New climate deal must tackle energy poverty, says UN

Nov 23, 2009

1.5 billion people still living in darkness, says UN ahead of Copenhagen climate talks 

New York — As world leaders enter into final negotiations ahead of the Copenhagen climate talks, almost a quarter of the global population —1.5 billion people—  lives without electricity, 80 percent of them in the least developed countries (LDCs) of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. That’s according to figures from a new UN report that shines a light on the plight of the three billion people without access to modern energy services.

The report, and entitled The Energy Access Situation in Developing Countries, A Review Focusing on the Least Developed Countries and Sub-Saharan Africa was produced in partnership by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), with support from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“Almost half of humanity is completely disconnected from the debate on how to drive human progress with less emissions and greener energy because their reality is much more basic than that: they carry heavy loads of water and food on their backs because they don’t have transport; they cook over wood fires that damage their health, not with electricity, gas or oil,” said Olav Kjorven, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of Development Policy at UNDP. “We must ensure that the energy needs of these people are central to a new climate agreement,” he said.

According to the Report, to halve the proportion of people living in poverty by 2015 —the first of eight, internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)— 1.2 billion more people will need access to electricity and two billion more people will need access to modern fuels like natural gas or Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), also called propane.

Two million people die every year from causes associated with exposure to smoke from cooking with biomass and coal —and 99 percent of those deaths occur in developing countries. In LDCs and sub-Saharan Africa, half of all deaths from pneumonia in children under five years, chronic lung disease and lung cancer in adults are attributed to the use of solid fuel use, compared with 38 percent in developing countries overall.

“Expanding energy access is essential to tackle global poverty. It needs to happen at the lowest cost and in the cleanest and most sustainable way possible to help developing countries establish a low-carbon route to development,” said Mr. Kjorven.

The IEA, UNDP and WHO have joined forces to tackle energy poverty across the developing world. The recently launched IEA World Energy Outlook 2009 seeks to add momentum to the upcoming Copenhagen talks around the issue of energy, detailing practical steps needed for a sustainable energy future as part of a global climate deal.

“The time has come to make hard choices needed to combat climate change and enhance global energy security, and at the same time we should not forget 1.5 billion people who have no access to electricity in the developing world,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, Chief Economist of IEA. “The World Energy Outlook 2009 demonstrates that containing climate change is possible but will require a profound transformation of the global energy system. I hope to see a strong signal sent from Copenhagen to the energy sector to kick-off this transformation,” he said.

More information:

The key messages from IEA’s flagship report World Energy Outlook 2009 are available at The UNDP, WHO 2009 report The Energy Access Situation in Developing Countries; a Review Focusing on the Least Developed Countries and Sub-Saharan Africa is at

Contact InformationStanislav Saling, UNDP Communications Officer,, +1 212 906 5296

UNDP Around the world