How Britain can strengthen Commonwealth ties through energy access

How Britain can strengthen Commonwealth ties through energy access

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

March 12 is Commonwealth Day: a time for the UK to reflect on its ties with the 52 other countries that make up the Commonwealth of Nations.

Many of the Commonwealth’s biggest and most important countries are still being held back by crushing poverty, poverty that’s caused in large part by lack of access to modern energy services. Countries like India, the world’s second most populous nation, where 239 million people still live without electricity. Or Nigeria, where 74 million lack the power to study after dark or keep food safe to eat. Or Bangladesh, where a third of the population – some 41 million – don’t have the on-demand electrify that we take for granted.

This matters to the UK because these countries are essential partners in the fight against terrorism, trafficking and organised crime. And with their large and growing middle classes, they could be a huge part of the UK’s economic future.

What India, Nigeria and Bangladesh all have in common however, are significant coal reserves, which they have every intention of using to bring power to their people. India, for example, has given half a billion people access to electricity since the year 2000, almost entirely through a mass-expansion of coal power.

Britain should be helping its Commonwealth partners use their natural resources in the cleanest possible way. As world leaders in clean coal technology, we have a responsibility to use that expertise to improve energy access in coal-dependent allies. Only by ensuring that everyone has access to affordable and reliable electricity can we hope to build a more secure and prosperous world.

The electricity America uses on its Christmas trees could power the whole of Tanzania

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

This Christmas the United States will use more electricity on Christmas lights than many developing countries will use for all their energy needs in an entire year. That’s the conclusion of the influential Center for Global Development (CGD), a Washington think tank that campaigns on poverty reduction.

According to the CGD, American burns an extra 6.63 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to bring a festive glow to homes and streets during the Christmas period. By comparison, Tanzania uses just 4.81 billion kilowatt-hours to power its entire economy over the course of a year, while Cambodia uses only 3.06 billion kWh.

The comparison shows the extraordinary difference in energy use between the very richest and poorest countries. It also highlights the hypocrisy of Western nations who continue to insist that these countries can’t have new fossil fuel plants to meet their energy needs.

CGD research fellow Dr Todd Moss, a leading expert on energy poverty, argues that the poorest countries “have energy needs that go way beyond what current renewable technologies can deliver.” This includes 24/7 power for essential services like hospitals, trains and airports, as well as job-creating businesses and factories.

“If we force sub-Saharan Africa to use renewables only we are forcing them to remain poor,” Dr Moss concludes.

Christmas lights are something we take completely for granted, yet many communities around the world don’t have enough electricity to power a vaccine fridge or a water pump. We should bear that in mind before lecturing the poorest countries about what energy sources they use.

Nigeria’s transformational small hydro dam

Nigeria’s transformational small hydro dam

By | Nigeria, Uncategorised | No Comments

At an energy conference this week in Nigeria, delegates were once again reminded of the calamitous scale of the Nigeria’s power problems.

Oil and gas rich Nigeria is notorious for having one of Africa’s worst records on energy access, (95 million people still live without electricity), despite being blessed with abundant energy resources.

According to reports, Kandeh Yumkella, a former United Nations Under-Secretary-General, presented a thought-provoking paper on Nigeria’s weak performance in the energy sector and the kind of energy mix it requires to propel industrialisation and drastically reduce poverty.

As one local reporter put it: “one could feel the disappointment in his tone as he reeled out damning statistics about Nigeria’s potential for energy sufficiency versus its struggle to light up its cities and rural areas. By the time he was done, many participants were left angry.”

However, one bright spot in the conference was a speech given by Governor of Taraba State, Darius Ishaku, who explained how a small 400kw hydro dam had “transformed” the state’s moribund tea industry and was providing 24-hour power to neighbouring communities. As the Governor’s presentation made clear, even Ajuba, the seat of the Nigerian government, can’t yet boast of 24-hour power.

Why secure and reliable energy is vital for banishing hunger

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

Chronic undernourishment means not eating enough for your minimum daily energy requirements over the course of at least a year. 793 million people around the world were chronically undernourished in 2015, according to the World Bank.

