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Coal seen as fuel to drive emerging economies

Fossil fuels are seen as the solution to developing nation’s energy woes

 Coal not renewables is likely to be the best solution for providing energy to an estimated 1.6 billion people who have no source of clean energy, the World Energy Congress heard in its final day of sessions in Daegu.

Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Authority (IEA)  said that developing countries were most likely to follow the example of South Korea, China and India in fuelling economic development with coal rather than green energy.

The final day of the congress began with an address from Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, who declared 2012 the international year of sustainable energy for all.

“Take the Korean example,” he said. “The government has articulated a policy of green growth. And yet if you look at the figures you will see that Korea achieved its miraculous growth thanks largely to coal. And this is true for the region as a whole.”

Expensive solutions

Birol told delegates that the developed world does not have the right to enforce slow progress on the developing world by insisting it is fuelled by expensive green energy. “You cannot tell people who have no access to energy that they need to use clean energy if it is more expensive than what they can afford. You have to let them use whatever makes economic sense.”

But the use of coal by poorer countries would not have a major impact on world carbon dioxide emissions.“But even if all the 1.3bn people who at present lack access to energy were to rely on thermal energy for their power, the amount of carbon dioxide that would be released in the atmosphere is a tiny fraction of amounts released today,” Birol said.

In his address, Ban re-stated his commitment to provide access to sustainable energy for one billion people by 2030. “Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, environmental health, social fairness and opportunity. Clean, modern and affordable energy services are essential for sustainable development and achieving the millennium development goals,” he said.

The sustainable energy for all initiative aims to encourage universal access to modern energy sources and doubling both the worldwide rate of energy efficiency and renewable energy’s share of the global energy mix.

Ban urged congress delegates to lead the way. “No other energy gathering brings together such a wide range of actors. I ask you to lead by example in securing tomorrow’s energy today,”  he said.

In a second keynote speech, Sanjit Roy, the founder of the Barefoot College in India emphasised empowering poor people to provide their own energy needs which are more likely to be sustainable than centralised fossil fuel burning power stations.

The Barefoot College has trained 500 women from 64 countries to install and maintain solar panels. “What’s happening at the top is not reaching those at the bottom. We need to keep solutions simple”, said Roy. However Birol and his fellow panel members stressed more complex solutions for providing energy to the poor. Birol said that better governance could provide electricity in many countries.

“In one petroleum-rich country with a population of 150 million, half the people are off the electricity grid. If they spent 0.6% of their oil income on electrification they could provide electricity for everyone. So it is essentially a governance issue,” he said.

Kandeh Yumkella, the chief executive of Sustainable Energy For All, said that developed countries could not ring fence aid for green projects. “We cannot tell people in Kenya that we will give them financial support but only if they refrain from using coal. These people cannot afford to be green,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vijay Iyer of the World Bank said that hydro-electricity is a cheap and sustainable power source for developing countries, while Bruno Lescoeur, chief executive of Edison said that nuclear energy could also provide a solution. “The industry has good infrastructure and good capability,” he said.

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