Lighting up the dark

The energy divide between the developed and developing world has a massive impact on the effort to lift people out of poverty in sub Saharan Africa. Still 1.2 billion people are without any form of electricity and 2.7 billion people cook over open fires. That’s the equivalent of the whole Chinese and Indian populations combined. More than 95% of these live either in sub-Saharan African or developing Asia and 84% are in rural areas. Lack of access to electricity deprives people of basic services, such as education, health, and clean drinking water, while lack of access to improved cooking stoves and better cooking fuels severely affects the health of women and children. Universal energy access is the key to lifting billions of people out of poverty.

On 5 June, World Environment Day, Practical Action and Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) organised an event in the European Parliament entitled ‘Lighting up the Dark – how energy access can transform the lives of Africa’s poor’.

This was part of a three year European funded project to increase awareness in Europe of energy issues in Africa. This project has helped push energy up the international development agenda in the European Parliament and to make a case for energy to be one of the new Sustainable Development Goals which will replace the Millennium Development Goals from 2015. 

The European Parliament has recognised the vital role that these small scale, decentralised and off grid projects have in helping the poor in Africa and last year passed a resolution in support of the United Nations Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative. This cemented the Commission’s role as one of the leading global players on energy access. It is vital that European energy policy continues to prioritise the poorest people living in sub-Saharan Africa. This means funding balanced proposals which include small scale, off grid solutions such as micro-hydroelectric, solar or wind power and which crucially target rural areas, where most of the poorest people still live.

These projects have the added advantage of being carbon neutral once the technology is in place and can power economic development in even the most remote communities. For example, wood and charcoal release a lot of carbon, are expensive to buy or take a long time to collect and are environmentally destructive. Conversely, electricity generated by a wind turbine, once installed, requires little time or effort to maintain and benefits the whole local community. 


This event was was co-hosted by MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP, Finland) and MEP Norbert Neuser (S&D, Germany).

  • Betty Maina, a member of the UN High Level Panel on the post 2015 development agenda, talked about the key content of the panel’s recent report. You can view her talk on the video below. She is Chief Executive of Kenya’s Association of Manufacturers, one of the country’s leading business associations with some 700 members. She was previously at the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Center for International Private Enterprise, and the Kenya Leadership Institute.
  • Ishmael Edjekumhene, Executive Director of KITE, Ghana, presented the African perspective on the post-2015 process and the potential of EU-Africa cooperation in achieving total energy access in Africa. He reported on the results of a recent survey of this process carried out by the project.
  • Teodoro Sanchez, energy advisor to Practical Action, reported on the key achievements of the Energy for All 2030 project.
  • Caroline Ochieng, research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute, talked about the links between energy access, health and the environment, focusing on the risks of indoor cooking and smoke.

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