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Clean EnergyIn a time when many world leaders are calling for strong action on climate change, organizations must balance between providing energy to underdeveloped regions and protecting the environment. USAID along with Power Africa are working on increasing access to clean energy in Africa, both protecting the environment and increasing people’s economic opportunities.

Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the lowest rates of energy accessibility in the world, with only about 25 percent of the population having access, compared to about 40 percent in other low-income countries. Even where there is energy, it is often unreliable, leading to blackouts that negatively influence businesses’ productivity and profit.

Energy access is vital, as it leads to more opportunities for education and business, as well as the ability to keep and store food and medicine. In turn, access to education leads to a decrease in poverty, as people gain valuable life skills and job opportunities.

Africa has great potential for clean energy and groups such as Project Africa have been able to increase investment. Last year, Google launched a new investment into a wind power project in Kenya, which will become the biggest wind farm on the continent. Current estimates indicate that this wind farm will be able to provide 15 percent of Kenya’s energy. Additionally, new investments are being promoted to access solar energy and strengthen the existing grids, so that energy becomes more reliable.

The economic benefits of increased energy are numerous. USAID worked with the U.S.-Africa Development Foundation (USADF) in Tanzania to create a solar-grid franchise that is made specifically to be accessible to female entrepreneurs.

When women have access to jobs and the ability to earn higher wages, it boosts the economy around them. In countries where women’s participation in the labor force grows the fastest, poverty rates decrease the fastest.

When people have access to energy, their quality of life and the opportunities they have dramatically increase. It means that students can study in the evenings or go to school in the early mornings, that businesses can develop and diversify and that people have access to more of the resources they need to thrive and grow.

The clean energy developments in Africa are both protecting the planet and bettering the lives of hundreds of millions.

Emily Milakovic

Sources: USAID, Washington Post, World Bank
Photo: Flickr

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“Coal is cure for poverty.”: In a rejection of a popular argument on the part of the energy industry, World Bank climate change envoy Rachel Kyte has said that the continued extraction of coal has imposed heavy costs on civilians living in the world’s poorest communities.

At an event hosted by The New Republic magazine and the Center for American Progress, Kyte argued that while over a billion people worldwide lack reliable access to energy, coal extraction carries heavy social costs, among which is the loss of breathable air.

“If [poor communities] all had access to coal-fired power tomorrow their respiratory illness rates would go up, etc., etc.,” she said. “We need to extend access to energy to the poor and we need to do it the cleanest way possible because the social costs of coal are uncounted and damaging, just as the global emissions count is damaging as well.”

Such arguments come in response both to the increasing effects of global climate change on impoverished communities and to energy sector arguments that fossil fuel extraction can help alleviate global poverty. In its Advanced Energy for Life campaign, led by the world’s largest private sector coal company Peabody Energy, the coal industry has argued that “coal is critically required to reduce energy poverty and to help achieve the U.N. development goals.”

But Oxfam International has refuted those claims, arguing that in addition to the more immediate implications of polluted local air and dirty extraction methods, the burning of coal is largely responsible for the acceleration of climate change that is primarily affecting poor, rural communities. In a statement directed at the Australian government – which, under Tony Abbott’s leadership, has abandoned its emissions targets and in 2014 became the first nation to repeal its carbon tax – Oxfam Australia argued that the proliferation of coal extraction runs contrary to the interests of civilians living in poor and developing countries.

“Even for rapidly growing urban populations, the past advantages of coal are diminishing as the cost of renewable energy falls and the harmful effects of coal become more and more evident,” reads the report, entitled Powering Up Against Poverty: Why Renewable Energy is the Future. “Burning coal poses significant health risks through air pollution – a major driver of China’s shift away from coal – and is leading to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths around the world.”

The report notes that the construction of coal mines is displacing many in the world’s poor communities, and that extraction often leaves rural civilians without access to clean water and affordable land. Most importantly, the report notes, burning coal is the largest contributor to climate change, and “as such, it is creating havoc for many of the world’s poorest people, who are already feeling the impacts of climate change through decreased crop yields, increased risk of disasters and loss of land.”

Though the mining industry has channeled a huge amount of effort into convincing governments of the benefits of coal mining for poor communities, organizations in such communities have refuted those claims. In response to a claim made by conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs that increasing the supply of Australian coal to India would provide access to energy for 82 million people, Sirinivas Krishnaswamy, CEO of the Vasudha Foundation, said that those arguments “simply do not stand up to even the most basic scrutiny.”

