, such as participating in associations and groups
making political decisions) and lead their citizens to honor a reasonably just law for the Society
of Peoples.” (35). Well-ordered societies must satisfy a number of criteria: they must eschew
aggressive aims as a means of achieving their objectives, honor basic human rights dealing with
life, liberty, and freedom, and possess a system of law imposing bona fide moral duties and
obligations, as distinct from human rights. Moreover, they must have law and judges to uphold
common ideas of justice (36).
Rawls demonstrated how the law of peoples may be developed out of liberal ideas of
justice similar to, but more general than, the idea of “justice as fairness” presented in A Theory of
Justice (35). Just as individuals in the first original position were shorn of knowledge about their
attributes and placed behind a veil of ignorance to create principles for a just domestic society,
the bargainers in the so-called second original position are representatives of peoples who are
shorn of knowledge about their people's resources, wealth, power, and the like. Behind the veil of
ignorance, the representatives of peoples – not states, since states lack moral capacity – develop
the principles of justice that will govern relations between them: the Law of Peoples.
It should be noted at this juncture that there is a difference between John Rawls’s theories
of domestic and international justice. The principles of domestic distributive justice espoused by
Rawls in A Theory of Justice did not apply to the international sphere. A pivotal reason for this
offered by Rawls is that on the global level, the behavior of “peoples” as opposed to
“individuals” is the primary determinant of justice.
Rawls emphasized the need for global order and stability over global distributive justice.
Once the duty to assist burdened peoples is satisfied there are no further requirements on
economic distribution within Rawls’s Law of Peoples: inequalities across national borders are of
no political concern as such. Individuals around the world may suffer greatly from bad luck, and
may be haunted by spiritual emptiness. The practical goal of Rawls's Law of Peoples is the
elimination of the great evils of human history: unjust war and oppression, religious persecution
and the denial of liberty of conscience, starvation and poverty, genocide and mass murder. The
limits of this ambition mean that there will be much in the world to which Rawls's political
philosophy offers no reconciliation (37).
Rawls seeks to determine the principles of cooperation for such “well-ordered peoples.”
Rawls thinks non-ideal conditions cannot adequately be addressed unless principles of justice are
determined for ideal conditions. Otherwise, it is impossible to know what kind of just society to
aim to establish and the necessary means to do so (35). A “realistic utopia,” as Rawls prefers to
call his theory, is an aspiration and does not reflect the existing reality of international law and
relations. It is, however, possible to relate the Rawlsian ideal and square it with social reality in a
functional manner that concentrates on those areas of the existing international framework that
lend themselves to the Rawlsian ideal.
Rawls emphasizes the crucial importance of peoples rather than states because of a
people's capacity for “moral motives” that is lacking in the bureaucratic machinery of a state
(35). Samuel Freeman correctly observes that a “people” for Rawls is a philosophical construct.
It is an abstract conception needed to work out principles of justice for a particular subject – in
this case, relations among different well-ordered liberal and “decent” societies (38). The
assumption that states lack moral motives is partially refuted by their acceptance of SD.
Nonetheless, Rawls remains trenchant when it comes to the application of SD. Rawls is not
talking then about a people regarded as an ethnic or religious group (e.g. Slavs, Jews, Kurds)
who are not members of the same society. Rather, a people consists of members of the same
well-ordered society who are united under, and whose relations are governed by, a political
constitution and basic structure. Comprised of members of a well-ordered society, a people is
envisioned as having effective political control over a territory that its members govern and
within which their basic social institutions take root. In contrast to a state, however, a people
possess a “moral nature” that stems from the effective sense of justice for its individual
members. A people's members may have “common sympathies” for any number of non-requisite
reasons, including shared language, ethnic roots, or religion. The most basic reason for members'
common sympathies, however, lies in their shared history as members of the same society and
consequent shared conception of justice and the common good.
