12 October 2011

Why is Energy Access Not a MDG?

The UN Millennium Development Goals (pictured above) focus attention on helping improve the lives of poor people around the world.  In the words of the UN:
[The eight goals] form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.
Question: Why is energy access not among the goals?


  1. Interesting questions, the IEA asked itself the same half a year ago.


    An answer could be that energy is seen as a means, not a goal. Maybe in combination of an under-appreciation of what access to (cheap) energy means in terms of welfare. And maybe as a topic it just isn't "sexy" enough.

    Nevertheless, as this document from the UN suggests, achieving the Millenium goals comes with a challenge in terms of access to energy.


  2. -1-Jos

    Thanks for these links. Given the central importance of energy, as stated by the UN, even more curious why access was not included.

  3. It practically seems like a prerequisite for goals 1 and 8, and would almost certainly make 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 easier.

    7 is a boondoggle, and likely to be in opposition to energy access, at least in the way that these organizations consider these things.

    In reality, people don't care about environmental sustainability until they have personal sustainability, which means wealth. That works a lot better when you can use other than human and animal power.

    A more relevant question, though: Does anyone expect the UN to be a constructive agent in bringing people out of poverty? Or human rights?

  4. Good point, Roger. This exemplifies the reason I follow your blog. You know better than most that identifying and enabling the processes by which we can best reach our goals are as important as the goals themselves.

  5. I took a look at the UN MDG report 2010:


    On page 54 they mention climate change and draw parallels to Montreal Protocol:

    "The unparalleled success of the Montreal Protocol shows that action on
    climate change is within our grasp"

    "Between 1986 and 2008, global consumption of ODSs (ozone depleting substances) was reduced by 98 per cent. Furthermore, from 1990 to 2010,
    the Montreal Protocol’s control measures on production and consumption of such substances will have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 135 gigatons of CO2
    .This is equivalent to 11 gigatons a year, four to five times the reductions targeted in the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the agreement linked to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Parties to the
    Montreal Protocol are now examining ways to use the treaty’s vigorous implementation regime to promote even greater climate change benefits."

    They are saying that Montreal Protocol has been more successful in fighting global warming than Kioto Protocol. I checked and found confirming information:


    This was news at least to me.

  6. Question: Why is energy access not among the goals?

    Given current technology you can't have both energy access and environmental sustainability without running a proliferation risk.

    Hence, energy access would be be looked upon dimly by both the UN Security Council and the UN Framework on Climate change.

  7. The reason "access to energy" is missing is that the focus of this list is "provision" not "empowerment." It fosters a view which is insidious in the mindset of the developing world.

    In discussions with a friend who has recently started a community orphanage and school in Uganda, getting the locals to think past "ask the US for more money" as the solution set is a challenge.

    Certainly, locally supported development is a challenge ("the first years corn and chickens all died -- we learned a lot"). But I'd rather fund many a failed local development leading to local empowerment than continue to parachute in help at the cost of continued dependence.

  8. Suggestion that nuclear power should be restricted because of a "proliferation" hazard is nonsense -- note that except for India and Pakistan, all countries which have both nuclear power and nuclear weapons, developed the weapons first.