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Sustainable energy for all

Interview with Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency

Energy is obviously at the heart of all sorts of concerns but “climate change is the main issue today” according to Birol, and “the world is absolutely on track to reach a 6°C increase [in global temperature], while unfortunately politicians are not taking this threat seriously enough. […] and we are going to be seriously in trouble, and there is no question about that.

The energy sector is the main driver behind this trend principally because of fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas […] and we have 3 main options to cut this increase in temperature to just 2°C: energy efficiency, renewables, and nuclear power. ”

“If we waste one of these three opportunities we have no chance, whatsoever, to bring climate change towards a 2°C trajectory, and I am [therefore] very worried that nuclear power […] could lose its significance in the future.”

“After the tragic incident in Fukushima, we have seen three different type of reactions from different countries: some decided to leave the nuclear, others decided to go ahead with planned facilities, while a few one decided to reflect on the future evolution of this energy source.”

“However, the future of the Nuclear power will largely depend on what countries with a forecasted increase in energy demand decide to do.”

After these brief remarks on the two critical issues of Climate change and Nuclear power, the main part of Birol’s keynote speech (and of his slides) concentrated on the issue of Energy poverty, focus of the conference. When presenting the well-known statistics about “1.3 billion people living without electricity and 2.7 billion without clean cooking facilities”, he effectively pointed out that the “585 Million people in sub Saharan Africa living without electricity would not need more of what New-York City actually consumes”.

Naturally, tackling energy poverty would imply additional investment. This, although not excessive if compared with other investment forms, would anyway require to “multiply by 5.3 current expenditure” heavily relying on overseas development aid, rising the “$9.1 Billion spent in 2009 to $50 Billion per year until 2030, half of which in sub Saharan Africa.”

For electrification, renewable energies could then be taken to remote “rural areas while for urban areas, we also need to rely on gas or coal, depending on the country.”

A positive crucial point is that achieving modern energy for all would have only a ” negligible impact on the climate change problem, with only 0.7 % of CO2 increase in 2030”. Even more importantly it could avoid “1.5 Million premature deaths per year” because of smoke from biomass, representing “the first cause of death in 2030, above Malaria, Tubercolosis, or Aids”.Birol concludes stating that IEA’s “message for Rio+20 is: modern energy is critical and achievable for all in 2030, and we will continue to work for this goal”.

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