The human right to energy entitles every individual to have access to adequate, affordable, reliable, safe and environmentally benign energy services for personal and domestic uses.
Over 1.2 billion people - 20% of the world's population - are still without access to electricity worldwide, almost all of whom live in developing countries. This includes about 550 million in Africa, and over 400 million in India.
Under the current the New Policies Scenario (World Energy Outlook 2013) it is projected that close to 1 billion people will still be without access to electricity and 2.5 billion people will lack access to clean cooking facilities in 2030 (1). Without access to energy service, the poor will be deprived of the most basic of human rights and of economic opportunities to improve their standard of living. People cannot access modern hospital services without electricity, or feel relief from sweltering heat. Food cannot be refrigerated and businesses cannot function. Children cannot go to school in rainforests where lighting is required during the day. The list of deprivation goes on (2). Access to electricity must be environmentally and socially sustainable.
In 2000, 189 nations made a promise to free people from extreme poverty and multiple deprivations. This pledge turned into the eight Millennium Development Goals (3), which are as follows: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development.
Energy can play a crucial role in underpinning efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and improving the lives of poor people across the world. It can contribute to all three pillars of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental. Energy encompasses light, heat, mechanical power and electricity. For example Energy services reduce the time spent by women and children (especially girls) on basic survival activities, freeing up time for education or income-generating activities. Conversely, the absence of adequate, affordable, reliable, safe and environmentally benign energy services can be a severe constraint on sustainable economic and human development.
On 1992, more than 175 governments have committed to Agenda 21, the program for achieving human-centered sustainable development adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. Agenda 21 noted energy’s importance to sustainable development. The June 1997 Special Session of the UN General Assembly, convened to review progress on Agenda 21, went further. It emphasized that sustainable patterns of energy production, distribution, and use are crucial to continued improvements in the quality of life. It also declared that the ninth session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-9), which noted that the incidence of lack of access to modern energy services is most acute in rural areas and recommended that particular attention should be given to these areas (4).
On 2004, access to modern energy services and poverty was reinforced in the World Energy Assessment 2004 Update, where it was noted that access to energy services is NOT included in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In reality, however, access to energy services is an essential prerequisite to the achievement of all of the stated goals (5). The disappointment was that access to energy services was not specifically mentioned anywhere in the MDGs (6).
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (7) and the Kyoto Protocol to this Convention (8) only contain non-binding references to the need to address issues relating to energy efficiency and renewable energy resources and do not address the issue of the access to energy services for sustainable development. These instruments contain more detailed provisions relating to energy efficiency and renewable energy resources, (9) but again in a soft law form and with no reference to the need to provide the access to energy services.
This is where the human rights approach can help. It stresses above all the responsibility of a state: the right to energy entitles every individual to have access to adequate, affordable, reliable, safe and environmentally benign energy services and it is the state’s obligation to do everything possible to realize this for everybody without discrimination. Where states fail to carry out this duty, the human rights perspective makes it possible to hold them accountable. The right to energy as mentioned above is discussed not only as a moral duty but also as a political and legal claim.
We cannot simply ignore the energy needs of over 2 billion people who have no means of escaping continuing cycles of poverty and deprivation. However, the world has an unprecedented opportunity to improve the lives of billions of people by meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but, without improved access to energy services, the MDGs will not be achieved in the poorest countries. A rigorous acceleration of energy provision is needed to break the vicious cycle of energy poverty and lack of development in those world's poorest countries.
I strongly believe that the future is much more a matter of choice than destiny. Adopting access to energy as a human right assists in ensuring that the issue receives increased world attention. The recognition of energy as a human right produces pressure to enforce the MGDs, by developing human rights based energy & development policies, as well as increasing inspection capabilities so that countries can be properly criticized by internal and external bodies. I am pretty convinced that adopting energy as a human right is not only necessary but vital.
1- International Energy Agency, http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/resources/energydevelopment/energyaccessprojectionsto2030/
2- World Bank, energy facts
3- United Nations Millennium Declaration, http://www.un.org/millennium/declaration/ares552e.htm
4- Report E/CN.17/2001/19. See www.un.org/esa/sustdev/csd/csd9_2001.htm (accessed 31 January 2005). The CSD is a functional Commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and it reports to that body. Pursuant to G.A. Resolution A/RES/47/191,the mandate of the CSD is to enhance international cooperation and rationalise the intergovernmental decision-making capacity for the integration of environment and development issues, and to examine the implementation of Agenda 21 at the international, regional and national levels.
5- See United Nations Environment Programme, Background Paper – Advancing the Millennium Development Goals Through the Rule of Law, DRAFT/BR/17.01.05.
6- Access to energy services in a human rights framework, Adrian J Bradbrook
7- (1992) 31 ILM 849; 1771 UNTS 108 (in force 29 May 1992).
8- (1998) 37 ILM 22; UN Doc FCCC/CP/1997/L.7/Add.1 (in force 16 February 2005). Available at (www.fccc.int).
9- The relevant provisions are in Treaty, art 19; Protocol, arts 3, 5 and 8.