This is one of the primary causes of entrenched poverty. Malnourished mothers are more likely to give birth to stunted children. Stunting in turn harms brain development, making it so much harder to do well in school or stay healthy later in life. And so the cycle goes on.

But it can be broken. One of the best ways to ensure that everyone has enough to eat is to improve the efficiency of farming in the developing world. The more food that farms can produce, the more affordable it becomes. This is why energy security and food security go hand in hand – because modern farms need power to work.

These energy needs include electric pumps for moving water around and keeping crops irrigated – 95 percent of farms in sub-Saharan Africa depend on rainwater – diesel for powering tractors and other agricultural equipment, and a steady supply of fertiliser, which in turn requires large amounts of energy to produce.

As the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation puts it:

“Without access to electricity and sustainable energy sources, communities have little chance to achieve food security and no opportunities for securing productive livelihoods that can lift them out of poverty.”

It’s no coincidence that sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest rates of agricultural productivity and the worst rates of electricity access. It’s also the only region in the world where childhood stunting isn’t falling.

Secure, reliable and affordable energy is vital for banishing hunger. It’s yet another reason why electricity matters.

5 reasons why the World Bank must change its position on energy

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

Imagine not being able to turn on your cooker, or boil a kettle, or keep food at below room temperature. Think of your child walking home at night without street lights, or having surgery by torchlight. 

1.2 billion around the world still live without electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. Despite the scale of the problem, in 2013 the World Bank, under pressure from the Obama Administration, announced severe restrictions on funding for new fossil fuel power stations in the poorest countries.   

Here are 5 reasons why the World Bank needs to change course.  

1. The World Bank itself admits we have a system of “energy apartheid”

It’s a shocking fact that an American family fridge consumes four times more electricity each year than a citizen of Tanzania. In a 2014 interview World Bank President Jim Yong Kim admitted that a system of “energy apartheid” exists between the developed and developing worlds. 

Yet rather than trying to close the energy gap, the Work Bank instead spends hundreds of millions giving solar panels to superpowers. 

2. Everyone agrees that on current trends, the 2030 target of electricity for all is going to be missed

The World Bank itself has written a report saying that “urgent measures” need to be taken to achieve universal access to electricity by 2030.

The pledge to achieve universal access to electricity by 2030 is a pledge of the UN, on current trends however half a billion people won’t have access to electricity by 2040.

3. The Nations who fund the World Bank are powered by fossil fuels  

Some of the largest contributors to the World Bank such as the US and Japan rely on fossil fuels for their energy. Indeed the richest countries in the world get 75% of their energy from coal gas or nuclear. Why should the World Bank deny the same chance to the poorest in the world?

4. Renewables can’t do the job on their own

Renewable energy technology is not ready to give the millions who live without electricity the access to safe, reliable and affordable electricity that is necessary to raise them out of poverty.

Whilst renewable energy might be good enough to power a lightbulb or charge a phone it is not enough to power a hospital or a factory.

5. Developing countries are crying out for an end to these restrictions

When developing countries are asked what kind of power they want they say they want reliable power from the grid. Piyush Goyal, India’s coal Minister said: “The people of India want a certain way of life. They want jobs for their children, schools and colleges, hospitals with uninterrupted power. This needs a very large amount of baseload power and this can only come from coal.”

Meanwhile Zambia’s energy minister, David Mabumba, highlighted the problem with renewable energy:
“No, it is not reliable and let’s not shy away about talking about it. It’s just a stop gap measure. The challenge is that when there is cloud cover, generation drops down meaning there will be a bit of unreliability in terms of the power we get from solar.”


The World Bank must listen to the needs of developing countries and change its policy on funding fossil fuels.


UK General Election: what are Corbyn and May saying about tackling extreme poverty?

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

Whoever wins the UK General Election on June 8 will have to make big choices about how Britain helps the world’s poorest.

This is not a problem we can ignore. 1.2 billion people still lack access to electricity: forced to live shorter, poorer, darker lives because they don’t have access to modern medicine or a job-creating businesses. The current wave of economic migration up from Africa into Europe is a direct consequence of lack of power.

