Most of the world’s leaders gathered in New York last week to submit their agreement with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The goals span a number of areas, including universal access to energy as well as taking “urgent action to combat climate change.”
These specific goals seem to contradict each other. Providing citizens of poor countries with electricity comparable to that enjoyed in the West means producing greater greenhouse-gas emissions - which does not help climate change.
Amazingly, greater than 1.3 billion people across the globe do not have access to electricity. And, many of those who do have access experience blackouts and other shortages when bad weather takes its toll.
It is clear that when people do not have electricity, they use other forms of energy, including kerosene lamps - which cause fires and injuries, as well as produces harmful gases. However, the installation of power lines and electricity provides exponential benefits to its users. One study shows that electrification in the northern region of El Salvador was linked to an almost 80% increase in studying time and class time among children. It was also associated with increased profits of local businesses.
Recognizing the necessity of electricity in improving the lives of so many people simply means more energy. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has promoted the idea of modern energy access for all, including universal electricity and clean cooking fuel.
Herein lies the problem. The IEA proposal of the additional energy required to meet these goals is essentially negligible. Its proposed energy consumption levels are too low. The kilowatt hours (kWh) used by United States citizens are greater than 13,240 annually. The IEA suggests that 500 kWh are sufficient. Quite the discrepancy. If we want universal access to electricity, we need to consider equality in electricity usage. And that equality means much more than 500 kWh per person annually.
Reaching this goal means that global electricity production would have to increase by greater than 130%. By doing so, this would allow for income growth, poverty reduction, employment opportunities and improved health.
The downside to this is that more electricity means a greater effect on climate change. With the technology that currently exists, this is inevitable. This means that new technologies must be developed in order to create a sustainable balance between increased electricity and combating climate change.
Those who are anti-gas, anti-nuclear and anti-coal with respect to energy development implies that they do not want energy equality across the globe. A compromise must be made between these ideologies, and therefore new technologies must be researched and developed (through major investment) so that climate can be sustained while poor citizens of the globe enjoy a better quality of life.