At the intersection of conflict, climate change and energy access

Given the far-reaching benefits and rising practical feasibility
of renewables, it is likely that the global community is heading
for a future that embraces clean power sources. Photo: SANJAY
KANOJIA/AFP

By Tarannum Sahar
Jun 14 2019 (IPS-Partners)

With the advent of the 21st century, there has been a steady
rise in energy access all around the globe. For the first time
ever, the total number of people without access to electricity fell
below 1 billion in 2017 according to the International Energy
Agency. Despite the increase in the pace of electrification, 13
percent of the global population, mostly concentrated in
sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, still lack critical access to
electricity—a factor linked closely with productivity, health and
safety, gender equality and education. Without much greater
ambition and more intensified efforts, the Sustainable Development
Goal (SDG) 7 that has an objective of “ensuring access to
affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” will
be impossible to attain by 2030.

At the same time, as the global community faces the persistent
and pervasive challenge of energy poverty, it also needs to address
the intensifying human-driven climate disruption and the widespread
displacement of people as a result of war, persecution and natural
disaster. These critically important crises—energy poverty,
climate disruption and displacement—are inexorably linked through
the strong overlap in the populations affected by all three
predicaments.

There is an unprecedented 68.5 million people forcibly displaced
across the world. Many of them end in relief camps, where
approximately 90 percent do not have energy access as stated by the
Center for Resource Solutions. In addition to refugees and
internally displaced persons, majority of the people lacking the
most basic of electricity services also count amongst the
population most vulnerable to the disastrous consequences of
climate change. Mass migration ensuing from the dramatic shifts in
our environment has the potential of fuelling political unrests and
exacerbating conflict. The communities at risk often lack both the
political and economic resources that are essential in maintaining
stability through strengthening climate resilience and adaptive
capacity. As a consequence, many countries with significant energy
poverty will bear the worst effects of global warming despite
having contributed very little to the historical build-up of
greenhouse gas emissions.

Taking constructive steps towards climate change mitigation and
achieving universal energy access supposedly seem to be in
conflict. The reasoning behind this sceptical notion is the
assumption that more people getting access to electricity will
require further investment in carbon-intensive power systems and
greater exploitation of fossil fuels which largely contribute to
the vast majority of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, with
rapid advancement in alternative energy technologies primarily in
areas of efficiency and cost-reduction, it is no longer required to
address one crisis at the cost of the other. In the current
scenario, communities enduring extreme cases of energy poverty
often depend on biomass burning to meet basic energy needs.
Replacing biomass with clean sources of energy will significantly
bring down deforestation, a step that is vital for climate
mitigation and adaptation. Renewables like solar photovoltaics (PV)
and wind turbines are less expensive than newly installed
fossil-based power plants in many regions of the world and in some,
it is even less expensive than using existing, traditional power
plants.

Communities in remote, rural areas or refugee camps located near
borders and inhospitable regions of the world are usually situated
far away from traditional transmission lines. Installation of
capital-intense grid network is economically unviable as reaching
an affordable scale in these places is nearly impossible. In recent
decades, decentralised energy solution is becoming an increasingly
important factor for expediting electricity access. Deployment of
distributed infrastructures is powering a disruptive transformation
in the energy sector like never seen before. Through the latest
policy brief for SDG 7, the UN Department of Economic and Social
Affairs emphasised that for over 70 percent of those without access
in rural areas, decentralised systems based on renewable energy
will be the most cost-effective solution.

The new paradigm demands that decision makers think beyond the
“grid versus off-grid” dichotomy and recognise the extensive
value of autonomous mini-grids and distributed energy services that
utilise local resources and effectively serve specific, regional
needs. Reducing dependence on centralised generation further
democratises the electricity distribution allowing for local
ownership of energy services and increased support for alternative
energy. Widespread adaptation of distributed systems based on
renewables will put a check on the global demand for oil, ease the
power struggle over resource-rich areas and cut down energy
dominance in political negotiations. Such a transition will help
nation states in reducing vulnerability to conflict, and
strengthening socio-political stability.

Given the far-reaching benefits and rising practical feasibility
of renewables, it is likely that the global community is heading
for a future that embraces clean power sources. However, the
ultimate question is, will the transition be fast enough to limit
global warming to a safe level? The special report on Global
Warming of 1.5 degree Celsius published by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that increase in temperature
beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will lead to
severe environmental catastrophes and the international community
has 12 years to limit that.

As the 25th session of the Conference of Parties (COP25) to the
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change draws near,
it is critical that governments, negotiators, and other
stakeholders not only consider a rapid shift towards a clean energy
future, but also a transition that is just and inclusive of
unserved and underserved communities. While international support
is certainly essential in achieving SDG 7, real and lasting
progress will also require participation at the national as well as
local and regional levels. With the emergence of decentralisation
in electrification, the energy sector can greatly benefit from
polycentrism—the contribution of multiple stakeholders from
numerous spheres.

The present day is a unique moment in the history of energy
access expansion, as distributed networks can viably reach the
furthest corners of the globe. It’s critical to make the best use
of this opportunity and drive action towards an energy system that
will sustain the earth for future generations, while also stepping
up electrification and promoting regional stability.

Tarannum Sahar is studying Economics and Mechanical
Engineering with a focus on Energy Transition and Technology
Development at Cornell University, USA.

This story was
originally published
by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

The post
At the intersection of conflict, climate change and energy
access
appeared first on Inter
Press Service
.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
At the intersection of conflict, climate change and energy access