WWF has published an interesting and well-argued report (The Energy Report) outlining a vision of a world in 2050 that’s 100% powered by renewable energy.
The report recognises the challenge ahead, not just in changing the consumption patterns of the developed world but in ending energy poverty in the developing world – providing electricity to the 1.4 billion who don’t have it and providing modern clean energy for cooking to the 2.5 billion still cooking over open fires.
WWF makes a strong argument for investment in renewables in the developing world to tackle energy poverty, something Practical Action endorses.
However, we’d voice a couple of caveats to this. Firstly, we think the world needs to solve the issue of energy poverty in the developing world earlier than 2050 (we endorse the UN call for energy for all by 2030). Secondly, we believe to do this will, at least temporarily, involve using some non-renewable energy sources.
There are increasingly large poor urban populations in the developing world, living in shanty towns and slums with little or no access to modern forms of energy. In the short term, their needs are only likely to be met by connection to national grids, which may well be fed by non-renewable resources for a while yet. This isn’t a disaster in carbon terms – Practical Action has calculated that even in a worst case scenario (using only non-renewable sources to meet a minimum standard of energy access) global emissions would only increase by 2%. In reality, the figure would be much less than 2%, as a substantial part of that new energy demand, particularly in rural areas, could be met from renewables already.
The WWF report shows that it is possible to envisage a future where we’ve met the challenge of climate change AND provided energy for all. Practical Action’s work has shown that, even if in the short term this would require some additional non-renewable based supplies, that the carbon cost is manageable. It is possible to fight poverty AND climate change at the same time. We cannot use the latter as an excuse to keep 40% of humanity in energy poverty in order that we in the developed world can continue to live energy intensive and unsustainable lifestyles.