Our Perspectives

Sustainable energy, climate change and disasters


Man lighting an improved wood stoveEnergy efficient cook stoves require less wood or charcoal and thus reduce deforestation and land degradation, helping to avert landslides and floods. Photo: UNDP Burundi

In 2007, a lack of rainfall resulted in low water levels in rivers and lakes in Albania, severely hampering hydropower generation and resulting in frequent power outages across the country. Outages amounted to 3.7 hours per day that year, and Albania’s Ministry of Finance estimated that this cost the country as much as 1 percent of its growth.

Examples such as this exemplify the relationship between energy and development, highlighting how insufficient and intermittent energy access hampers development progress, while poor or risk-prone development can expose energy systems to natural hazards or the impacts of climate change.

There are a number of lessons here:

1) It’s crucial that countries diversify their sources of energy and establish a mix of large and small, centralized and decentralized systems. Decentralized energy systems can help limit the risks to the energy sector, such as those related to disasters. As we have seen recently in Nepal and Vanuatu, a large disaster can have a massive impact on socio-economic systems and infrastructure. A centralized energy system would be all the more prone to failure, potentially leading to weeks or months without energy – crippling relief efforts and delaying recovery.

2) Energy-efficiency in the kitchen is equally important to development. By adopting technologies like energy efficient cook stoves and heating systems, we can contribute to climate mitigation efforts, increase local resilience to natural hazards, and open up time better spent on economic and educational opportunities. Energy efficient cook stoves, for instance, require less wood or charcoal (meaning fewer work-hours for communities, especially women) and thus reduce deforestation and land degradation, helping to avert landslides and floods.

3) The connections between clean and sustainable energy and climate mitigation and adaptation cannot be overstated. By employing green energy technologies, and switching to sustainable sources, we can support global efforts to tackle climate change and meet the target of no more than a 2 degree Celsius increase.

4) Climate resilient energy systems and services must be affordable, and there should be community participation and ownership of energy systems. Communities know best which areas or regions are highly prone to risk, likewise they will have contextual and historical knowledge about available resources, such as wind-generating areas or rivers with hydropower potential. Ignoring local knowledge not only limits ownership but it exposes an energy project to avoidable risk and cost overruns.  

Developing efficient, sustainable, and diversified energy systems significantly contributes to socio-economic development without jeopardizing future safety and prosperity for short term gains. This should be the go-to approach for all new energy developments.  

Thankfully, this is getting more and more attention on the global stage, with both local and national development agendas looking at sustainable energy as a reliable and practical option for climate resilient and sustainable development. The Sustainable Energy for All Forum (SE4ALL), held this week in New York, is the largest event in this regard, and the over 1000 policymakers and experts attending are sure to call for the inclusion of sustainable energy in the Sustainable Development Goals in September.

Energy Climate change and disaster risk reduction Environment Renewable energy

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