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August 2002

The Role of Energy in Sustainable Development:
Rio, Johannesburg and beyond

a special focus on rural areas

by Grazia Piana
Environment and Natural Resources Service
FAO Research, Extension and Training Division

Executive summary

1. The framework of the analysis: sustainable development

The first chapter of the study will provide the identification of the framework of the analysis: sustainable development. The starting point is a brief historical report of the concept of sustainable development, from the first approaches until its official "consecration" in the Brundtland Report (1987). This Report, known also as "Our common future", defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". The Report indicates the road that forms the infrastructure of the approach to the problem adopted by the Rio Conference in 1992, and outlined in two of its important products: The Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. The central idea is that environmental strategy must be associated to economic development, a process of growth that should be performed without prejudice to the future availability of essential resources. The way pointed out by the Earth Conference is based on the effort to assure a right balance between environmental protection and economic growth of the South of the World. The role of energy in this context is relevant. Economic development and social welfare depend on the availability of energy and their achievement is related to the access to energy services. The importance of energy issues in the context of sustainable development will be examined with special reference to the work of the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) and relevant outcomes.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), known as the Johannesburg Summit 2002 will be surely a moment of reflection. It's time to make a balance of ten years of "sustainable development strategy" in view to update, and not re-negotiate Agenda 21, the new issues of a changing world, where the gap between north and south is still very deep, where the fight against poverty continues, where people still die of hunger.

2. Climate change in the international context

In this chapter, the problem of climate change will be analysed. The starting point will be an attempt to give an answer to the question: What is climate change? With a technical description of its dynamics, based on the studies and scientific publications dedicated to this subject, the focus will be on two major issues: energy and agriculture. These issues are two of the basic anthropogenic causes of climate change. The Kyoto Protocol is considered in the present study as the result of a process which underlines the international scientific, political, national and international approach. The IPCC Reports on Climate Change envisage a three-pillar strategy, modeled to the dynamics of climate change and the future scenarios. The path chosen goes from the evidence of the impacts to the approaches of mitigation and adaptation, with reference to the concept of vulnerability.

The study will describe this process that precedes the Kyoto Protocol. It will be analyzed with special reference to its mechanisms and its implications. A detailed exam of post Kyoto follow up will be provided through the issues of COP meetings (special reference to the last ones i.e. the 6th and 7th).

3. Human dimensions of climate change

This chapter is devoted to the analysis of the human dimensions of climate change. Human dimensions is a concept that comprises the causes and consequences of people's individual and collective actions, including the change which lead to modifications of the Earth's physical and biological systems and affect the human quality of life and sustainable development in the various parts of the world.

After an account of the rural poverty issues related to climate change (rural poor are the main victims in this context), the study analyzes the social issues related to energy, both on the demand and supply side, and to agriculture, in the context of environmental change.

Finally, the concept of sustainable livelihoods will be examined. Sustainable Livelihoods is a concept that during the last years has been developed reaching the configuration not simply of an approach but that of a real strategy with its schemes and mechanisms of action.

4. The role of energy in environmental and developmental terms

The subject of this chapter is energy. The analysis will be carried out with special attention to the role of energy in developmental terms. An outline of the linkages between energy and human development will open this chapter. In order to assess the current trends the study considers also some fundamental aspects of energy, recognizing the trends characterizing the present international framework. Special attention is devoted to the existing gap between the North and the South.

Energy supply, which is one of the pillars of energy policy, must actually confront itself with the reality of climate change. Consequently, it is necessary to provide a new approach for future environmentally sound energy policies. The study will consider two options. On the one hand, energy efficiency and advanced technologies applied to the traditional fossil fuels. The purpose of these measures is to "clean" the impact that traditional fossil fuels have on the environment. On the other hand, the world of renewable energies, with their options particularly related to the needs of the developing world. Their role will be very important in a future characterized by quasi-zero or zero emissions, suggested by the emergency represented by climate change. The chapter considers also new energy options for a sustainable future. Particular emphasis is devoted to the analysis of hydrogen and fuel cells and their potential role for the future energy scenarios.

5. Agriculture and climate change

Agriculture is the subject of this chapter. The starting point will be an attempt to underline an essential feature: agriculture from an anthropogenic cause of climate change to an instrument necessary for its mitigation. A related issue is agriculture as an energy user and supplier. This feature is essential to build the new approach that will be examined in the following chapter. How is it possible to combine the needs of agricultural systems, related to rural growth, with environmental issues? One approach is represented by Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD), analyzed through major FAO reports. Other approaches will be briefly presented in the chapter as options for a renewed rural development.

