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FEATURE: How energy policy can help tackle chronic poverty

This article first appeared on the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network

Over the past two years, the challenge of providing people living in poverty with access to modern energy has been prominent in policy debates. The UN Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative is instrumental in highlighting the importance of energy access for poverty reduction. Some developing countries are now drawing-up national strategies for Sustainable Energy for All and over the next few years, attention is likely to continue in the debates about the post-2015 development agenda and during the UN Decade for Sustainable Energy for All (2014-24).

However, and despite this policy focus, governments sometimes overlook the needs of chronically poor people when initiating energy for all programmes as they are often the most difficult for energy service providers to reach, and are least able to afford services when they are available. Chronically poor people therefore need to be explicitly considered in measures to deliver energy services.

Research and policy evaluation tells us that access to electricity, together with the assets which enable its use in a transformational way, improved cooking technologies, and mechanical power can help people to escape from persistent poverty. There are three broad policy areas which can help achieve this:

  • expanding electricity coverage and distributing clean-combusting fuels and equipment to populations not yet served;
  • improving the ability of the poorest people to afford these when they are available;
  • enhancing the reliability of energy services. This is important if energy is to contribute in a transformational way to escaping poverty. A minimalist approach will not do – energy is needed by poor households for productive uses as well as domestic and community needs.

This CPAN Policy Guide provides guidance for developing country policy makers and their advisers when considering the specific measures necessary to ensure that chronically poor people are included in efforts to deliver sustainable energy for all. It is therefore intended for policy and programme designers and implementers in energy agencies, as well as policymakers in ministries of finance and planning, energy, rural development and health alongside those in local government. One message from this guide is that co-ordination and inter-sectoral collaboration is required to ensure that the expansion of energy services contributes to poverty reduction.

The first part gives an overview of the current energy poverty situation in developing countries and presents new analysis of the relationship between access to energy and poverty dynamics (movements of people into and out of poverty over time and being trapped in poverty, or chronic poverty). The second part discusses key questions for policy makers in meeting the challenge of delivering energy services to chronically poor people. Finally, the Policy Guide suggests a categorisation of countries according to the priorities and challenges they face, together with conclusions and recommendations for different categories of country.

The Energy Guide has been written by energy experts Shonali Pachauri and Andrew Scott in collaboration with a CPAN team – Lucy Scott and Andrew Shepherd.

Click here to download your own copy of the Energy Policy Guide.

Readers interested in this topic may also wish to download and read a publication from IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development).  The publication can be downloaded here and is entitled “Sustainable energy for all? Linking poor communities to modern energy services” and is written by Emma Wilson, Rachel Godfrey Wood and Ben Garside.

The paper explores energy delivery models that provide sustainable and clean energy services to the poor. Four key building blocks are: the implementation process, including finance, resource sourcing, conversion and end use; support services (additional services such as training or micro-finance facilities); the enabling environment of policies, regulations and incentives; and the socio-cultural context including local norms and preferences, decision-making structures and levels of social cohesion. It covers a range of products and services targeted at communities located in diverse socio-cultural and geographical contexts. It identifies useful experiences that can help to replicate or scale up successful models that link the poor to modern energy markets.

Photo credit: Kate Shifman


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