Podcast: Solving Energy Poverty Without Addressing Climate Change is “The Biggest Threat Multiplier of All”

Sometime this week, the 7 billionth child will be born. And there’s a good chance that child will be living in energy poverty.

Even today, there are roughly 1.5 billion people living without access to modern electricity services, limiting education opportunities, health services and quality of life. And there are 2.5 billion people who only have access to biomass for indoor cooking — resulting in more deaths per year than Malaria, according to the World Heath Organization.

Expanding access to these billions of people in energy poverty is one of the most important global challenges of our time, says Kandeh Yumkella, director general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. And not doing it in a way that also addresses climate change will be “the biggest threat multiplier of all,” he says.

The poor will play the biggest price if we continue business as usual. If countries impacted by climate change don’t have resilience capabilities, they become failed states,” says Yumkella. “We see this as the issue of the century.”

That’s why Yumkella, together with dozens of world leaders and global investors, are working on raising $45 billion per year by 2030 to finance clean projects that expand access to the energy poor — all while doubling the penetration of renewable energy and doubling energy efficiency. In this week’s podcast, we speak with Yumkella about his vision for enabling sustainable, universal energy access with private-sector capital.

“So you look at the whole issue of lack of energy, it means lack of prosperity, it ties down women, it causes high mortality rates. So access and the centrality of energy now to climate security, to food security, water security, and of course, prosperity, is undeniable.”

“We want to make sure that we don’t only rely on top-down, grid-based solutions. Because we do know that in other parts of the world now there are great opportunities for decentralized solutions…We think this is a model for the future.”

The Climate Progress Podcast is a weekly audio program focused on the science and politics of climate change and clean energy. You can find our podcast RSS Feed here.

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5 Responses to Podcast: Solving Energy Poverty Without Addressing Climate Change is “The Biggest Threat Multiplier of All”

  1. Geoff Beacon says:

    I’ve just been at a presentation in the University of Surrey, where it was confirmed by a worker in the field that the elasticity of demand for household energy was greater than 100% – I have previously reported (on ClimateProgress) Professor Kim Swales work which provisionally finds the same. The interesting aspect of this is that this work was based on monitoring peoples behaviours “from the bottom up” where Professor Swales work looks at national statistics i.e. “top down”. I regard this as a strong confirmation.

    This should be astounding… improve energy efficiency and carbon emissions get worse. This drives a low footprint “coach and horses” through UK Government policies.

    It seems to me – still nursing the adverse reactions I had from the academics – that this shows that costing carbon properly and punishing excessive users and rewarding those that are carbon abstemious is one of the few mechanisms that will work.

    Energy efficiency is not much use when it leads to the beneficiaries lashing out on a profligate carbon spree with their savings.

    And of course, the poor are less profligate than the rich so taxing carbon to cut other taxes or hand out a “Hansen dividend” will take from the rich who pollute more and support the poor who pollute less.

  2. Bird Thompson says:

    a 1% tax on financial transactions, the Robin Hood tax, could pay for clean energy for the world…

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Forgive the whinge, but it’s not the seven billionth baby born-it’s the seven billionth human alive at present. Far more than seven billion have been born in the sad history of our species.

  4. alec fraher says:

    Hi Geoff,

    Be careful with the stength of bottom up perspectives;

    Nudge implementation has already started – and what’s worse is the support given via EU policy on competition, (which is currently based on the post Chicago school.) This means that any case made for a local selective distribution system will be aborbed to suit other than local needs.

    It is now a question of whether ‘charity capitalism’ allows others to actually simply live.

    Its no wonder that the Greeks are asking for a referendum.

  5. Thank you for this piece, Stephen. It’s very important and very timely.

    The Solar Electric Light Fund ( believes that energy is a human right, and access to it is essential to achieving each of the Millennium Development Goals. That’s why for the last 20 years we’ve been implementing distributed solar energy systems in developing countries to assist rural communities with economic, education, health and agricultural development.

    For example, the picture you included is of our work in Benin, West Africa where we’ve used solar energy to power a unique drip irrigation system to scale-up agricultural production for women farming collectives in Dunkassa and Bessassi, two villages in the arid, northern part of the country. Since their implementation, residents have experienced a significant increase in food security since they are now able to grow high-value fruits and vegetables year-round. In fact, the results of a two-year study by Stanford University found that our solar drip irrigation system in Benin, “significantly augments both household income and nutritional intake, particularly during the dry season, and is cost effective compared to alternative technologies.”

    As the world’s population continues to grow, we are fully committed to eradicating energy poverty through the use of solar energy, and encourage others to join us in our work.

    Bob Freling, Exec. Director
    Solar Electric Light Fund