The energy
challenge

 
Ted Turner
describes the imperatives of tackling energy poverty and climate change – and work done by the UN Foundation to address them

Balancing the world’s growing need for energy against our collective need for a healthy environment in many ways lies at the heart of the development challenge. Globally, fossil fuels account for nearly 60 per cent of the emissions that are causing the Earth’s atmospheric blanket of carbon dioxide to thicken and trap more heat. In the United States, fossil fuels contribute an even larger share – 85 per cent – of these emissions.

Of all the threats to the world’s environment, the prospect of climate change looms largest. There is almost complete consensus in the scientific community that our climate is changing and warming; the remaining uncertainty is about how fast and how much this will impact the globe.

The responsible course in the face of these truths – in the face of risks that large – is to get moving in the right direction. Increased energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy are tools to reduce carbon emissions that are readily available today, and their use would grow with economic incentives.

Energy and human development
Of the world’s 6 billion people, one third enjoy the kind of ‘energy on demand’ that North Americans take for granted, and another third have such energy services intermittently. The final third – 2 billion people – simply lack access to modern energy services. Not coincidentally, the energy-deprived are the world’s most impoverished, living on less than $2 per day. Their ranks will continue to grow. According to UN estimates, the populations of the 50 poorest nations will triple in size over the next 50 years. Without access to modern, reliable energy sources, social and economic development is not possible.
The responsible course... is to get moving in the right direction
A number of new models have helped demonstrate, on a limited scale, various approaches for financing and delivering affordable rural energy services. Our challenge is to build on these successes and continue to increase their impact by scaling up programmes that work and encourage the flow of private capital into sustainable energy development.

UN Foundation role
To date, the UN Foundation has invested more than $28 million in United Nations projects working to address the energy challenge. One of our flagship projects, African Rural Energy Enterprise Development (AREED), seeks to develop new sustainable energy enterprises that use clean, efficient and renewable energy technologies to meet the energy needs of under-served populations, while reducing the environmental and health consequences of existing energy use patterns.

The AREED approach offers rural energy entrepreneurs a combination of enterprise development services and start-up financing. This integrated financial and technical support allows entrepreneurs to plan and structure their companies in a manner that prepares them for growth and makes eventual investments by mainstream financial partners less risky.

In Mali, where firewood and charcoal represent more than 90 per cent of the country’s household energy consumption, AREED is working with a local business to develop alternative cooking fuels to decrease the dependence on traditional sources which causes forest degradation and desertification and contributes to overall poverty. The local company is addressing this need by manufacturing briquettes from agricultural by-products, such as coconut husks, hulls of groundnut, sawdust and rice husks. AREED is assisting the company with a market study and strategy that will allow it to market its product more effectively and prepare the company for business expansion.

AREED has been so successful that the UN Foundation has expanded its support to include similar activities in Brazil and China


Ted Turner is Chairman of the United Nations Foundation.

PHOTOGRAPH: Thein Win/UNEP/Topham


This issue:
Contents | Editorial | Key to development | The energy challenge | Plant power | Bioenergy: doing well while doing right | New energy for development | People | Delivering Change | Benign growth | Green energy | At a glance: Energy | Sustainable Dreams | Brightening the future | Greening oil | Blue-sky thinking | Books & products | New energy to assault poverty | New energy entrepreneurs | Time to get serious | Breaking the ice | In my lifetime – 100% renewable| Slimming the waste

Complementary issues:
World Heritage and Protected Areas, 2003
WSSD, 2002
Climate and Action, 1998
Climate Change, 1997