Monday, August 12, 2013

Energy Poverty V. Sustainability

As of June 25th The World Bank followed President Obamas decision to cut funding for coal plants and no longer provide public financing for overseas coal plants. For many developing countries coal plants are the easiest and fastest way to get the energy they need. The report states that coal-based projects will receive support only in “rare circumstances” where there are “no feasible alternatives to coal” for meeting basic energy needs. Part of The World Bank's mission is to eliminate extreme poverty. Now their focus seems to be pulled towards sustainability. Can there be a happy medium between sustainability and ending energy poverty? Should developed countries be obligated to help developing countries acquire more sustainable renewable ways of getting energy?

We all know coal plants emit tons of CO2 into the air and we will all suffer from the effects regardless of where the source is. It has been shown that increased CO2 emissions are a leading cause in global warming, but by cutting off developing countries financing for coal plants shouldn't we be offering aid, assistance or subsidies for them to use cleaner energy?  Developing countries are, well, trying to develop and their doing it the only way they know how. In China they are building 2-3 coal plants per week for the next 10 years! For countries that developed during the industrial revolution coal was the cheapest and most abundant option, now developing countries are using coal for energy and its frowned upon.

Figure: Per capita carbon dioxide emissions are highest in developed countries.
While most developed countries saw their carbon dioxide emissions decline between 2006 and 2010, developing countries experienced sharp increases in carbon dioxide emissions over that time frame. In 2006, China displaced the U.S. as the largest global emitter of carbon dioxide. Since then, China’s carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 28%, or 1.8 billion metric tons.

With more than 1 in 6 people still without access to electricity and nearly 2 in 5 people without modern cooking facilities something needs to be done. I think the President and The World Bank took a step in the right direction; coal is an inefficient source and comes with many long term consequences, but now what?  You can't just cut off funding and not offer an alternative. The areas of the world still going without energy are without for a reason, nobody is willing to get them the help they need!

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