Energy, Poverty, Sustainability and Climate Change

12 October 2010 | Minutes

8 October 2010

Speakers: Nicholas Ma, Srinivas Krishnaswamy, Seno Alouka


Nicholas Ma, Advisor to US Senator John Kerry

The World Bank has a mixed record in energy. The US congress is watching this carefully and will be discussing it further with people like Senator Kerry pushing for the Bank to be cleaned up. The World Bank energy strategy concept note includes ‘energy access’ but it isn’t well defined.

Srinivas Krishnaswamy, Vasudha Foundation, India

In conjunction with Christian Aid they have undertaken a joint project in four countries to come up with a common position on the World Bank’s energy strategy review and undertake lobbying. Countries involved in the project include, India, Bolivia, Peru and South Africa

Key asks from civil society in the 4 countries:

  • Shift investment from fossil fuels to renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency (EE)
  • Focus on equitable energy access
  • Energy access is not just about lighting requirements- it must include heating and other energy needs that enhance livelihood options
  • Energy project planning must be bottom-up and have consent of communities

India- Energy Poverty

  • There is a huge power deficit with power outages 2-20 hours/ day. There is also a large gap between rural and urban areas. Per capita electricity use is 1/5 of the world average.
  • When overlaying maps, the area in India with the greatest concentration of coal-fired power plants are also the same areas with the least household electrification.

Indian groups demand that the World Bank:

  • Lead the way in low-carbon energy generation even if it involves more costly technology
  • Help harmonize lending policies of international development finance institutions
  • Help mitigate investor hesitation in RE industry and encourage domestic financial markets and investors.

Energy Management and governance:

  • Look at centralized model of generation and distribution with clear advantages of a decentralized renewable energy model
  • India is obsessed with building more coal power plants and large hydro to rapidly increase energy generation capacity. However, India needs a realistic assessment of future energy requirements and needs to clearly decouple GDP growth from energy growth. Energy efficiency needs to become a centerpiece of Indian’s national plans.


  • There must be evaluation undertaken of the past performance of World Bank financed energy projects.
  • Leaked documents from World Bank show that 26 coal plants in India were approved at meetings in a single day. This gives about 30 minutes for the impacts of each plant to be discussed, which clearly demonstrates that they are just being waved through.

Seno Alouka, Jeunes Voluntaires pour L’environment, Togo

Nature magazine just came out with an article highlighting that the world’s rivers are in crisis. Most rivers are dammed world-wide. In places like the UK and France all the rivers are dammed.

There are plans underway to dam Africa completely. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the darkest country in the world and yet energy being produced by the Inga dam is going to Spain and other countries.

Ten years ago, the World Commission on Dams was formed and produced a set of guidelines for building dams with a number of social and environmental considerations. The World Bank supported it, but has not taken up its recommendations

The World Bank is now joined by China which is starting to invest in large dams worldwide There are also other new actors like Thailand, Brazil and India that are investing in dam building. Other MDBs are joining as well.

The World Bank said it would cut back on dam building. However, in 2008 $1bn was spent on dams by the Bank, which is significant more than ten years before.
The World bank has also pushed privatization and has made water and energy a very large, lucrative business.

The World Bank should focus on small-scale projects and making sure that energy reaches the poor. It should also focus on alternative energy. It may be expensive today, but not if you look at the long term costs, which incorporate externalities and sustainability.

45 million people are being displaced by dams. Big dams reduce the ability of communities and ecosystems to adapt to global warming. It is also important to note, that in light of climate change discussions and the need for new energy models, dams are NOT clean energy. Finally dams have never benefited those living near them. We need to ensure that large hydro is not included in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and that the climate debate doesn’t spur more dams.


Question from audience on energy strategy and gender:

Srinivas emphasized that women have different energy needs than men and are affected in different ways because they are the ones who travel long ways to gather firewood for cooking. They also have to walk long ways to get water, which they wouldn’t have to do if there were electrified water pumps. Women are therefore crucial to focus on in energy access so that they don’t spend all of their time on these basic tasks and can improve their lives and have more livelihood options. Seno emphasized similar sentiments about energy access in Africa. He also mentioned that women need to be empowered to engage in decisions and also need education. It is less likely women will get educated if they are too busy out gather firewood and water.