Science & Technology

Imposing Energy Poverty on Poor Countries Is NOT Sustainable Development

You cannot solve climate change by denying the poor access to energy.



In a great article yesterday, New York Times economics columnist Eduardo Porter shows why "sustainable development"—as in imposing energy poverty on poor countries in the name of preventing man-made global warming—is a complete nonstarter. Porter begins by pointing out that the average Nepalese consumes 100 kilowatt-hours (kwh) of electricity per year; Cambodians, 160 kwh; and Bangladeshis, 260 kwh. In contrast, an American Energy Star-rated refrigerator burns through 300 to 600 kwh per year. The Times reports:


Barry Brook, professor of environmental sustainability at the University of Tasmania in Australia [correctly notes], "Most societies will not follow low-energy, low-development paths, regardless of whether they work or not to protect the environment."

If billions of impoverished humans are not offered a shot at genuine development, the environment will not be saved. And that requires not just help in financing low-carbon energy sources, but also a lot of new energy, period. Offering a solar panel for every thatched roof is not going to cut it….

The citizens of poor countries—including Nepalis, Cambodians and Bangladeshis—may not aspire to that level of use [of electricity by Americans]….But they would appreciate assistance from developed nations, and the financial institutions they control, to build up the kind of energy infrastructure that could deliver the comfort and abundance that Americans and Europeans enjoy.

Too often, the United States and its allies have said no.

The United States relies on coal, natural gas, hydroelectric and nuclear power for about 95 percent of its electricity, said Todd Moss, from the Center for Global Development. "Yet we place major restrictions on financing all four of these sources of power overseas."

Hooray for the honesty! Porter points out that many developing countries are now running to join China's new infrastructure development bank because it will fund conventional energy production projects like coal and gas-fired electricity generation plants. This contrasts with the "sustainability" requirements for projects funded by World Bank and the IMF. The only thing that sustainable development orthodoxy will sustain is continued poverty, disease, and early death.

Hat tip: Matt Ridley