Energy generation and use are strongly linked to all elements of sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental. The history of human development rests on the availability and use of energy, the transformation from the early use of fire and animal power that improved lives, to the present world with use of electricity and clean fuels for a multitude of purposes. This progress built on basic scientific discoveries, such as electromagnetism and the inventions of technologies such as steam engines, light bulbs, and automobiles.
It is thus abundantly clear that access to affordable energy is fundamental to human activities, development, and economic growth. Without access to electricity and clean fuels, people’s opportunities are significantly constrained. However, it is really energy services, not energy per se that matters. Yet, today some 2 billion people lack access to modern energy carriers.
In addition to the great benefits, the generation, transportation, and use of energy carriers unfortunately come with undesired effects. The environmental impacts are multifaceted and serious, although mostly less evident. Emissions of suspended fine particles and precursors of acid deposition contribute to local and regional air pollution and ecosystem degradation. Human health is threatened by high levels of air pollution resulting from particular types of energy use at the household, community, and regional levels.
Emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHG), mostly from the production and use of energy, are altering the atmosphere in ways that are affecting the climate. There is new and stronger evidence that most of the global warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities. Stabilization of GHG in the atmosphere will require a major reduction in the
projected carbon emissions to levels below the present.
Dependence on imported fuels leaves many countries vulnerable to disruption in supply, which might pose physical hardships and economic burdens; the weight of fossil fuel imports on the balance of payments is unbearable for many poorer countries. The present energy system of countries heavily dependent on fossil fuels geographically concentrated in a few regions of the world adds security of supply aspects.
From the issues indicated here it is clear that major changes are required in energy system development worldwide. At a first glance, there appears to be many conflicting objectives. For example, is it possible to sustain poverty alleviation and economic growth while reducing GHG emissions? Can urban areas and transport expand while improving air quality? What would be the preferable trade-offs? Finding ways to expand energy services while simultaneously addressing the environmental impacts associated with energy use represents a critical challenge to humanity.
What are the options? Looking at physical resources, one finds they are abundant. Fossil fuels will be able to provide the energy carriers that the world is used to for hundreds of years. Renewable energy flows on Earth are many thousands of times larger than flows through energy markets. Therefore, there are no apparent constraints from a resource point of view. However, the challenge is how to use these resources in an environmentally acceptable way. The broad categories of options for using energy in ways that support sustainable development are (1) more efficient use of energy in all sectors, especially at the point of end use, (2) increased use of renewable energy sources, and (3) accelerated development and deployment of new and advanced energy technologies,
including next-generation fossil fuel technologies that produce near-zero harmful emissions. Technologies are available in these areas to meet the challenges of sustainable development. In addition, innovation provides increasing opportunities.
Analysis using energy scenarios indicates that it is indeed possible to simultaneously address the sustainable development objectives using the available natural resources and technical options presented. A prerequisite for achieving energy futures compatible with sustainable development objectives is finding ways to accelerate progress for new technologies along the energy innovation chain, including research and development, demonstration, deployment, and diffusion.
It is significant that there already exist combinations of technologies that meet all sustainable development challenges at the same time. This will make it easier to act locally to address pollution problems of a major city or country while at the same time mitigating climate change. Policies for energy for sustainable development can be largely motivated by national concerns and will not have to rely only on global pressures.
However, with present policies and conditions in the marketplaces that determine energy generation and use such desired energy futures will not happen. A prerequisite for sustainable development is change in policies affecting energy for sustainable development. This brings a need to focus on the policy situation and understand incentives and disincentives related to options for options for energy for sustainable development.
Policies and actions to promote energy for sustainable development would include the following:
• Developing capacity among all stakeholders in all countries, especially in the public sector, to address issues related to energy for sustainable development.
• Adopting policies and mechanisms to increase access to energy services through modern fuels and electricity for the 2 billion without.
• Advancing innovation, with balanced emphasis on all steps of the innovation chain: research and development, demonstrations, cost buy-down, and wide dissemination.
• Setting appropriate market framework conditions (including continued market reform, consistent regulatory measures, and targeted policies) to encourage competitiveness in energy markets, to reduce total cost of energy services to end-users, and to protect important public benefits, including the following:
• Cost-based prices, including phasing out all forms of permanent subsidies for conventional energy (now on the order of $250 billion a year) and internalizing external environmental and health costs and benefits (now sometimes larger than the private costs).
• Removing obstacles and providing incentives, as needed, to encourage greater energy efficiency and the development and/or diffusion of new technologies for energy for sustainable development to wider markets.
• Recent power failures on the North American Eastern Seaboard, in California, London (United Kingdom), Sweden, and Italy illustrate the strong dependence on reliable power networks. Power sector reform that recognizes the unique character of electricity, and avoids power crises as seen in recent years, is needed.
• Reversing the trend of declining Official Development Assistance and Foreign Direct Investments, especially as related to energy for sustainable development.
This is a long list of opportunities and challenges. To move sufficiently in the direction of sustainability will require actions by the public and the private sector, as well as other stakeholders, at the national, regional, and global levels. The decisive issues are not technology or natural resource scarcity, but the institutions, rules, financing mechanisms, and regulations needed to make markets work in support of energy for sustainable development. A number of countries, including Spain, Germany, and Brazil, as well as some states in the United States have adopted successful laws and regulations designed to increase the use of renewable energy sources. Some regions, including Latin America and the European Union, have set targets for increased use of renewable energy. However, much remains to be done.
Energy was indeed one of the most intensely debated issues at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August/September, 2002. In the end, agreement was reached on a text that significantly advances the attention given to energy in the context of sustainable development. This was in fact the first time agreements could be reached on energy at the world level! These developments followed years of efforts to focus on energy as an instrument for sustainable development that
intensified after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in 2000. These goals are set in areas such as extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, gender equality and empowerment of women, child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and environmental sustainability. However, more than 2 billion people cannot access affordable energy services, based on the efficient use of gaseous and liquid fuels and electricity. This constrains their opportunities for economic development and improved living standards. Women and children suffer disproportionately because of their relative dependence on traditional fuels. Although no explicit goal on energy was adopted, access to energy services is a prerequisite to achieving all of the MDGs.
Some governments and corporations have already demonstrated that policies and measures to promote energy solutions conducive to sustainable development can work, and indeed work very well. The renewed focus and broad agreements on energy in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and at the 18th World Energy Congress are promising. The formation of many partnerships on energy between stakeholders at WSSD is another encouraging sign. A sustainable future in which energy plays a major positive role in supporting human well-being is possible!
Progress is being made on many fronts in bringing new technologies to the market, and to widening access to modern forms of energy. In relation to energy, a total of 39 partnerships were presented to the United Nations Secretariat for WSSD to promote programs on energy for sustainable development, 23 with energy as a central focus and 16 with a considerable impact on energy. These partnerships included most prominently the DESA-led Clean Fuels and Transport Initiative, the UNDP/World Bank-led Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP), the Johannesburg Renewable Energy Coalition (JREC), the EU Partnership on Energy for Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development, and the UNEP- led Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development (GNESD).
With secure access to affordable and clean energy being so fundamental to sustainable development, the publication of the Encyclopedia of Energy is extremely timely and significant. Academics, professionals, scholars, politicians, students, and many more will benefit tremendously from the easy access to knowledge, experience, and insights that are provided here.
Thomas B. Johansson Professor and Director International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics Lund University Lund, Sweden
Former Director Energy and Atmosphere Programme United Nations Development Programme New York, United States