Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Balancing Poverty, Environment in Meeting Energy Needs

(Source Article: Energy Key to Reducing Poverty - World Bank News)

Discussions at the World Bank's currently ongoing Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE) in Tokyo will mainly center on issues relating to energy—particularly meeting the increasing energy needs of fast-growing populations and the impacts on the environment. People in some developing countries—526 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 800 million in South Asia—lack any access to electricity.

Lack of energy fuels the cycle of poverty in many countries, often requiring the employment of environmentally detrimental sources of energy, such as coal-burning power plants. While the two goals of fighting poverty and preserving the environment thus seem diametrically opposed, as Paul Wolfowitz says, “[i]t’s very hard to fight poverty if you…destroy the environment”. Thus, groups like the World Bank struggle to strike a balance regarding these two goals.

This problem faced by the World Bank and developing countries is perhaps most readily apparent in China, where the capital of Beijing became the most air-polluted city in the world last Fall, and where some 411,000 annual deaths are believed to be caused by harmful levels of air pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide. Further, a majority of China’s water in rivers and lakes has become unsafe to drink (for a discussion on the ‘cancerous’ condition of the Yangtze, see Yangtze River is 'cancerous' - Reuters). Thus, while China’s economy is booming, the costs of industrialization are taking their toll on its citizens' quality of life. (see also Beijing is air-pollution capital - The Guardian)

The World Bank has helped fund and support research focusing on the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants in countries like China and India—countries among the largest producers of such emissions. One promising technology is carbon capture—whereby harmful emissions would be captured and permanently stored in geological formations; this technology is expected to be implemented on a broad scale once successful implementation in the U.S. occurs. Further, given the soaring costs of employing fossil fuels for energy, some renewable, and environmentally sound, technologies such as wind power are becoming economically viable.

The World Bank is one of the biggest promoters of such renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, providing some US$ 9 billion to such projects since 1990. (see Ramping up renewable energy - World Bank News)

Questions to think about:

-Is it fair to restrict developing countries from using environmentally harmful sources of energy in order to build their economies, since the industrial nations have already reaped the benefit of such energies?

-Can we still hope to 'save the environment', or only prevent further injury at this point?

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