6. The search for a new approach

Why a new approach? Because by and large, approaches so far have not been successful in assuring the provision of energy, and in particular, energy services to the rural poor. The challenge of rural development is actually associated to efforts to eradicate poverty in the developing areas of the world. The goal is not easy given the pressure deriving from climate change and the prospective of a growing energy demand from a growing population.

The search for a new approach is based on the signs that have appeared during the post Rio follow-up. It takes into account the experience of the past. However, its purpose it to organize those ingredients in an innovative way, in order to assure its main objective: sustainable energy for sustainable development. This main objective finds in the secondary objective its fulfillment: exploit the synergies between energy and agriculture. Agriculture represents the basic activity of rural people, an indigenous resource that environmentally sound management can transform in an instrument for development and economic growth. At the base of the new strategy there are people, men and women, with their needs and a precious expertise deriving from their daily energy planning and their close link with the ecosystem.

This chapter will provide the architecture of the new approach as well as its basic pillars, essential components for the action:

7. Instruments for the action

Following the typical political economics approach, once the objectives of the new approach are determined, the suitable instruments for the action will be identified. They represent the enabling framework to face the challenge of sustainable energy for sustainable future. They are organized in institutional and financial frameworks.

Institutional arrangements are analysed both at international and national levels. Reference is made also to some forms of regional cooperation in the field of energy. A section is devoted to participation, considered a precious and fundamental tool to assure the effectiveness of these arrangements.

Financial schemes include the study of the experience of credit and micro credit in the field of rural energy development. Some innovative options, such as venture capital are taken into consideration with a view of providing a wide range of instruments to cover the largest number of needs.

8. The way forward

The purpose of this chapter is to take stock of the findings related to the new approach and to test its strengths under the pressure of relevant issues such as food security and the eradication of poverty.

Finally, the new approach will be put in the context of globalization in order to point out the major features and challenges. The intent is to project the effects of the innovative strategy beyond the goal of poverty eradication, in order to assure the welfare and well being of future generations in a sustainable and efficient way.


The framework

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), also known as Rio +10, will be the summit of reflection on the road from Rio '92 towards sustainability. Ten years after the Earth Summit it is time for an evaluation and reflections on the concept of sustainable development, its linkages with environment and growth, related issues and a review of the implementation of the action plan outlined by Agenda 21.

Water and Sanitation, Energy, Health, Agriculture, Biodiversity - WEHAB -, according to the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, are the five key areas on the Summit agenda requiring concrete results for the wellbeing of present and future generations.

The Summit will gather world governments, concerned citizens, UN agencies, multilateral financial institutions and other major actors to assess the status of global change. As some authors pointed out, at WSSD the world will find the opportunity to take a critical look back at Rio's mechanisms, undertake a sincere and constructive appraisal of the past ten years and endeavor to reinvigorate Earth Summit '92 outcomes in view of the challenges of the future1. The Summit has been called to "identify major constraints hindering the implementation of Agenda 21" and "to address new challenges and opportunities that have emerged since UNCED"2 .

There are many questions concerning sustainable development that the Summit should answer: "What has been accomplished since 1992? What have the participating countries done so far to implement Agenda 21 commitments? What kind of obstacles have they encountered? What lessons have they learned about what works and what does not? Which are the new factors that emerged during these years? What mid-course corrections need to be made to reach the goals? Where should further efforts be concentrated?"3

The mandate of the Rio +10 Summit has been established by the UN General Assembly with Resolution n. 55/199 and is based on the attempt to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable development through the acceleration of its implementation. The Summit is thus focused on "action oriented decisions in areas where further efforts are needed to implement Agenda 21, address (...) new challenges and opportunities and result in renewed political commitment and support for sustainable development"4 . This task does not imply a new negotiation of Agenda 21 or of the Rio Declaration. In fact, the intention of the organizers is not directed to open Agenda 21 for revision but to reach an action plan for the future, identifying practical ways to achieve progress. The efforts are to find consensus on the current conditions, on priorities for new actions covering a wide range of issues related even to new areas that have emerged during the last years. Discussions will cover particular environmental sectors (forests, oceans, climate, energy, fresh water, etc.) and cross-sectoral issues such as economic conditions, the role of new technologies and the impact of globalization. The overall context is the concept of sustainable development. In reality, the Johannesburg meeting is about the eradication of poverty, relief from debt, widening educational opportunity, tackling disease and linking these priorities to other goals such as the preservation of natural resources upon which all people depend for their living.

