The United Nations Climate Action Awards were announced on December 11 at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24). One of the 15 Momentum for Change awards went to EarthSpark International for their work on energy poverty. Globally energy poverty is understood as a lack of access to modern energy services. As I discuss in my October 14 blog, over three billion people rely on wood, charcoal, or dung for cooking resulting in more than 4 million deaths per year from household air pollution. Electrification IS about health.
EarthSpark recognizes this crisis and also the disproportionate affect on women in rural areas. Women tend to be the ones that travel hours and hours per day collecting fuel. They also tend to be the ones tending and breathing these smoky fires for cooking. The EarthSpark winning project has a gender lens they refer to as “feminist electrification.” The projects range from small-scale clean energy projects such as solar lanterns and efficient cooktops to their current project creating 80 community scale microgrids in Haiti to bring electrification to these rural communities. These types of projects help address many of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
There are still 1.2 billion people without access to electricity. 1.2 billion people that can’t refrigerate food, cook on a stove, run a light to read by, or charge a phone to communicate (yes most rural communication is by cell phone). We have an opportunity to leverage today’s technology to bring smart infrastructure to these communities while we equalize gender opportunity. Let’s build it right the first time!
Over three billion people rely on wood, charcoal or dung for cooking, with primarily women spending 15-30 hours per week collecting these resources. Household Air Pollution (HAP) results in over 4 million deaths a year. The second most impactful climate change pollutant is black carbon and HAP contributes 25% of black carbon. Clearly, we can integrate mitigation, adaptation, AND sustainable development.
The first sentence of the Global Warming of 1.5°C IPCC Special Report references the Paris Agreement’s enhanced objective “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” (Article 2) The IPCC report references and builds on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved and adopted by national leaders in September 2015. The SDGs consist of 17 goals and 169 targets developed as a sustainability framework. Top goals include the elimination of poverty and hunger; an increase in health, education, and gender equality; and access to clean water, sanitation and affordable energy. Additional goals address economic growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure, sustainable cities and responsible consumption, life below water and on land, climate action, peace, justice and strong institutions, and partnerships for the goals.
The IPCC report highlights one of the largest differences between 1.5°C and 2°C as the disproportionate impact on poor and vulnerable populations, furthering inequities. However, addressing these inequities through sustainable development can also become a positive. One bright spot in an otherwise dire report is the potential for significant synergies between sustainable development with mitigation and adaptation strategies. But ONLY IF we think about the issues holistically and find mechanisms to cooperate internationally. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement recognizes “the importance of integrated, holistic and balanced non-market approaches” and mentions supporting and promoting sustainable development in Paragraphs 1,2,4, and 9. A failure to consider mitigation and adaptation strategies in the context of sustainable development and the SDGs could result in the opposite effect of creating long term negative impacts on the health and survival of those populations that contributed the least to the problem and have extremely limited resources to weather the consequences.
Let’s strengthen our sustainable development goals through enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions and provide some accountability with some teeth in Katowice.
The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) says that “due to their short lifetimes, compared to CO2 which remains in the atmosphere for approximately a century, actions to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants will quickly lower their atmospheric concentrations, yielding a relatively rapid climate response. Fast action to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, especially methane and black carbon, has the potential to slow down the warming expected by 2050 by as much as 0.5 Celsius degrees.” While the UNFCCC negotiations have focused on C02, CCAC doesn’t want us to lose sight of these short-lived contributors to atmospheric warming.
Not only does their mitigation have an impact on climate change, but it also bodes well for human health and food security. It is estimated that adoption of advanced cookstoves and clean fuels alone has the potential to prevent over 2 million of premature deaths each year. Tropospheric (the closest part of the atmosphere to earth) ozone exposure – what we usually call ground-level ozone or O3 – and black carbon’s effect on cloud formation are estimated to decrease wheat, soybean, rice, and maize crop yields significantly. By collecting landfill gas and recovering methane from coal mines, CCAC sees the potential to avoid the annual loss of more than 50 million tons of crops. Read here for more short-lived climate pollutant facts and graphics illustrating them.