With gas prices rising in Britain this month, there’s been a renewed round of discussion on energy poverty. That’s defined as spending more than 10% of household income on energy, and it’s a growing problem. This is important, and I’ve written plenty about it in the past, but it pales when compared to the global situation.
From a global perspective, energy poverty is much bigger and more complicated. It’s not to do with how much people are paying for their energy, but providing that energy in the first place. 1.3 billion people lack electricity, most of them in rural areas and with the largest unconnected populations found in Sub-Saharan Africa. Twice as many people lack an efficient source of fuel for cooking, and rely on traditional energy sources such as wood or dung.
The image here shows the number and distribution of people currently without electricity, and how that picture is likely to change between 2009 and 2030. China is expected to connect all its citizens by then, and Latin America will be 98% electrified. In Africa, 60 million people will get electricity, but once population growth is added in there will be more people without it in 2030 in absolute terms.
Bringing the enormous benefits of electricity to everyone on the planet, without blowing the carbon budget, is one of the great challenges of the century.
Can it be done? Yes, but since it will inevitably mean a rise in CO2 emissions from poorer countries, that will require deeper carbon cuts from wealthier countries.