The Earth Summit (UNCED), which took place in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, represented an unprecedented event in the international context5, both for its contents and "physical" dimensions. It focused the world's attention on two of the most critical issues facing international debate: environment and sustainable development. This event, held on the 20th Anniversary of the Stockholm Conference (1972), gathered together policy makers, scientists, economists, diplomats, press and NGO representatives from 179 countries, with a view to reconciling the impact of human socio-economic activities on the environment6. The intent of the Conference was to introduce, or better, to inject the concept of sustainable development into international institutions, national governments and the private sector of the world. UNCED achieved this task by translating the concept into a workable objective for everyone in the world.

The Earth Summit marked a significant step on the road towards sustainability, achieving and, above all, making operative the process started during the 1970s' debates, at international and local levels, thanks to the introduction of new approaches and revised practices. Novelties were underlined even by the title of the Conference. In fact, while the Stockholm Conference was devoted to "Human Environment", the Rio Conference was entitled "Environment and Development". The inclusion of the term "development" was significant: some authors considered it an achievement of the South in requesting to the North the presumed "right to development" which would be taken into due consideration during international works7. Besides, the Rio Summit cemented relevant issues emerging from the Brundtland Report. In fact, it enforced the intent to establish a link between the economic and, thus, developmental agenda with that of environment, which had been one of the most important goals of the Commission. This process was carried out through the "institutionalization" of the concept of sustainable development. During those years environmental issues in international conferences were not treated by political and institutional structures as an important and basic topic related to human welfare. "Indeed it was still as if the environment was the reserve of the better off, of nature lovers and of a few economically illiterate natural scientists"8. Thus, while the Brundtland Commission put this issue of integration on the international and national agendas the Rio Summit major outputs marked its consolidation.

During this event, even the concept of sustainable development was enriched by new components related to topics that gained growing concerns during the time, in particular the problem of poverty eradication. The message of the Conference was clear: the planet's environmental problems are deeply linked to economic conditions and to issues of social justice. Thus, social, environmental and economic needs should be organized to balance one another in order to achieve sustainable goals in the long term. When people live in poor conditions and national economies are weak environment is in degradation. The same happens when environment and its natural resources are over consumed. Rio's approaches underlined an important aspect: the rich and poor alike share the risks created by environmental degradation, and must then share also the responsibilities "for re-direction of the Earth onto a more secure, more humane and more sustainable pathway"9. In this context, it is evident that even the smallest local actions or decisions, good or bad, might have worldwide repercussions10. For this reason, as UNCED pointed out, solutions to the problems that face the world's community of nations and peoples should be found both nationally and internationally. National action plans for sustainable development need to be created in all countries with a broad public participation and a progressive and consistent community involvement. Rio's meeting marked a significant step in this direction.

Agenda 21 represents one of the major outcomes of UNCED and it has been usually regarded as the most important and complete document produced during the Summit. The role of Agenda 21 is relevant: it provides the code of conduct for a new global partnership for sustainable development11. This Agenda can be envisaged as a blueprint for sustainability and, thus, an ideal basis for actions to be carried out by national governments, UN organizations development agencies, NGOs and independent sector groups, whose areas of competence cover anthropogenic impacts on environment.

From the analysis of Agenda 21 it is possible to notice that no chapter is directly devoted to energy. The approach reproduces the traditional attitude of the industrialized world to exclude energy from international debates and fora. Energy matters have been regarded for a long time as something belonging to the exclusive competence of national governments. This attitude has represented a serious obstacle to the achievement of international strategies in this field. International strategies are necessary to put energy in the dynamics of sustainable development. Despite this, energy references are present in various chapters of Agenda 21 and give the opportunity to depict a complete outline of challenges related to this topic. The linkages between energy and sustainable development are evident in chapters of the agenda such as: Promoting sustainable human settlement development, Health, Integrating environment and developmental decision making, Protection of the atmosphere, Combating deforestation, Combating desertification and drought, Sustainable mountain development, and Promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development.

The key message of Agenda 21 is that much of the world's energy is produced and consumed in ways that might not be sustainable in the future if its related demand continues to growth at present rates and technology remains constant. The document states that all energy sources need to be used in a way to protect the atmosphere, human health and the environment. Therefore, the future challenge is to meet the growing demand for energy while, at the same time, mitigating the impact of energy supply and use in order to preserve the quality of human and natural habitat. This goal could be reached establishing a link between energy and sustainable development. Since the Rio Summit energy linkages with sustainable development have been highlighted and addressed in all major international fora, in particular within the context of the UN Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for Development, even if discussions on energy issues at the international level find their translation into concrete plans of action difficult.

