Climate change and access to energy
In the recently published report on climate change and poverty, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, highlights that “Even if current (climate) targets are met, tens of millions will be impoverished, leading to widespread displacement and hunger,” underscoring that climate change will have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable. He then adds that “it could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work.”
One of the major causes of climate change is the burning of fossil fuel for the production of electricity, transport and many other modern income generating activities that are fundamental for development. When discussing the SDG7 and the provision of universal access to energy one is often faced with the objection that higher energy consumption will increase emissions and thus enhance the chances of climate change. It is easy to respond to such objections by highlighting the fact that the minimum vital consumption of modern energy leads to a very small increase in world consumption, and that furthermore a positive impact can be observed by introducing clean cooking as it leads to sizeable emissions reductions: the net climate effect of extended access to modern energy is zero or even positive.
What is really worrying however, is the reverse causation highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur. Climate change is making large areas unlivable. “Even under the best-case scenario, hundreds of millions will face food insecurity, forced migration, disease, and death. Climate change threatens the future of human rights and risks undoing the last fifty years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction”. Furthermore, displacement often entails loss of vital supplies such as water and food, health and education, and of course access to energy.
On a longer time horizon, climate change may create some 50 to 200 million new internally displaced persons and international refugees by the year 2100 and mega-deltas in Asia, Africa, and small islands are at high risk of floods and storms, which will cause large-scale displacement of the local populations.
Human Rights Council, Forty-first session, June - July 2019, Climate change and poverty, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
Full report is available at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Poverty/A_HRC_41_39.pdf