UNDP Associate Administrator: It is expensive to be poor

11 Oct 2011

Rebeca Grynspan, UNDP Associate Administrator, called for scaling up of efforts to provide energy from  renewable sources in developing countries at yesterday’s ‘Energy for All’-conference in Oslo.

She said that close partnerships between governments, private sector, international organizations and financial institutions are necessary in order to improve access to clean energy for the poor and stressed that an appropriate policy framework and the development of national capacities and skills is key for a long term success.  

Grynspan argued that community-based approaches to energy-solutions is necessary to reach the very poor and marginalize since  it “makes it doable for communities to access technologies to generate their own energy. Decentralize, mini grid and off grid solutions need to be financed to reach the 1.3 billion people that don’t have access to electricity, 85% of which are in rural areas”.

She made these remarks in a panel on “the role of climate finance in meeting the energy access challenge”.

“It is expensive to be poor,” said Grynspan referring to the fact that many times are precisely the poor that end up paying higher prices for energy and water , “so we need  to make sure energy is affordable and we help increase energy efficiency for the poor,” she said.

The conference, organized by the Norwegian Government and the Paris-based International Energy Agency, gathered hundreds of government officials, experts and private sector representatives. The Prime Ministers of Ethiopia, Kenya and Norway, as well as the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke at the opening of the event. Ban said the world needs to double its use of renewable energy resources over the next 20 years.

About 1.3 billion people currently do not have access to electricity and an estimated 2.7 billion people still use traditional biomass for cooking, such as fuel-wood, charcoal, agricultural bi-products and animal dung. An estimated 1.5 million people, mostly women and children, die each year due to smoke inhalation and burns caused by open fires and stoves with inadequate ventilation.

Access to modern energy sources can improve many aspects of development. It provides light for children to do their homework, better air quality, and is a key factor in achieving economic development. Without energy, companies – whether small or large – cannot manufacture their goods or store fresh produce. 

Erik Solheim, the Norwegian Minister of Environment and International Development, stressed that it is impossible for the public sector alone to finance energy initiatives. He said the private sector must be encouraged to see developing countries as attractive markets and invest in energy production.

Lack of knowledge, and uncertainty about the risks involved in investing in poor countries are among the key obstacles to improving access to energy in poor countries. The ultimate goal of the conference is to address these challenges and to explore and identify sources of financing, as well as creating the political will to securing equal access to cleaner energy.

UNDP contributes to this work by helping develop local capacity on energy-related issues, by providing appropriate policy frameworks and advice for how to expand access to energy services for the poor.