A considerable recognition of the place of energy on the road from the Rio Summit is represented by the decision to devote the year 2001 session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to energy issues. The CSD-9 Session was very important as this was the first time that energy was discussed at the highest political level in the context of the UN system. The Commission highlighted the essential role of energy for sustainable development. However, despite this, the energy scenario worldwide, as reported during the Session, remained unsustainable. Nearly one-third of the global population, living in developing countries continued to lack access to basic energy services. Moreover, disparities in the levels of energy supply and consumption contribute to deepen the gap between developed and emergent realities. The debates of this session provided the occasion for an "institutionalization" of the role of energy in the sustainability context, both in terms of developmental and environmental dimensions.

On the road from Rio, however, one issue drew the attention of the international debates: poverty. Poverty represents at present the world's most urgent and fundamental issue. It is a threat that affects principally the developing realities of the World.

Poverty is generally identified as the inability to achieve what is considered a minimum standard of basic needs for material well being12. Moreover, the extension of the phenomenon is broader since it involves also the denial of vital opportunities and challenges associated to human development mechanisms. Among these challenges are chances for a long and healthy life, a decent standard of living, dignity, confidence, respect, and generally those values that time has "consecrated" as indispensable for a human being.

The measurement of poverty has been traditionally carried out with reference to the proportion of people who are unable to achieve specified levels of health, education or wealth. In operative terms, poverty can be expressed addressing the monetary resources that would enable a human being to consume a fixed quantity of basic goods and services. Thus, poor are those persons whose consumption or income levels go below a minimum level ("poverty line") considered essential to meet basic needs13. Consumption and incomes as classified below identify a condition of absolute poverty. Relative poverty is recorded through the survey of the fraction of the pack of goods that the reference unit is able to consume. In this way poverty standards are regarded from a single dimension perspective. The portrait of poverty today is serious and really very worrying: almost half the world's people (about 2.8 billion) live on less than $2 a day while a fifth (some 1.2 billion) live under the line of $114 a day.

What is thus poverty? The answer to this question is not easy since to understand poverty issues it is indispensable to take into account economic and social frameworks, including state institutions, market structures, communities and households. For example, UNDP has developed a poverty index that goes beyond the evaluation of the income dimension. The deprivation, central aspect of poverty issues, is measured through the analysis of three dimensions of human life. These are: longevity, knowledge and a decent standard of living in terms of social and economic needs considered globally15. Even this approach, which underlines the multi-dimensional characteristics of poverty, confirms the pervasiveness of the phenomenon. The major part of the literature devoted to the topic shares the view that poverty is not only a status of existence but also a process, characterized by many dimensions and complexities.

Analysing the components of poverty it is possible to affirm that the majority of the world's poor are rural. Rural poor are generally affected by hunger. For this reason, they have no chance nor will to try new agricultural methods, which could represent serious and un-affordable risks. To produce enough food for their subsistence, rural farmers emphasize their dependence on the land and natural resources, over-exploiting the land and sacrificing their future in this way. Practices such as farming marginal soils, cutting forest, overgrazing fragile rangelands and overusing water resources represent a threat to the availability of natural resources and the equilibrium of ecosystems.

The link between rural poor and climate change, considered as a part of the whole phenomenon of global environmental change, can be understood by taking into account the basic dependence of the rural poor on environmental conditions that could affect their access to natural resources such as land, potable water, water for agriculture, fisheries and forest product. The human state and well being is thus strongly related to the environment in terms of health, earning capacity, security, energy supplies and decent housing. Natural events such as droughts, floods and other disasters can wipe out any development achievement that poor people could make.

Climate change, according to several reports and projections (i.e. IPCC, IIASA and CGIAR), will affect in particular poor people living in countries with low aptitude to adaptation and limited coping mechanisms. Major impacts include essential threats to water availability, reduced agricultural productivity, spread of vector borne diseases to new areas, and increased flooding from sea level rise and even heavier rainfall. These impacts would require adaptation efforts that in many cases will be hardly affordable.

Rural poverty eradication requires an ad hoc strategy and represents an important goal if rural poor are not to be left out of opportunities linked to challenges of a world that is rapidly changing. Factors such as global interdependence, decentralization and the fast development of civil society organization represent precious opportunities . The problem for the rural poor is represented in many countries by their lack of influence on institutions, policies and decisions, particularly those dealing with their livelihoods. In these contexts, the rural poor, despite the weight and contribution they could make in meeting the new development challenges, are generally considered the "addressee" of plans of action not concerted with them. On the contrary, the rural poor represent an important endowment of social solidarity and traditional values, which can play an essential role on the road towards sustainability. Thus, the inclusion of their voices and aspirations in the new architecture of sustainable development for the future will be essential.

