In sub-Saharan Africa, seven out of ten people lack reliable access to electricy. Energy poverty reduces the quality of education, contributes to illness and disease, and severely hinders economic growth. Building a clean-energy future is a crucial first step to sustainable development. On a national level, unreliable energy systems cost economies one to two percent of their growth potential annually due to outages and the inefficient usage of already scarce resources. On an individual level, a lack of electricity makes it more difficult to increase literacy rates and expand access to clean cooking fuels.
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Energy officials in Rwanda and Nigeria – two countries that have demonstrated remarkable economic growth in recent years, but still rely heavily upon expensive and dirty fossil fuels – have expressed interest in bringing Worldwatch’s Sustainable Energy Roadmaps to their own countries. Investment in renewable energy and efficient electricity delivery systems will help these countries reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, give marginalized people access to modern energy services, reduce electricity prices, create jobs, and improve health and education services.
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In early January, thousands of Nigerians took to the streets in what has been dubbed Occupy Nigeria. However, unlike the Occupy movement in the United States, Occupy Nigeria was spurred on by one issue: the government’s decision to reduce fossil fuel subsidies. Overnight, gas prices in Nigeria more than doubled as a result of the government’s new policy. The government argues that it is bringing gas prices closer to the global market price, but the price increase has caused significant economic hardship.
Globally, advocates of renewable energy have called for the reduction of fossil fuel subsidies in order to make alternative technologies more competitive. If fossil fuel consumption subsidies were phased out by 2020, energy demand would be reduced by 4.1 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 4.7 percent due to increased energy conservation and development of renewable resources. Furthermore, these subsidies tend to be regressive by benefiting more affluent populations globally, with only 9 percent of electricity subsidies going to the poorest 20 percent of the population.
An Occupy Nigeria rally in Ojota (Source: Flickr - Temi Kogbe)
By raising the end-user price of fossil fuels to market prices, countries can discourage inefficient industry and promote renewable energy projects and green jobs. In 2009, the G-20, recognizing their negative environmental impacts, pledged to eliminate or rationalize all inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. No country has begun cutting subsidies as a result of this pledge, however, partly because popular pressure and differing conceptions of subsidies.
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