ENERGY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND GLOBAL POVERTY
Human history is driven by technological innovations. Such innovations allowed humankind to turn energy into food, heat, and motion. During the 19th and 20th centuries, energy-related innovations improved the quality of life and boosted economic growth globally.
On the one hand, energy consumption is strongly correlated to economic growth and poverty alleviation (Mirko, 2020). That is because there is a huge potential for energy to improve living standards, whether through increasing productivity; improving healthcare and education services; allowing digital connections to local, regional and global networks; or fueling the industrial and digital revolutions. Therefore, it is imperative to guarantee access to energy in order to achieve global development and alleviate poverty (Yang, 2012).
Nevertheless, the incredible amount of energy that we consume –which has been exponentially increasing since the 18th century, as we can see in Graph 1– is causing, on the other hand, deep environmental degradation.
Graph 1. Global energy consumption in absolute terms
Source: Ritchie, 2020
To a large extent, the explanation for the current environmental damage lies in the fact that more than 90% of global energy consumption comes from fossil fuels, as we can see in Graph 2. This type of energy source, when burned, produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), which has a devastating impact on the environment (Ritchie & Roser, 2020).
Graph 2. Global energy consumption in relative terms
Source: Ritchie, 2020
Therefore, the solution lies in decarbonization: reducing the portion of fossil fuels in global energy consumption, which in fact implies transforming the whole economic system. In these regards, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set the goal of reducing all human-caused CO2 emissions –SDG Indicator 13.2.2: Total greenhouse gas emissions per year– “by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050” (IPCC, 2018). From the 1950s onwards, there has been a progressive but insufficient progress on decarbonization (Ritchie, 2020) . However, we are still far from meeting the IPCC objectives, so the global threat that climate change represents needs to be urgently addressed.
Moreover, it may well be acknowledged that climate change, despite seriously affecting the whole world, entails a greater concern for the poorest countries of the planet.
On top of that, third-world countries have less access to energy and, as a result, fewer chances to lift themselves out of poverty since it is clear that energy constitutes the motor of industrialized societies. Therefore, they are minor contributors to global warming but still suffering the worst consequences ( D S Ward, 2014 )
Here it comes the complicated dilemma:
Considering this, an option for underdeveloped countries to industrialize and for developing countries to improve their productive framework could be to lower the price of the currently used energy sources (fossil fuels). However, this price reduction would result in a consumption increase, which is inevitably linked to the afore-mentioned constraint: the rise of CO2 emissions.
Along these lines, economic factors ought to be considered as well to ensure that decarbonization can happen in the proper time frame and with the price of energy remaining low. We can now understand the interconnection between energy, climate change and poverty.
So what alternatives do we have?
Innovative technology to rethink energy production is needed to meet decarbonization requirements. Although the main progress and innovation come from the private sector, decentralized finance (DEFI) could take the problem to the global sphere: democratizing discovery data and providing liquidity. Using blockchain technology to finance, iterate and develop technology is a path worth exploring ( I will probably talk about it in my presentation )
Adding up to this, and returning to the initial formula [CO2 emissions= P S E C], it has been demonstrated that nuclear energy can be both efficient (E) and remain low in carbon emissions (C) as data appoints. Thus, moving towards nuclear power is a suitable alternative to the current model, and it is potentially a solution to reach SDG13 ( Sustainable Development Goal ). The large-scale deployment of modern nuclear energy could be the engine of industrialization and digitalization for underdeveloped and developing countries. Providing clean energy for sustained economic and human development without compromising the environment.