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Renewables trade to tackle global energy poverty

Improving international trade of clean energy will help to lift millions of people in developing countries out of poverty, industry leaders said

“The UN Secretary General describes energy as the golden thread that runs through all the pillars of sustainable development,” Kandeh Yumkella, special representative to the United Nations (UN) Secretary General, said. “Without access to energy you can’t run the hospitals, you can’t build up the educational systems well and you can’t ensure women’s economic empowerment.”

There are 1.2 billion people in the world without access to electricity, according to the World Bank. Most of these people live in southeast Asia and sub-saharan Africa.

India and Nigeria are the worst affected countries, with 306 million people and 82m people, respectively, still without access to electricity. There are also 56m people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in need of access to power, the bank said.

There is huge potential for renewable energy projects in developing nations. Low-carbon resources, such as wind and solar power, are often abundant in the most energy-impoverished places on the planet. The World Bank said around 90% of Africa’s hydropower potential has yet to be tapped.

Yumkella said universal access to electricity should be possible by 2030 but only with international cooperation to increase trading of green energy technology and private capital investment in new projects. Boosting low-carbon energy production will also help to cut carbon emissions, he said.

Christina Figueres, executive secretary to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said there is huge disparity between the amount of funding available to developed nations and developing ones for clean energy projects.

Green energy investors will need both financial incentives and regulatory certainty to support new low-carbon projects. Figueres added that developing countries do not have the confidence that the private sector will provide financial support even if governments put the right regulatory and fiscal frameworks in place. “We’ve got to be able to sort this problem out,” Figueres said. “We cannot afford not to do so.”

Yumkella urged energy-poor nations to look at policy reforms taking place in Asia and Latin America to attract investment. “Define the right public policies, make them transparent and stable and let private capital flow in the scale that we need,” he said.

A better service sector to easily trade and transport clean technology would also help to improve access to green energy, Figueres added.

Ricardo Melendez-Ortiz, chief executive of ICTSD, said an enhanced service sector would also create jobs in developing countries and help to lift more people out of poverty by stimulating economic growth.

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