The conclusion most pertinent to SD and the EP is that Rawls elucidates the duty of
liberal democratic and decent hierarchical peoples to assist “burdened societies” to the point
where burdened societies are enabled to join the “Society of Peoples.” It is of particular
pertinence that Rawls's duty of assistance does not absolve developing country governments of
their obligation to take appropriate action. Rawls's concept of “peoples” has been criticized.
Among his more cogent critics, Pogge (39) and Nussbaum (40) question the validity of the
distinction between peoples and states, and the difficulties of defining peoples. They claim their
criticisms assume importance in any attempt to realize the “Society of Peoples” Rawls envisions
as his realistic utopia. Such criticisms have actually been anticipated by Rawls, who pointed out
that he eschewed the “state” as a polity because of its historical Hobbesian connotations in
“realist” international political theory, which suggests that the power of states can be limited only
by the states, and not by moral or legal constraints (35). The legal and political acceptance of SD
by the community of nations refutes Rawls at the theoretical level. But Rawls still remains
relevant at the practical and functional level, when it comes to the implementation of SD. As
more fully discussed in the next section, dealing with climate change and SD, the principle of SD
has been invoked and erroneously applied to the ADCs while the EP in the LDCs have been
Rawlsian Sustainable Development as it Applies to the EP.
A starting point for analyzing the international phenomena of the EP must begin with the
fact that the EP should be identified primarily as “burdened societies” (35) in the Rawlsian sense.
Rawlsian principles will ensure that SD is applied to the EP. Furthermore, their special status as
burdened societies must be highlighted rather than hidden. It also becomes important to draw
attention to Rawls's suggestion on how the duty of assistance should be discharged, bearing in
mind his particular conclusion that merely dispensing funds will not suffice to rectify basic and
political injustice (35).
Rawls’s warning that the mere distribution of funds will not rectify the targeted problems
now becomes of special relevance. Many rulers, Rawls points out, have been callous about the
well-being of their own peoples, (35) and transferring resources to national governments does
not ensure that they will be applied to the problems of the EP. For this reason Rawls advocates
that assistance be tied to the advancement of human rights. Tying assistance to human rights will
also embrace the status of women who often are oppressed. It has, moreover, been shown that the
removal of discrimination against women has resulted in major economic and social progress
Such measures almost certainly will be resisted by authoritarian regimes that will argue
this approach amounts to an intrusion into the national sovereignty of a country and violates
international law. These rulers might fear that establishing human rights as a condition for
helping the EP will expose their own corruption and lack of good governance. Such rulers have
reason to fear the granting of human rights where they have not confronted their problems or
have demonstrated weak governance. As an example of this, Rawls cites to the works of Amartya
Sen and Partha Dasgupta who have demonstrated that the main cause of famine in Bengal,
Ethiopia, Sahel, and Bangladesh was government mismanagement rather than shortage of food
Corruption remains a major problem in many developing countries, where large numbers
of complex, restrictive regulations are coupled with inadequate controls. The United Nations
Convention on Corruption, negotiated after The Law of Peoples, offers ample endorsement of
Rawls’s conclusion. It recognized the “...seriousness of problems and threats posed by corruption
to the stability and security of societies, undermining the institutions and values of democracy,
ethical values and justice and jeopardizing sustainable development and the rule of law…” (43).
In his Foreword to the Convention Kofi Anan, the Secretary General of the UN at the time, refers
to corruption as an “...insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It
undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets,
erodes the quality of life and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human
security to flourish. This evil phenomenon is found in all countries—big and small, rich and poor
—but it is in the developing world that its effects are most destructive. Corruption hurts the poor
disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a Government’s
ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice and discouraging foreign aid
and investment. Corruption is a key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle
to poverty alleviation and development...” [emphasis added] (52).
