What role does low carbon energy play in social development?

Energy affects all aspects of development from livelihoods and education to health and gender equality. It is central to both sustainable development and poverty reduction efforts. Affordable energy access is a prerequisite for poverty reduction and economic growth, and also plays a crucial role in climate change mitigation and adaptation (Mearns & Norton, 2010; FAO, 2013). Sustainable forest management can contribute significantly to climate change adaptation and mitigation, but there are trade-offs to consider in mainstreaming adaptation and mitigation actions in the forest sector (FAO, 2013). Renewable technologies, such as solar, ocean and wind energy, can help mitigate the effects of GHC emissions, although challenges remain. The UN advocates Sustainable Energy for All (UN-SEA) by 2030 and calls for partnerships among government, businesses and civil society to ensure universal access to modern energy services (Sustainable Energy for All, 2012).

Sustainable Energy for All. (2012). Sustainable Energy for All: A global action agenda – Pathways for concerted action toward sustainable energy for all. New York: UN.
How can the UN’s goal of Sustainable Energy for All by 2030 be achieved? This report, based on the work of technical task groups, sets out an agenda for action to meet the three objectives of ensuring universal access to modern energy services, doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. Recommendations cover eleven action areas, including power generation, industry and agriculture, and transport. Sustainable development is not possible without sustainable energy; achieving both requires new partnerships among governments, businesses, and civil society.

FAO. (2013). Climate-smart forestry. In Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook (Module 9). Rome: FAO.
This module provides a brief list of key messages for mainstreaming climate adaptation and mitigation measures into the forest sector. Highlights include: analysing costs and benefits for livelihoods and national development; tailoring interventions to local context, with attention to equity, gender issues and local institutions; designing interventions to target the most vulnerable; examining benefits of forest and tree ecosystems; examining forest tenure issues; and involving indigenous peoples in climate change adaption and mitigation activities.

Mitigation and adaptation opportunities

Access to clean, reliable and affordable energy technologies affects sustainable development initiatives and provides a wide range of development opportunities, including improved health outcomes and employment (Pachauri et al., 2013). Evidence has identified a positive relationship between access to electricity and non-income benefits, such as education and health, and less clear connections between energy consumption and economic growth (Pueyo et al., 2013).

Women and girls, who tend to be responsible for household energy, can particularly benefit from more efficient energy systems. These allow women and girls to spend more time on education and labour market participation, and help empower them to become key actors for mitigation actions (Pachauri et al., 2013). Case studies show how climate-related financing has been used to promote energy access and support the economic and social empowerment of women (Karlsson & Rojas, 2013; Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, 2012). The Garmeen Shakti programme in Bangladesh, for example, trains women to install and maintain Solar Home Systems (SHS) and improved cook stoves. In addition to reducing GHG emissions and addressing energy deficits, the programme provides job creation for women and clean technology for improved health outcomes. Similarly, Solar Sister, based in Uganda and Rwanda, provides women with education, training and support to create micro-businesses selling solar-powered lamps and phone chargers to provide household income and address energy poverty.

Pachauri, S., Scott, A., Scott, L., & Sheperd, A. (2013). Energy for all: Harnessing the power of energy access for chronic poverty reduction. London: Chronic Poverty Advisory Network.
Energy poverty strongly correlates with income poverty, and is most acute in the poorest households in rural areas. This guide argues that access to electricity, combined with assets, can help people escape persistent poverty. Complementary interventions, coordination, and inter-sectoral collaboration are recommended to maximise the poverty reduction potential of energy services.

ESMAP. (n. d.). Innovative approaches to energy access for the urban poor: Summaries of best practices from case studies in four countries. Washington, DC: ESMAP.
Drawing from four case studies, this paper provides an overview of approaches to increasing energy access among the urban poor. Barriers to access include: cost; the illegal and temporary status of some housing; lack of education and awareness; and a lack of trust between communities and service providers. Innovative technologies are recommended, as well as providing credible evidence to inform policy, and establishing effective financial and institutional financing mechanisms.

Karlsson, G., & Rojas, A. (2013). The benefits of gender balance in climate change mitigation investments and sustainable energy initiatives. Leusden, The Netherlands: ENERGIA.
This report uses examples from Bangladesh, Kenya, Nepal and Tanzania to illustrate practical ways in which climate-related financing can help promote energy access for all, and therefore support the social and economic empowerment of women and gender equality. Lessons on gender mainstreaming need to be applied to new funding streams such as the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, and the UNFCCC’s Green Climate Fund. Additional efforts are needed to ensure that women are able to obtain information about and access to climate-related funds, plus the necessary technical training and financing for renewable energy business opportunities.

Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves. (2012). Results report sharing progress on the path to adoption of clean cooking solutions. Washington, DC: Global Alliance for Clean Cook stoves.
What is the current reach of clean cook-stove technology? This report presents data from an online survey of 246 organisations involved in the clean cook-stoves sector, including manufacturers, designers, distributors, and testers. Together they distributed 8.2 million stoves in 59 countries during 2012. Of these, 54% were biomass stoves, while charcoal and (in China) coal stoves are also widely produced. Half of the 2012 stoves were distributed with at least some support from carbon finance, at an average stove offset price of $10. Further investment in standardisation and testing is recommended.

Pueyo, A., Gonzalez, F., Dent, C., & DeMartino, S. (2013). The evidence of benefits for poor people of increased renewable electricity capacity: Literature review. Brighton: IDS.
Does investment in renewable electricity lead to poverty reduction and economic growth? This report presents the results of a systematic review of 143 papers. It sets out a four-stage theory of change linking renewable energy investment with poverty reduction, and assesses the evidence at each stage. Increased investment in generation capacity does not necessarily lead to increased availability and reliability of supply. Financial barriers such as connection charges limit electricity usage by the poor. There is good evidence linking improved access to electricity with non-income benefits such as education, but less evidence for income-related outcomes, and no clear conclusion on the size or causal direction of the link between electricity consumption and economic growth.