The energy-poverty nexus

The analysis of poverty issues can benefit from an original approach based on an innovative feature: the energy perspective. The energy-poverty nexus is receiving during last years growing attention from international institutions and it is object of many studies. This tendency is a significant achievement since traditionally, reports and studies devoted to poverty eradication outlined related strategies which were essentially based on factors such as macro-economic growth, human capital investment and redistribution. As a consequence, they were not based on an integrated energy-poverty approach and thus refer only indirectly to energy issues.

This recent wave of research and approaches is based on the assumption that energy is strictly linked to the most urgent and severe social issues highlighted in the international developmental agenda: sustainable development, poverty, jobs, gender disparity, population growth, agricultural production, food security, health, land degradation, climate change, environmental protection and in general, economic and social issues related to developing realities. Energy contributes to the achievement of international commitments related to developmental and environmental issues: "Without adequate attention to the critical importance of energy to all these issues, the global social goals agreed on at UN conferences in the 1990s cannot be achieved"17.

Reflections on some estimates help to depict a first general image of the energy-poverty nexus. The number of people living with less than $1 a day is about the same as the number of those lacking access to commercial energy: two billion18. In particular, it has been recorded by the World Energy Assessment (WEA) Report 2000, that 2 billion people have no access to clean and safe cooking fuels (most of them, in fact, depend on traditional biomass) while 1,7 billion of people are still without electricity. These estimates suggest that a large proportion of people in the world cannot enjoy benefits related to modern energy sources. To meet their basic energy needs they utilize unsustainable wood supplies, crop residues and manure. The collection of the daily energy supply requires consistent amounts of human energy. This is an essential input and the burden of this activity falls mainly on women and children.

This lack of adequate energy provision represents also a serious threat to social stability. The numbers of the projections show the presence of an "energy dimension of poverty" associated to the multi-faceted issues of poverty. Energy poverty is related to the basic "absence of sufficient choice in accessing adequate, affordable, reliable, high-quality, safe and environmentally benign energy services to support economic and human development"19. Moreover, as noted in the WEA Report 2000, the energy consumption patterns of the poor contribute to aggravate their poverty, adding more misery to their conditions. In fact, poor people pay a higher price per unit of energy services than people in industrialized countries and they are generally excluded from modern energy uses.

These aspects are serious obstacles on the road towards sustainability. Some studies underlined that improvements in the energy efficiency field could have a positive impact on poverty eradication, acting on its various dimensions. Global issues such as energy-poverty, women, urbanization, lifestyles and population growth act as fundamental factors able to determine energy consumption patterns. On the other hand, energy systems influence the trends of these issues. Actually, estimates suggest that current energy patterns of consumption produce negative impacts on the above issues.

The search for a new approach

The above considerations point to the need of finding innovative strategies to assure that the supply of modern energy reaches the poor, both women and men, in every part of the world. Poverty alleviation depends mostly on universal access to energy services that are affordable, reliable and of good quality20. It is thus crucial to bring energy matters to center stage in the international framework.

Energy policies, analysis and strategies both at national and international levels, give little attention to related social issues. According to some authors this attitude reflects the traditional approach adopted in the past. Reference is made to the supply-drive approach, which was a major geo-strategic issue during the 20th century, in particular. New concerns arisen in last years suggest the need for a different method, which takes into account the fact that people really want the services provided by energy and not the energy sources as such. Thus, supply and consumption should not be considered ends in themselves.

Energy services can be envisaged as an essential input to meeting primary development needs related to the provision of other central challenges besides food, clothes and shelter, such as water, medical care, education, sanitation, access to information. In this way, energy becomes a vital "determinant of poverty and development"21 supporting needs of daily life of basic importance for human welfare (for example, the availability of cooked food, a healthy temperature, lighting, piped water or sewerage, health care - i.e. refrigerated vaccines, emergencies, intensive care - communication - i.e. radio, television, electronic mail, the World Wide Web - and transport). Energy plays a key role also in production including commerce, industry, agriculture, mining and manufacture, where a lack of energy could imply a decline and stagnation of economies


At the base of the search for a new approach is the analysis of the role of energy in developmental and environmental terms.

Most part of the examined literature agrees on this vision: "energy is the lifeblood of modern societies and can be considered a prerequisite for the wellbeing and welfare of the population". The evolution of the availability of primary energy sources and their increasing exploitation played an essential role in the history of humankind. In fact, with the strengthening of economic growth, energy, defined as the ability to do work, has become the central component of the social and economic structures of nations as well as of the productive dynamics and finally of human livelihoods. In this way, energy has achieved the role of the fourth of the essential elements that traditionally constitute the basic human needs: besides food, clothes and shelter man needs energy22 for survival.