In both ADCs and LDCs, corruption is a pervasive problem. Not only are official
decisions – for instance, the award of government contracts or the amount of tax due – bought
and sold, but very often citizens must pay for access to a public service or the exercise of a right,
such as obtaining civil documents. The process of allocating political and administrative posts –
particularly those with powers of decision over the export of natural resources or import licenses
– is influenced by the gains that can be made from them. As these exchanges of privileges are
reciprocated by political support or loyalty, it cements the political foundations (44). Corruption
in turn can have a dramatic effect on a country’s economy. It has been estimated, for example,
that moving from a relatively “clean” government like that of Singapore to one as corrupt as
Mexico's would have the same effect on foreign direct investment as an increase in the marginal
corporate tax rate of fifty percent (45).
What this proves is that developed countries play a dominant part in alleviating the
condition of the EP, as required by SD. It also invokes the need for action by national
governments. Justice requires both that assistance be given and that such assistance be properly
administered. The failure of foreign aid has been debated, and better ways of granting assistance
must be found. Justice also requires that national governments take on the task of addressing the
EP. It is not possible to lay the blame on avaricious rich countries alone.
V. SD and the MDGs
This section is predicated on two unarticulated major premises of the Millennium
Development Goals (“MDGs”). The first is that they express Rawlsian principles of
distributional justice. The second is that, despite the absence of an MDG specifically directed at
increasing access to energy, it is clear that “energy services are essential to both social and
economic development and that much wider and greater access to energy services is critical in
achieving all of the MDGs.” (47). As explained in the preceding analysis, energy is not only
essential to securing basic needs for impoverished communities, but it is also essential for
implementing any other intervention that may address the specific MDGs. In short, securing
access to energy is necessary to achieve international justice and sustainable development as
informed by John Rawls and embodied in the MDGs. The resulting Millennium Declaration is a
UN document that expresses and outlines the collective commitment of the world to achieve
eight major development goals by the year 2015 (46). These goals, which have come to be
known as the MDGs, seek to 1) eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; 2) achieve universal
primary education; 3) promote gender equality and empower women; 4) reduce child mortality;
5) improve maternal health; 6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; 7) ensure
environmental sustainability; and 8) develop a global partnership for development (46). This
section also provides a broad overview of how energy relates to achieving each of the MDGs.
Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
As demonstrated above, access to electricity, mechanical energy, and modern fuels for
cooking is critical to development. Specifically access to energy can reduce hunger by improving
food production and storage via electric or mechanical energy. Access to modern fuels for
cooking would also improve food security by increasing yields, because more of the nutrient rich
crop residues would be allowed to stay on the soil rather than burned as biomass for cooking
Access to energy can reduce poverty by allowing families to illuminate their homes
after dark, and cut travel and production time with non-human mechanical energy, thereby
increasing a family’s productive hours. Energy services can provide jobs by enabling
communities to set up small industries, and give local economies better access to markets
through communications and more efficient transportation (10). Furthermore, by improving
access to more efficient and sustainable forms of energy, indigent families will spend less of their
time and money on energy, and energy services. For example a 10-country study of East Africa
found 80% of urban households spent an average of more than 20% of their income buying water
because they lacked a piped water supply (10). These families purchased water at a price nearly
10 times the utility cost. With access to a treadle pump (which can pump up to 130 liters per
minute without causing fatigue), money previously devoted to the purchase of water due to lack
of access to energy would be liberated to promote growth (32).
Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education
Worldwide, more than 115 million children are not enrolled in school (10). Children
from the richest twenty percent of Sub-Saharan African countries are three to four times more
likely to attend school than those from the poorest quintile (32). Much of this phenomenon can
be attributed to lack of access to energy. First, EP families rely on children to support the
physical workload required to achieve daily means without access to energy, such as collecting
fuel, water, and helping in food processing. For desperately poor families, these life-sustaining
activities take priority over a child’s education. Second, children are unable to study at night in
homes without illumination, which hinders their ability to complete assignments. Finally, there is
a huge problem in securing qualified teachers in the most remote and impoverished regions of
the world. Improved energy services will help attract more qualified teachers to remote areas
either by improving the quality of life for them, or by providing technologies for distance
learning and continued education for local teachers (10).