With the manifestos now out, both Labour and the Conservatives are promising to maintain the UK’s current commitment to spend 0.7% of its national income on international aid. This means that whoever wins will be committed to spending around £13 billion.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t real differences in the policies and priorities of the two main parties. Here’s a quick summary of their key policies on development.


  • Labour say they would the use aid budget to promote an agenda based on “redistribution, social justice, women’s rights and poverty reduction.”
  • In the first 100 days of a Corbyn government, they would unveil a cross-government strategy setting out what more the UK could do to assist refugees.
  • Labour would work to tackle tax evasion in developing countries by requiring stricter transparency standards from UK tax havens.
  • They would reinstate the Civil Society Challenge Fund, an aid programme which ran between 2000 and 2015 and was focused on promoting trade unions and other civil society organisations.
  • They would push for tougher action on sweatshop conditions overseas.
  • And they would establish a Centre for Universal Healthcare Coverage, to support developing countries to set up their own NHS-style healthcare systems.


  • The Conservatives argue that aid should be seen in terms of protecting British interests. “By building a safer, healthier, more prosperous world, we can protect our own people from disease, conflict and instability.”
  • The key Conservative priorities for aid include ending extreme poverty, saving children’s lives, and providing an education for girls.
  • They want to “significantly increase” funding for UK scientific research into the biggest threats global to global health and prosperity.
  • They will push for a more flexible international definition of development assistance, so they the UK has more freedom in choosing how it spends the money.

Both parties however need to recognise that tackling energy poverty is absolutely central to achieving their priorities.

For example, Jeremy Corbyn’s aim for more countries to have universal healthcare coverage can’t be delivered without a reliable electricity supply. With electricity, hospitals can power essential medical devices like vaccine fridges or HIV diagnostic equipment, and surgeons don’t have to operate by torchlight.

And Theresa May focus on girls’ education goes hand in hand with improved electricity access. International evidence shows that electricity in the family home frees girls up from having to spend long hours collecting water and firewood by hand. Girls then become much more likely to go to school.

The UK, with its huge expertise in energy technology has a valuable role to play. Whoever needs to recognise the good that this country can do.


Join the campaign

Access to electricity is a human right, and the only way for poorer countries to develop. Add your name if you agree.

A must-read article on the West’s unfair and hypocritical approach to energy access

A must-read article on the West’s unfair and hypocritical approach to energy access

By | Uncategorised | No Comments

We stumbled across a great piece in the New York Times – one which totally demolishes Western hypocrisy on energy access.

Columnist Eduardo Porter begins by noting the extreme disparity in global levels of electricity consumption:

“The average citizen of Nepal consumes about 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity in a year. Cambodians make do with 160. Bangladeshis are better off, consuming, on average, 260.”

That’s less than it takes to power a modern fridge!

The average American, by contrast, consumes about 13,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year.

“The citizens of poor countries,” Porter continues: “…would appreciate assistance from developed nations, and the financial institutions they control, to build up the kind of energy infrastructure that could deliver the comfort and abundance that Americans and Europeans enjoy.

Too often, the United States and its allies have said no.”

The United States currently gets 95 percent of its power from coal, gas, hydroelectric and nuclear. But along with other Western countries, it has placed major restrictions on funding these technologies overseas.

Porter also quotes development experts who are highly sceptical of the small-scale renewable energy projects that Western aid agencies are choosing to fund.

“We shouldn’t be talking about 10 villages that got power for a light bulb,” said Joyashree Roy, a professor of economics at Jadavpur University in India who was among the leaders of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

“What we should be talking about is how the village got a power connection for a cold storage facility or an industrial park.”

Professor Ruth DeFries, an environmental geographer at Colombia University, argues that the energy demands of developing countries are so big, ‘it will be some time before we can fulfill them with wind and solar energy. It is only realistic that there will be a lot of coal and gas along the way.”

This last point that is perfectly understood by leaders in developing countries, who are clear they have every intention of using conventional energy to improve the lives of their people. If we want to see a world free of extreme poverty, it’s critical that they succeed.

Join the campaign

Access to electricity is a human right, and the only way for poorer countries to develop. Add your name if you agree.