Besides the developmental function, there is another dimension of energy, which is at the center of growing attention during recent years: energy as a significant contributor to major environmental problems23. Energy, in fact, is one of the most important contributors to environmental problems, including indoor air pollution, urban air pollution, acidification and global warming.

For decades national energy strategies focused only on the energy supply side. Their main goal was to assure an adequate energy supply to the consumers, acting on the quantity. Scarce attention was given to relate negative impacts both in environmental and developmental terms.

Rising environmental concerns, mostly regarding greenhouse gas emissions, suggest the need to find appropriate actions with a view of assuring a sustainable future for present and future generations, without compromising their possibility to growth.

As suggested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC), mitigation and adaptation, with the combined policy instruments for their implementation, represent the options, or better, the pillars of the strategy for the protection of the atmosphere. The most direct approach to reducing undesirable impacts of unabated emissions is clearly emission reduction. In energy terms, this means the need to find new options for converting energy from cleaner forms24.

A sustainable energy future needs to be organized in such a way as to assure adequate availability in order to meet the developmental and, in general, the basic needs of a growing population, without damaging the environment. The organization of the supply must take into consideration the projected increase of the population for the next 50 years to about 9.3 to 11 billion. It is clear that in the case of developing countries action on the energy demand side should be taken carefully, to avoid negative impacts on their economic and social progress.

The environmental limits to energy consumption required to reduce dangerous emissions for climate change, as some authors note25, must be regarded more as stimuli and incentives than limits. In particular, this would imply incentives to reduce consumption in developed countries while, at the same time ensuring a sustainable increase of energy consumption in developing countries.

The new approach

These stimuli are at the base of the architecture of the new approach presented in this study. The main objective of the strategy is represented by the provision of sustainable energy for sustainable development of the rural poor. The other essential component is the exploitation of the existing synergies between energy and agriculture in order to promote an accelerated rural development. The pillars of the new approach are:

At the core of this architecture there are poor rural people, both men and women, with their needs and aspirations. The challenge is to provide, through the supply of modern energy, what they require for their households, agricultural activities and transport in a more efficient and reliable way than in the past. A people centered strategy based for instance on the sustainable livelihoods approach, offers the opportunity of reaching a true understanding of the fact that all people, ever the poorest, have some strengths in terms of assets or capital endowments. The problem relies on how to convert this strength into useful livelihood strategies. Poor rural people elaborate each day their strategy for survival. The challenge is to eliminate the vulnerability that is actually associated to these strategies. Participatory approaches represent indispensable components in a view of assuring that people are not considered as mere recipients of initiatives but active partners acting in the developmental agenda.

The widely accepted idea that a "blank" state, which characterized most energy contexts of developing countries, must be considered a precious opportunity. In fact, on this basis it is possible to accelerate the climbing on the energy ladder by leapfrogging, thus avoiding some stages, in particular those associated with dirty processes that industrialized countries knew in the past when no other innovative technology was available. In this sense developing countries can shift from their inefficient fuels to clean energy technologies, meeting in this way the goal of sustainability while assuring the opportunity of growth, essential to by-pass the stagnation that characterizes most part of their economies.

Energy technological options, which have an important role in meeting these challenges are represented by energy efficiency and associated advanced technologies, on one side, and, renewable energy, on the other. Those instruments, included in the pillars of the new strategy, can be regarded as precious opportunities for a sustainable energy future for both developed and developing countries. Energy efficiency opportunities can be found in almost all energy end uses, sectors and energy services. In developing countries, with particular reference to rural realities, energy efficiency can be applied to the agricultural sector including, for instance: more efficient use of tractors, use of more efficient diesel engines in tractor and reduced tillage. More efficient technologies have been successfully applied to the irrigation sector. Considering daily energy service provision, improved efficiency in cooking stoves can assure positive benefits both in terms of energy consumption and human health.

Renewable energies represent one of the pillars of the new approach. They are considered in this context the eligible source energy supply, which meets at the same time environmental and developmental concerns. Renewable options are deeply linked to the natural resources of each area. They allow the development of an ad hoc local energy strategy and are modeled to the needs and main characteristics of the communities. In this way, people and their needs are placed at the center of the planning of environmental and developmental local agendas, gaining as a consequence the opportunity to find better solutions to improve sustainable livelihoods. Often, renewable energy equipment can be produced in the country itself, with consequent generation of income, development of local economies and provision of national funds for useful investments in other vital social sectors.