“Reducing drudgery in women’s lives by providing clean, affordable fuels for food
grinding, water pumping, cooking and transportation is one of the most important challenges to
achieving universal primary education and gender equality” (9). One example of how improved
access to energy can increase primary education in schools can be seen in Mali, after the
implementation of the multifunctional platform (MFP) project. The MFP provides mechanical
and electrical energy from a diesel engine (which can also be fueled by biomass-derived fuel
without any drop in power) that is mounted on a chassis to power a variety of different
equipments. The platforms are configured by local demand, but may consist of food processers
(grinding mills or oil pressers), battery chargers, water pumps, or power tools (welding and
carpentry). After 500 MFPs were installed, the project achieved an average savings of 2.5 hours
per day that women spend on daily activities, and an income increase of fifty-six percent in rural
Mali. This increased access to energy also correlated with an increased level in girls’ attendance
in primary school, an increase in the proportion of children completing primary school (32), and
improvements in girls’ scholastic achievements (10).
Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women
As discussed in the preceding section, lack of access to energy services
disproportionately affects women and children both in terms of the time constraints associated
with securing daily needs, and in terms of adverse health effects caused by inefficient
combustion of biomass for cooking. Dissemination of ASETs such as the MPF in Mali, water
pumps, or access to sustainable cookstoves, saves invaluable time and physical stress, which aids
in the empowerment of women. The time women could save simply by reducing collection time
can amount to a critical increase in the time they could spend on other income generating
activities (10), schooling, or just time to themselves.
Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality
Almost eleven million children under the age of five die every year from preventable
causes; nineteen percent of which result from ARI’s, eighteen percent from diarrhea, and thirty-
seven percent from neonatal conditions (32). Improved access to energy services can help
combat each of these conditions. First, improving access to clean burning cookstoves directly
reduces the amount of particulate pollution children breathe while their mother is cooking. For
example, in Western Kenya, more than 16,000 improved cookstoves have been installed in rural
households. These cookstoves have provided for a sixty percent reduction in indoor smoke,
which has resulted in a sixty-five percent reduction in ARIs among mothers, and a seventy
percent reduction of conjunctivitis among children under five years old (10). Second, pumped
water and latrines would reduce the propensity of contracting general enteric infections from
contaminated drinking water or generally poor sanitary conditions. Finally, access to energy
would improve health care infrastructure in general where children could be brought to clinics
after dark, and would have access to medications and vaccines that require refrigeration (10).
Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health
Again, women carry the majority of the burden of securing energy services by
traditional means. This responsibility does not stop during pregnancy. The drudgery of daily
tasks for women is amplified during pregnancy by the physical burden of carrying a child,
coupled with the increased difficulty of securing proper nutrients. Poor nutrition during
pregnancy causes anemia, among other things, which is known to augment the risk of maternal
deaths, stillbirths, and low-birth-weight babies (32). Furthermore, energy projects aimed at
improving health care infrastructure have been directly linked to improving maternal health. A
statistical analysis was conducted in 15,000 townships in the Philippines where a rural
electrification campaign had been recently launched. The National Demographic Health Survey
showed that women with access to electricity are seventeen percent more likely to have a doctor-
assisted birth than those without access after income and other demographic variables were
considered (10).
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases
The global campaign to combat disease, specifically HIV/AIDS and malaria, has
various connections to the availability of energy. First, as indicated above, access to electricity
and mechanical energy helps improve basic sanitation and health care infrastructure. Better
hygiene reduces incidents of secondary opportunistic infections that can be deadly to HIV/AIDS
patients, while better clinics can house and refrigerate vaccines, medications, and anti-virals.
Second, education and awareness campaigns are essential to disease prevention, especially for
HIV/AIDS. These campaigns are generally conducted using radio and television, which both
require energy to reach at-risk communities (10).
