Energy Demand and Low Emission Pathway-Is it compatible in LDCs?

The relationship among energy consumption, economic growth, standard of living is an interesting subject of research.  Famous Brazilian physicist Jose Goldemberg wrote in Science magazine[1] in 1995 that 75% of the world’s population during 1993, living in the less developed countries (LDCs), used only about 30% of the world’s commercial energy. Conversely, the 25% of the population that live in industrialized countries accounted for 70% of global energy consumption. But Goldemberg projected that by about 2010-12 energy consumption in the LDCs will surpass that in the industrialized countries because of high population and economic growth in the LDCs.

Interestingly, the current scenario of energy consumption in LDCs is now exactly the same as project by Goldemberg. For developing and less developed countries, development means satisfying the basic human needs of the population, including access to jobs, food, health services, education, housing, running water, and sewage treatment. And, to fulfill these needs, we need huge amount of energy sources.

The important aspect is that most of the energy sources in LDCs are inefficient, ill-planned, fossil intensive and un-sustainable, resulting massive green house gas emissions, which is contrary to the global compact for ‘green growth’ or mission to develop low emission economic development philosophy.  The World Bank’s datasheet on CO2 emissions in LDCs exhibits that the emissions (kg per 2000 US dollar of GDP) in LDCs was at 0.62 in 2008-09 and these emissions are stemming from the burning of fossil fuels. They include carbon dioxide produced during consumption of solid, liquid, and gas fuels and gas flaring. A historical trend of CO2 emissions in LDCs is provided below.


 Political statesmen believe that this emission is necessary for economic growth and ‘development’ of LDCs. If this is true, then, the rationality of the climate resilience, mitigation and developed aid may not be so justified for LDCs.  This also proofs a dual nature and ambiguity of the economic model of LDCs. In short, low emission development pathway at the cost of promoting fossil fuel intensive energy technologies would not be a convincing growth paradigm. And, this shows the incompatibilities of the policies and aspirations of LDCs for development.

How could we then make it compatible? A simple and straightforward answer to this question may be difficult. But, we could think about of adopting clean and renewable energy based economic development model and at the same time, accepting the accountability to keep GHGs emissions at its low throughout the industrial and economic activities in LDCs. Technically and economically it is possible. But, we need a strong political mandate to adopt it. Interestingly, in April this year (2013), the 49-strong group of LDCs agreed to accept binding cuts on emission reduction. This is a clear message on flexibilities of LDCs and its leadership, which is grossly absent in case of China, India and even in case of USA. This development was most desirable to demonstrate that nation needs political will for creating a real and tangible green economy. Unfortunately, many of the key negotiators of UN talks are still in a fictitious world of low emission growth model and green economy, which is far away from the real word assumptions.

It is pertinent to highlight here that over a quarter of a century ago, also in Science[2], Roger Revelle described the historical contribution of energy in shaping the human condition. Roger said : “All ancient civilizations, no matter how enlightened or creative, rested on slavery and on grinding human labor, because human and animal muscle power were the principal forms of energy available for mechanical work. The discovery of ways to use less expensive sources of energy than human muscles made it possible for men to be free.”

It is critical here to note such freedom from energy poverty, economic poverty and freedom from intellectual fallacies is now need of the hour. UN system needs to take a note of this.

 Keshav C Das

[1] Goldemberg, Jose; “Energy Needs in Developing Countries and Sustainability,” Science, Volume 269, 25 August 1995, page 1058.

[2] Revelle, Roger; “Energy Use in Rural India,” Science, Volume 192, 4 June 1976, page 969.


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