From an economic point of view, many options provided by renewable energy are commercial; others are cost-effective or on an annualized basis, compared with fossil fuel energy. In some cases, energy services based on renewable can be more expensive than fossil fuel options. However, their characteristics, such as higher reliability, longevity and simple maintenance, represent attractive factors, as attested by various positive experiences carried out in developing countries.

Environmental and developmental concerns raised during recent years, together with the challenge of climate change mitigation, represent the pressing items on the agenda of sustainable development. The problem is represented by the need to find new approaches and strategies to conciliate these issues and to the energy services required by a growing population. Experts are sure of the existence of these new ways to shift from unsustainable patterns to a more sustainable world. However, despite good technical and economic prospects, the road towards sustainability will be not easy.

The role of new energy challenges represents an important occasion to perform better patterns of energy consumption. Nevertheless, one thing should be noted: new technological improvements will require time before their full commercialization. Therefore, adequate strategies must guide this shift towards new energy paradigms, considering with particular attention the planning side.

An intermediate passage is represented by the shift towards more efficient fossil fuel technologies, diversifying in this way the energy mix at the base of the supply, increasing the share of cleaner fossil fuel. In power generation, for instance, new natural gas combined cycle power plants are very cost-competitive, in terms of both pollution damage costs and CO2 emissions. Combined heat and power systems based on gas turbines, combined cycles, micro-turbines and in the near future, fuel cells, provide environmental, economic and energy-saving benefits26.

Sustainable energy for the future requires a strategy, which considers the long-term developmental and environmental goals in detail. This should also serve as a base for prioritizing near-term activities to build an appropriate operative framework.

The long-term energy future, according to environmental and developmental agendas, should be affordable and characterized by the drastic cut of emissions to zero or almost zero. This implies, according to several studies, a shift from unsustainable fossil fuel to three carriers: electricity, hydrogen and a super clean carbon-based liquid fuel.

Electricity represents a clean energy carrier able to satisfy many energy needs. However, difficulties arise in storing electricity and using it for peak energy demands. Probably more fluid fuels will be required. Another possible solution is represented by advancement in electric storage technology.

Hydrogen economy is an expression that is moving beyond the scientists' and engineering world into the political and business ones. Interest in hydrogen is rising thanks to environmental concerns and the achievements in the field of technology, since it can be produced using renewable energies as primary energy sources. An important realization is represented by fuel cells, ("a space-age technology brought down to Earth"). They are the enabling technology for hydrogen, combining it with oxygen to produce electricity and water. Fuel cells are regarded as the ideal successors to batteries in portable electronics, power plants and the internal combustion engine. These small systems are able to provide primary or back up power to commercial and industrial activities such as hotels, hospitals, manufacturing facilities, and retail shopping centers. Small fuel cells, as technology improves abating the costs, will be sold for use in homes, most of which will connect to natural gas supplies. In addition to electricity, consumers can also take advantage of the heat of the system and use it for hot water, space heating and cooling and industrial processes. The goal of current research is to realize a reliable prototype for mass production.

Scientists envisage the introduction of a super clean carbon based liquid fuel as one of the promising options of the future. In order to meet the goal of near-zero GHG emission, a new fuel will need to be produced on a large scale. This should be an easily storable carbon-based fuel, cleaner than the present hydrocarbon based fuels, derivable from a variety of primary feedstock. To meet the challenge of sustainable rural energy development, this new fuel must be useful for rural applications and produced hopefully from biomass, the available resource of rural areas.

The contribution derived from advanced energy technologies is paramount in terms of environmental protection. Their development and deployment should be accelerated in order to enjoy soon their associated benefits in the context of sustainable development. However, their implementation is influenced by technological difficulties and by other obstacles represented by differences among the parts of the world in terms of resources, technological and institutional capacity and energy infrastructure. Efforts, both at national and international level are thus required to meet the challenge associated with their dissemination.

Another basic column of the new approach is represented by the deep linkages existing between energy and agriculture27. These interconnections must be analysed taking into account the multifunctional character of agriculture. Agriculture is at the same time an energy user and energy supplier. Its role in the context of sustainable rural development is great, since it represents the main resource for the livelihoods of rural communities. Moreover, great is its function in the context of climate change issues, giving its potential source for substitution of fossil fuel by bioenergy and the ability of its soils and plants to store the dangerous carbon in the atmosphere. Bioenergy is considered by the new approach as an eligible option to promote rural development in a clean and efficient way, using available resources and enhancing associate economic activities able to create income generation for the welfare of local rural communities.

