Universal access to clean, efficient energy is vital for poverty reduction, ESCAP tells Asia-Pacific countries

Lack of access to modern energy services is keeping tens of millions of people in poverty and poor health across Asia and the Pacific region, the majority of them women, the United Nations told a regional energy policymakers’ meeting here.

As they cope with high international oil prices that led to an increase in poverty in the region last year, Asia-Pacific countries must ensure that national energy policies aim to universalize access to clean and efficient energy services, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) said.

“Ensuring access to modern energy services, doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and doubling the share of renewable energy can revitalize the regional economy, combat climate change and go a long way toward ensuring equal opportunity for all,” Rae Kwon Chung, Director, Environment and Development Division, ESCAP told the Expert Group Meeting on Sustainable Energy Development in Asia and the Pacific, reiterating the vision of the United Nations Secretary-General’s ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ initiative.

Representatives from over 15 Asia-Pacific governments and energy experts from around the world met at the 27-29 September Expert Group Meeting organized by ESCAP jointly with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to review energy security challenges facing the region and lay the groundwork for a regional energy security agenda.

ESCAP estimates show that over 40 per cent of the approximate 4 billion people in the region mainly rely on traditional biomass for their cooking and heating needs while nearly 1 billion people lack electricity. This has enormous socio-economic costs, most of them borne by women who comprise nearly 70 per cent of the estimated 1 billion people in the region living on less than US$1.25 a day.
“Wider access to energy is a critical for reducing inequality. In formulating energy policies, we need to listen to the voices of the poor and marginalized,” Nanda Krairiksh, Director, Social Development Division, ESCAP told the meeting.

“Ensuring universal access to basic, clean energy services also provides significant benefits in the domains of health, literacy and equity,” Ms Krairiksh said. “Access to energy would, therefore, offer opportunities for millions of people to contribute more effectively and productively to society.”

According to ESCAP, few Asia-Pacific countries have integrated poverty reduction and environmental protection concerns into national energy policies. Lack of access to energy is a core cause of chronic poverty in developing countries in the region which, in turn, makes it even more difficult to obtain essential energy services, resulting in a vicious cycle of poverty and energy deprivation.
Noting that people facing energy insecurity have no voice in energy policymaking, the Expert Group Meeting agreed on the fundamental need to make energy policies pro-poor, and especially pro-women, in order to ensure universal access to modern energy sources.