Energy Policy 33 (2005) 1367–1372
Alleviating energy poverty for the world’s poor
Ambuj D. Sagar*
Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government,Harvard University, 79, John F. Kennedy St., Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
Improving energy services for poor households in developing countries remains one of the most pressing challenges facing thedevelopment community. The dependence of these households on traditional forms of energy leads to signiﬁcant health impacts aswell as other major disbeneﬁts, yet there has been little progress in meeting this challenge. This viewpoint argues for an ‘energy-poverty alleviation’ fund to help provide modern energy services to these households. It also proposes an approach through which tocreate such a fund, namely by introducing an incremental levy on petroleum. Notably, this scheme does not need a global agreementsince a levy could be introduced by major oil-exporting countries. The implementation of this mechanism would result in a climate-friendly outcome (even before taking into account the elimination of products of incomplete combustion resulting from thetraditional household use of biomass-based fuels) while providing immense socio-economic beneﬁts to the world’s poor. Such anapproach would allow signiﬁcant progress on the sustainable development front while reducing global greenhouse gas emissions,and therefore is very much consistent with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Biomass; Climate change; Sustainable development; Equity
An estimated 2 billion people worldwide, mostly inrural areas, continue to suffer from energy poverty(World Bank, 1996,Goldemberg et al., 2000). This
remains one of the major challenges facing the develop-ment community. Although much attention has beenfocused towards this problem, only limited progress hasbeen made in tackling it.The per-capita energy consumption of these indivi-duals, comprising the poorest third of humanity, is aminuscule fraction of that of citizens of industrializedcountries and much smaller than even that of urbandwellers in developing countries. They do not haveaccess to safe, clean fuels and subsist mainly ontraditional energy sources such as animal dung, cropresidues, and wood (Reddy et al., 1997;Goldemberg
et al., 2000). The continuing reliance of poor householdson such forms of energy comes with major disbeneﬁtsincluding:
substantial, and often increasing, time and effort toprocure ﬁrewood or other forms of biomass—forexample, in rural sub-Saharan Africa, many womenhave to carry 20kg of fuel wood an average of 5kmevery day (IEA, 2002);
possibly high price per unit of energy services (sincesubsidies often increase as one goes up the energyladder (Reddy et al., 1997)); and
severe and widespread health impacts associated withindoor air pollution resulting from the inefﬁcientcombustion of energy sources in poor households,with women and children facing particular risk(Smith, 1993). Recent estimates by the WorldHealth Organization suggest that about 1.6 millionpremature deaths can be annually attributed toindoor air pollution from biomass and coal use inpoor households in developing countries (WHO,2002, cited inSmith, 2003), which makes it the sixth
largest health risk factor in developing countries.Indoor smoke from these solid fuels is, in fact,responsible for about 38 million disability-adjustedlost years (DALYs)
in developing countries withtheir attendant social and economic costs (WHO,2002).
ARTICLE IN PRESS
*Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-617-496-6218; fax: +1-617-496-0606.
ambuj firstname.lastname@example.org (A.D. Sagar).
One DALY represents one healthy year of life lost by an individualdue to disease/adverse health condition.0301-4215/$-see front matter
2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2004.01.001