The new approach presented in the study associates to its main objectives the recognition of appropriate instruments for action. These represent the enabling framework to achieve the challenge to tackle poverty through sustainable energy provision. They range from institutional arrangements, at international, regional and national levels to the assessment of financial mechanisms modeled on the exigencies of the poor areas of the world, and, at the same time to the specific requirement of innovative and small-scale sustainable energy projects. Besides the traditional scheme, the study analyses with particular emphasis innovative financial approaches, some quite consolidated such as micro-credit and others with potential opportunities to offer, such as venture capital.

The study is devoted to the search of a new approach, but does not pretend to be exhaustive in providing a single selected strategy. Its aim is to offer suggestions for a reflection on energy issues in the context of SARD for Johannesburg and beyond. The underlying message is that energy should be regarded as a tool to promote social and economic cohesion all over the world.


1'Our biggest challenge in this new century is to take an idea that seem abstract - sustainable development - and turn it into a daily reality for all the world's people", UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, "From Rio to Johannesburg" in The Future is now, Vol. 1, April 2001, p. 2.
2Ten-year review of progress achieved in the implementation of the outcome of UNCED - A/RES/55/199 (20/12/2000), point 15 c-d. - What is Johannesburg 2002? - Questions.
4UNGA Decision of 20/09/2001 n. A/RES/55/199, point 3.
5Keating, M., Agenda for change: a plain language version of Agenda 21 and other Rio Agreements, Centre of Our Common Future, Geneva, 1993; Brack, D., Calder, F., Dolum, M., "From Rio to Johannesburg: the Earth Summit and Rio +10", Briefing Paper New Series, No. 19, March 2001, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London.
6"The road to sustainable development", Ecoal, Vol. 38, June 2001, pp. 1-3.
7Sachs, W., "Rio+10 and the North-South divide", World Summit Papers, the Heinrich Böll Foundation No. 8, 2001, Berlin, p. 5.
8Sandbrook, R., "Twenty years on and five years in", Yearbook of International Co-operation on environment and development 1998/99, Earthscan Ed., p. 19.
9Strong, M.F., Agenda 21 for change: a plain language version of Agenda 21 and other Rio Agreements. Center for Our Common future, Geneva, 1993.
10"The road to sustainable development", in Ecoal, Vol. 38, June 2001, p. 2. 11Agenda 21, Preamble, and points 1.1 and 1.6.
12UNDP/UNDESA/WEC, World Energy Assessment: Energy and the challenge of sustainability, New York, 2000.
13World Bank, "Measuring poverty" in PovertyNet,
14World Bank uses these reference lines with the purpose to reach a global aggregation, which represents the ideal framework for comparative analysis. They are expressed in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). PPPs determine the relative purchasing power of currencies across countries. World Bank, "Measuring poverty" in PovertyNet,
15UNDP/UNDESA/WEC, World Energy Assessment: Energy and the challenge of sustainability, New York, 2000, p. 44.
16IFAD, Strategic Framework 2002-2006, 17UNDP, "Energy and Major Global Issues", in Energy after Rio: prospects and challenges, New York, 1997, p. 12.
18Worthington, B.K., "Waging war on energy poverty" in Global Energy Business, Nov. /Dec. 2001, p. 11. 19Reddy, A.K.N., "Energy and social issues" in World Energy Assessment: the challenge of sustainability, UNDP/UNDESA/WEC, New York, 2000, p. 44.
20Reddy, A.K.N., "Energy and social issues" in World Energy Assessment: the challenge of sustainability, UNDP/UNDESA/WEC, New York, 2000, p. 40.
21Reddy, A.K.N., "Energy and social issues" in World Energy Assessment: the challenge of sustainability, UNDP/UNDESA/WEC, New York, 2000, p.41.
22For instance: "less abstractly one of the definitions of life concerns the autonomous ability of organisms to convert food into useful energy", UNDP, Sustainable Energy Strategies, New York, USA, 2000.
23Goldenberg, J., Johansson, T.B., Reddy, A.K.N., Williams, R.H., "Energy for the New Millenium", Ambio, Vol. 30 No. 6, September 2001, pp. 330-337.
24Nakicenovic, N., Grubler, A., "Energy and the protection of the atmosphere", Int. J. Global energy Issues, vol. 13, No. 1-3, pp. 4-57.
25Kessler, E., "Editorial", Ambio, Vol. 30, No. 6, September 2001.
26Goldenberg, J., Johansson, T.B., Reddy, A.K.N., Williams, R.H., "Energy for the New Millennium", Ambio, Vol. 30 No. 6, September 2001, pp. 330-337.
27FAO, The energy and agriculture nexus, Environment and Natural Resources, Working Paper No. 4, Rome, 2000.

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