Energy is the key element which connects society, politics, and economies to the environment. Without natural resources the mankind would cease to exist. In present times, it is an inalienable part required to run our day—to—day lives seamlessly, particularly in form of electricity. It serves as a catalyst for the growth story of developing societies and economies. This, accompanied by rise in advanced technologies and innovative practices, further adds value to the otherwise constantly evolving standard of living. It ensures upliftment of the society from the clutches of poverty, hunger, water crisis, diseases etc.; along with economic progress and an inclusive sustainable development— and yet nearly one sixth of the global population lives without access to clean and smart energy.
As per The Least Developed Country (LDC) Report 2017— “62 per cent of people have no access to electricity, compared with 10 per cent across other developing countries. Today, the majority of people worldwide who lack access to electricity live in LDCs — a proportion that has grown steadily from less than one third in 1990.” It emphasizes that access to regular, adequate, safe, affordable, reliable and diverse energy resources is fundamental to eradication of poverty, and in promoting social equity and economic development.
Universal access to energy is not just a mere “means to an end” but rather is a human right in itself, especially when looked upon in light of other basic rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 recognizes these multiple rights such as that of life, food, shelter, health, education etc. being deeply entwined with access to sufficient energy services. Today, even though reasonable and effective access to energy services is regarded as human right world-wide, there are communities and places where people still consume toxic fuels such as wood, kerosene, dung and crop waste to cook and heat their homes, not to mention the glaring lack of electricity grids here. Without proper electricity infrastructure, the poor, vulnerable and isolated cannot be availed the modern services in medical, education or hospitality industries. They will have fewer opportunities to transform or for that matter even sustain a decent livelihood or a job. For instance, with regular and dependable access to electricity, local hospitals can provide facilities such as cold storage of vaccines, medicines etc. apart from conducting ultrasounds, x—rays, and other clinical services.
It is these communities, mostly in the developing nations and the least developed, who are vulnerable to catastrophes, both natural and man—made. It should be noted here that though the 2013 World Future Energy Summit established “sustainable energy for all” as a major policy priority for governments, this goal is yet to see the light of day, as many African and Asian nations have majority of the population suffering from the lack of it and exposed on the other hand to dangerous emissions.
In 2015, the United Nations adopted a stand-alone goal on energy – Goal 7 – that aims at ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. Notably, increase in the share of renewable energy, amplifying the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030 or developing energy infrastructure, especially in the least developed countries (LDCs) are some of the stipulated highlights. Interestingly, all the 17 sustainable development goals— tightly interconnected with social, economic and environmental goals imbedded in human rights— are dependent on the stand alone goal 7 which ensures access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy. This is because any form of development is subject to availability of energy resources and services; while sustainable development is reliant on renewable energy resources and services.
Intricately linked to the SDGs is the Paris Climate Accord, which was subsequently adopted the following year. Climate change mitigation is enmeshed with sustainable development, which holds the promise of ushering in an era of renewables— i.e. a complete energy transition from fossils to clean energy, with maximum outreach. Of course here the “Successful implementation of the Paris Agreement and the sustainable development goals agenda will depend on the ability of governments to develop national targets that serve both and take advantage of common opportunities.”
Nation States are required to create an unbiased modus—operandi which ensures universal access to energy. It should not just be a moral responsibility but a constitutional obligation upon the State with no scope of evasion or fraud. Given the national constitution is the custodian of all the citizens— it is but natural then that governments dole out mechanisms which gradually enhance the standard of living and ensure inclusive sustainable development of the people. Universal access to modern, clean and smart energy mechanisms in this respect then being the first and foremost.
The need of the hour is to reach those left behind— i.e. the staggering 1.1 billion people lacking access to electricity and an estimated 2.8 billion without access to clean cooking facilities (IEA Energy Access Report 2017). It is imperative for the world community to constantly innovate and create new mediums to increase the renewable energy outreach. Remarkably, this energy transition gives an opportunity to leapfrog the conventional energy stage in favor of renewable energy era, which is vital for human rights justice and climate justice as well. If not achieved, as per the International Energy Agency, more than half a billion people in Sub—Saharan Africa will still be without access to electricity in 2040. Though not specified as an international human rights instruments, universal access to sustainable energy still has been adopted as a precedent by several leading international organizations, with few, whether or not legally binding, mentioning the right to access to energy either implicitly or explicitly.
It is important for the world to understand that more carbon means more poverty, and greater the sustainability greater the equality. Thus, access to renewable energy definitely presents a real opportunity to the underprivileged to reap the benefits of access to electricity. Given the advancement in technological innovations, distributed renewable energy systems— such as wind turbines, geothermal systems, solar panels— can be made available in the most hinter and inaccessible lands and communities.
Dawn of Enernet, or energy internet, can further streamline the process, provided quality infrastructure development is taken care of in these lands. What is required then is to establish access to clean energy as a human right, and not a mere goal of some agenda or for that matter as some foregone derivative conclusion. Though International treaties other than SDGs and Paris Climate Accord, such as New Urban Agenda (Habitat III), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Earth Summit-Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development, the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment etc.— do accentuate the importance of reliable accessibility to energy instrumental as a precursor to improving and protecting other human rights; still it only exists as a criterion.
Access to Energy has now become a cornerstone of modern day civilization. Therefore, in order to ensure the survival of the human race itself— reliable access to clean energy should be made a stipulated human right by all the governments, national or international.