Finally, just as energy infrastructure can attract, or provide access to better teachers, it
can also provide indigent communities better access to doctors, nurses, midwives, and health
workers (32). An example of a relatively new application of this idea is telemedicine.
“Telemedicine is the use of information and communications technology to provide health care
services to individuals who are some distance from the health care provider” (48). Although
there are few successful case studies of dissemination of this idea in the developing world, the
potential to improve global health care is inspiring. For example, MIT and the Costa Rica
Foundation for Sustainable Development are currently working on the “Little Intelligent
Communities” or LINCOS project to bring telemedicine to remote indigent communities in
Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic (49). To cut costs the project develops town centers
equipped with communication technologies including telemedicine consultation rooms, which
has brought doctors to rural villages previously without healthcare7. Aravind, for example, is the
largest and most productive eye care facility in the world, offering invaluable services in rural
India (50). Telemedicine, however, requires energy, and providing mini-grid electricity
generation for example, could increase the potential for telemedicine, and help combat disease
Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability
Addressing energy poverty, specifically by investing in ASETs, contributes to ensuring
environmental sustainability. As discussed earlier, lack of access to modern fuels for cooking
7 The LINCOS project and other telemedicine projects in developing countries have been criticized
for cultural insensitivity and potentially high costs, however, as a relatively new field deserves
forces the EP to harvest and burn biomass. Burning biomass also contributes to global climate
change by emitting black carbon into the atmosphere, and reducing the albedo effect. Harvesting
wood for fuel leads to deforestation and contributes to land degradation, erosion, desertification,
and depletion of soil and water resources. Improving access to clean fuels or more efficient
cookstoves will reduce these negative environmental consequences, while improving the daily
lives of the EP. For example, the Senegalese government embarked on a program to help EP
families switch from using biomass to LPG through a subsidy program. In 2002, the people of
Senegal consumed more than 100,000 tones of LPG, which replaced the equivalent of 40,500
hectares of deforestation for biomass, or 337,500 tons of charcoal (10).
Furthermore, increasing access to energy for the EP by using ASETs, which are
inherently environmentally sustainable, provides a unique opportunity to reduce global reliance
on fossil fuels. “Accelerated use of renewable and more energy efficient technologies can
provide ‘win-win’ options to tackle global and local development challenges…” (10). For
example, the Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization has helped
install nearly 200,000 multi-purpose watermills in the Himalayas since 2001. Each watermill
varies depending on the community, but most use diverted stream water to turn a turbine in the
mill, which powers a vertically moving shaft that turns the grinding stones. Each mill thus
provides mechanical grinding power as well as electrical power by harnessing the kinetic energy
of the stream. Some watermills can return up to $135 USD per month from faster and better
grinding of wheat, corn or rice, and have increased both power use and efficiency by ninety
percent (32). This represents a locally maintained and environmentally sustainable technology
that addresses the needs of the energy poor while contributing to economic development.
Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development
Finally, the energy sector represents an important potential for synergies across markets,
regions, and financial resources. “Energy is a cross-cutting issue by its very nature, and thus
requires participation from all development sectors in order to maximize its impact on
development.” (10). Thus, addressing the energy access problem can help achieve global
partnerships by providing a unique opportunity for collaboration. Consider, for example, the
Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP). The GVEP is a collaboration of governments from
developing countries, governments from developed nations, public organizations, private
organizations, businesses, and consumers to help address the energy needs of the EP. The
objective of GVEP is to focus on capacity building and technology transfer. While it boasts more
than 700 partners from the energy, agriculture, education, environment, health, water, and
development sectors, there has not been an assessment of the impact that GVEP has had on the
on actual problems of energy poverty. (10). GVEP remains a promising example of global
partnerships, while the extent of its success remains to be evaluated.
