World’s poorest countries demand more flexibility on tackling energy poverty

Desperately poor countries are losing the fight against electricity access. As it stands, Sub-Saharan Africa is home to half of all people without reliable power, a terrifying 590 million, which will grow to 674 million by 2030 if action isn’t taken fast.

The UN’s Group of Least Developed Countries, 47 of the poorest countries in the world, predominately from Africa, will put pressure on rich countries to do more to assist with electrification.

At the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, these LDCs were promised $100 billion by 2020 in funding to assist climate finance projects. However, it has been revealed that only $3.5 billion has actually been committed to projects.

Pressure is already mounting on big aid organisations, such as the World Bank, to move away from their narrow view that only renewables are the answer to the world’s energy woes.

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, slapped down the charity Christian Aid over their consideration of funding fossil fuel power stations.

He told of the anger felt by many African leaders who were forced to take responsibility over climate change despite putting “almost none of the carbon in the air”, yet are told they cannot use certain fuels to provide reliable “base-load electricity.”

Clare Shakya, a director at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), also believes that the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are often forced into accepting finance for energy projects that are not fit for purpose.

Speaking at a recent international development committee, she told of how LCDs felt “there’s too much political risk to not accept any climate finance that they’re offered and so are signing off on things that aren’t about building their national institutions,” such as appropriate electricity infrastructure.

It is important that development is a two-way conversation between donor and recipient. Solving the energy question is a complex issue that requires each side to take a pragmatic approach.

At the moment, focus remains too heavily on off-grid renewables, which cannot provide 24/7 power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. There are also harmful restrictions on funding high-tech and cleaner fossil fuel power stations, that have technologies that provide large-scale affordable power whilst significantly reducing carbon emissions.

If we are to bring light to the 1.1 billion globally, it is time rich countries listen to the wishes of those in the developing world, rather than setting unfair and unrealistic demands on those struggling to combat their countries’ energy poverty.