Balancing climate goals and energy poverty

Source: Kelsey Brugger, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2018

As governments and oil majors wrestle with how to reduce global energy use to fight climate change, Rachel Kyte wants to produce more energy for the 3 billion people who still burn firewood to cook dinner.

In a talk at the Brookings Institution yesterday, Kyte, chief executive officer of Sustainable Energy for All, raised the balancing act between curbing global warming and alleviating energy poverty. She reminded the audience that a billion people in the world do not have electricity.

Kyte explored a number of issues raised by these contradictory goals and how to finance the energy sector in the developing world. She said international investors have fallen short of raising the $52 billion annually it would take to reach universal electricity access. Financing for coal-powered energy in underdeveloped nations has nearly tripled in recent years, she said.

“At the heart of the Paris Agreement is the notion we won’t leave anybody behind,” she said. “You can’t strike a climate deal if Africa is not at the table.”

She noted that India has achieved success in providing electric power supplies to every village because of policy reforms inside the country. In addition, an increasing number of coal plants there are closing. The question becomes, she said, what about the country’s approach is worth replicating?

As for fossil fuels, Kyte said she believes oil companies should become carbon molecule management companies. That means they still extract the natural resource from the earth but don’t allow the carbon to get into the atmosphere and warm the planet.

“We can’t just go cold turkey on the fossil fuel side,” she said.

Kyte said the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report underscored the urgency of the global problem.

Asked whether Americans were missing from the discussions since President Trump announced he would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Kyte said no. “They are present everywhere” — particularly on the science and technology fronts, she said.