The most important conclusions may be summarized. First, the inability to access energy
both causes poverty, and disables impoverished people from developing. This fundamental
connection between energy and poverty has been recognized since the early 1800s, and continues
to underscore the sustainable development discourse. Second, the plight of the energy poor
cannot be remedied by relying solely on state governments. The energy poor have been glossed
over by their identification only as national problems falling within the sovereign jurisdiction of
the developing countries within which they reside. They are treated as problems of developing
countries and not perceived as burdened societies calling for international action sometimes
independent of those countries.
Third, allowing the EP to languish in their current state violates fundamental concepts of
international justice and SD. These concepts are best justified by John Rawls, who outlined the
duty of developed peoples “…to assist burdened societies.” Rawls’s concepts of duty and
distributive justice, though not explicitly articulated, are embodied generally in the principles of
SD and specifically in the MDGs, which can only be achieved if the need for energy access is
Fourth, access to energy is commonly perceived as a “linear” progression. Societies are
mapped on one singular, step-by-step continuum from “primitive” to “modern” energy, equated
with electricity. We have noted that access to electricity remains the ultimate objective. However,
it is a cost prohibitive and protracted remedy that will take decades to implement, and does not
offer any interim solutions. During the long wait for electricity, large segments of the EP will
remain energy deprived for many decades unless they are offered intermediate solutions based on
ASETs. Employing ASETs can begin the journey out of energy poverty.
Finally, there is no doubt that the recent recognition by the UN of the need for universal
access to energy is a great step forward that acknowledges the connection between energy and
poverty and charts a new path for SD. While the reports of the UN continue to be premised on
the dominant linear paradigm, their recognition of the need for cookstoves indicates that the UN
may be open to more immediately effective forms of development based on ASETs. This
recognition offers a new space for formulating appropriate sustainable energy solutions that
address the needs of the energy poor by providing timely, sustainable, and affordable ways to
satisfy their energy needs.
1. The widespread global prevalence of energy poverty
2. Harnessing exogenous energy is essential for sustainable development (SD),
achieving the MDGs, and addressing energy poverty.
3. SD is a universally accepted legal and political norm that demands that the world
focus on peoples where energy poverty is most concentrated: the least
developed countries (LDCs)
4. John Rawls underscores the right of these “burdened peoples” to SD.
5. The UN initiative on access to energy is greatly welcome.
6. Universal access to electricity is a laudable objective but may prove cost
prohibitive, and cannot realistically be implemented for another 30 years.
7. The energy poor need beneficial energy now, and ASETs which bridge the gap
between capital intensive electricity and traditional subsistence technologies can
prove to be significant intermediate sources of cheap, accessible, energy.
1. The Information Challenge: The primary challenge is to convey the extent
to which most of the ills of the poor are attributable to lack of energy.
Presenting arresting and compelling information encompassing the TV, print
and electronic media, theater and community communication, is as much a
challenge for civil society, as it is for governments at all levels.
2. The Behavioral Challenge: Even where presented with good information,
some among the energy poor may choose to continue doing what they have
been accustomed to doing. The reasons for their reluctance to change can
range from tradition, to taste, to costs or expense, and the fear of the new.
Meeting this behavioral challenge calls for the same coalitions as those
dealing with the Information Challenge. The response would be informed by
local conditions and could involve education, persuasion, and in appropriate
circumstances, law and legislation.
3. The Need for Financing ASETs: Extensive funding from private and public
sources is needed for every aspect of ASETs from research, development
and demonstration to investment, manufacture, marketing and distribution.
4. Private investors: There is an enormous lack of investment in ASETs from
private investors because funding social products like ASETs is something
new. It falls within a difficult new and unfamiliar space between philanthropic
giving and regular investment.
5. Shaping Public Policy and Allocation of Public Resources. It is
imperative to influence decision makers in the public sector where large sums
of money are set aside for social programs both nationally and as foreign aid.
One option is to re-shape existing institutions like aid agencies, foreign
offices, parliaments, congress, to respond to the needs of the energy poor.