In order to relieve poor communities around the world of the troubles perpetuated by the burning of fossil fuels, governments will need to resist the convenience and influence of already-established industries like coal. Moreover, they ought to embrace projects like the Lake Turkana Wind Farm, which, with subsidies from the Kenyan government, is set to provide the Kenyan people with energy at two-thirds the cost of electricity in the United States. However, until governments like Australia’s resist the influence of vested interests, they will continue to be working against the safety of their own environments, as well as the interests of poor people in developing countries.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: The Guardian, Think Progress, Advanced Energy for Life, OXFAM
Photo: Free Stock Photos, Wikipedia

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Bill Gates hasn’t spoken much about the global crisis with clean energy that could make poverty and disease even worse than it is today. Until now, that is.

In his most recent post on Gates Notes, his personal blog, Gates wrote about how, as he puts it, the world can “avoid the worst climate change scenarios while also lifting people out of poverty, growing food more efficiently and saving lives by reducing pollution.”

First, Gates suggests creating incentives to innovate. He discusses how, globally, billions of dollars are spent every year on research having to do with clean energy yet the total amount of money is not even close to the amount needed to get the world out of its current mess.

Specifically, he endorses the idea that governments should take the initiative and offer large sums of funding for basic research on clean energy.

His next point has to do with developing a clean energy market that mirrors reality. Current energy markets don’t take into account things like health costs and environmental damage when it comes to reflecting the full impact of carbon emissions.

According to Gates, if markets were to reflect such factors, the competitiveness of renewable energy would surge, leading to more innovators taking notice in the field.

Gates’ final proposal is for the world to treat poor countries fairly, as climate change will hit them the worst. He calls on countries that created the problem to take responsibility when it comes to helping poor countries adjust to a climate that is always changing.

As for the Gates Foundation, the billionaire said it would focus on small farmers, a group that makes up the majority of the poor in the world. Gates said the organization would help them adjust to more unpredictable weather by increasing agricultural productivity.

Matt Wotus

Sources: Business Insider, The Gates Notes
Photo: IB Times

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There is a strong case to be made for the hand-in-hand relationship between clean energy development and poverty reduction across the globe. Both causes deserve greater funding and attention because of the profound effects they will have on the future of the globe and generations to come. Economic incentive is important to ensuring that both causes move forward in strides.

Clean energy, or green energy, is providing populations with energy for heating, cooking, electronics and everything else that requires energy, but without polluting the atmosphere to aggravate more climate change or destroy environmental resources. Its importance will become increasingly more significant in the future as more environmental challenges arise. However, human foresight is often not the strength of political institutions, and there will likely be an abbreviated rush towards clean energy that ramps up exponentially in the future. In order to build up clean energy infrastructure and a clean energy supply, which most countries lack, a “new deal” will have to be enacted. Countries will need to invest heavily into the research and development of clean energy technologies while also putting into place clean energy infrastructure and facilities that will decrease dependence on oil.

The process of having many nations attempting switches to clean energy technologies in an effort to ease off of oil will have structural effects on the local and global economies. Currently, on the global scene, developed nations are responsible for about 80 percent of the world’s total energy usage. As developed nations begin to lean toward clean or green energies, they are focusing on strategies that could hurt developing nations. For example, carbon emission caps and some clean energy technologies that take up large patches of land have both been introduced by developed nations and criticized by developing nations. Many argue that large land grabs could have potentially poor consequences for agricultural workers pushed off the land and that carbon emission caps could stunt economic growth. But is there a silver lining to these possible downsides?

If developing nations are forced to confront the issue of green energy sooner rather than later, they may end up saving an incalculable sum of money by directly adopting cleaner energies instead of transitioning to oil and coal to meet growing energy demands, and then making another eventual switch to clean energies. Also, forcing developing nations to use clean energy could spur innovative manufacturing sectors. The switch to clean energies across the globe will prompt massive amounts of funding in new areas that will be able to revitalize economies across the world and create jobs for millions through construction, research and ripple effects.

Energy poverty is also an issue. The UN has goals of getting electricity to everyone by 2030. Right now, hundreds of millions of people go without energy like electricity, and a disproportionate number of them are women. Energy poverty is a problem that contributes to the vicious cycle of poverty because of the amount of labor and time that must go into collecting wood or other sources of energy for the family. Decreasing dependence on sources like oil and coal and adopting cleaner sources such as solar energy will help mitigate pressures on poor families that keep them poor, like energy poverty.

The impending growth of clean energies will be most beneficial to those in need possibly more than anyone else. There is enormous potential for leveraging the urgency and priority that both of these issues will take on in the future to create economic prosperity for many more countries and to slow down the catastrophic implications of climate change.

Martin Yim

Sources: European Commission, Forbes, National Geographic
Photo: National Geographic