6. Changing Institutional Responses:
a. Nationally, institutionalizing the moral predicate and the obligation to reach
out to the EP in national legislation and policy.
b. Internationally, focusing on the right to sustainable development of the EP
and the duty placed on rich countries by the principle of common but
differentiated responsibility to help the EP.
c. Reformulate the flexibility mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol so as to
give credit not just for the reduction of carbon dioxide but also for the
reduction of black soot and other non-GHG causes of global warming.
1. Energy Poor (EP) refers to two categories of people. The most vulnerable
category consists of more than 1.4 billion people that live on less than $1.15
per day8, and have no access to beneficial energy for cooking, lighting, space
heating, or mechanical power. The second consists of close to 3 billion
people, accounting for nearly half the world’s population, who rely upon
harmful energy like biomass-generated fire for their cooking and heating.
2. Least Developed Countries (LDCs) consist of forty nine countries and 767
million people located largely in Africa and Asia. The LDCs have been
officially identified by the UN as “least developed” in light of their low income
(GDP of less than $7,500); weak human assets (low nutrition, high mortality,
lack of school enrollment and high illiteracy); high economic vulnerability;
exposure to natural shocks and disasters; prevalence of trade shocks;
economic smallness; and economic remoteness.
3. Appropriate Sustainable Energy Technologies (ASETs) seek to bridge the
gap between the capital-intensive advanced technologies of the developed
world and the traditional subsistence technologies of the EP. They refer to the
simplest level of energy technology that can satisfy the energy needs of the
EP ranging from cooking, illumination, agriculture, communication to drinking
water. They are based on sustainable engineering tailored to pay special
attention to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social, political, and economic
aspects of the community they are intended for. ASETs require fewer
resources, are easier to maintain, and have less of an impact on the
environment compared to techniques from mainstream technology.
4. Sustainable Development (SD)—an expression of distributive justice—is
the foundational premise of international energy and environmental law. While
the term has no canonical definition, it posits that international answers to
environmental and energy problems cannot be pursued as independent and
autonomous objectives but must be addressed within the framework of
economic and social development.
5. Energy Justice (EJ), as illuminated by John Rawls, provides the
philosophical and jurisprudential underpinnings of SD. EJ demands that the
developed and rich world act to address the condition of the EP. Such action
may begin with tackling indoor air pollution. But actions based on EJ should
extend far beyond that single measure and calls for sustainable energy that
will enable the EP to develop, and ultimately break the bonds of poverty and
energy deprivation.
6. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were institutionalized at the 2000
Millennium Summit. The resulting Millennium Declaration is a UN document
that expresses and outlines the collective commitment of the world to achieve
eight major development goals by the year 2015. These goals, which have
come to be known as the Millennium Development Goals (“MDGs”), seek to
(1) eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; (2) achieve universal primary
education; (3) promote gender equality and empower women; (4) reduce child
mortality; (5) improve maternal health; (6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and
other diseases; (7) ensure environmental sustainability; and (8) develop a
global partnership for development.
7. Burdened Societies. This is the term used by John Rawls to refer to those
who do not fall within the category of well-ordered societies because they
may have become denuded of human capital by sickness and death, or lack
the knowledge-based, monetary or technological resources needed to be a
well-ordered society.
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The fight against corruption is not the monopoly of the industrialised countries. Nor can recipes that have worked in OECD countries necessarily be applied to developing ones. Of the 134 countries that attended the 9(th) International Anti-Corruption Conference organised by Transparency International in Durban last October, over a hundred were developing countries. More and more of these countries are expressing their resolve to combat corruption, echoing international initiatives, such as the OECD Convention.
Energy is a crucial social variable and has sporadically been of interest to sociologists. Recent world events and trends have revived interest and concern. This review traces key themes and arguments in the sociology of energy and critically evaluates the literature. The discussion is organized into four sections: energetic theories of society, macrosociology of energy, microsociology of energy, and energy policy and other special topics. A concluding section assesses the state of the field and speculates on its future directions. -Authors
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