Energy: Local Action, Global Impact
The dialogue was moderated by Mr. Kevin Newman, News Anchor, Global Television News, Burnaby, Canada. The panellists were Mr. Vijay Modi, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Columbia University, New York, United States of America; Ms. Harriette Amissah-Arthur, Director, Kumasi Institute of Technology and Environment (KITE), Ghana; Professor Mark Jaccard, School of Resource Management, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada; Mr. Enrique Peñalosa, Visiting Scholar, New York University, United States of America and former Mayor of Bogotá; Ms. Mary Jane C. Ortega, Mayor, City of San Fernando, the Philippines; Mr. Todd Litman, Executive Director, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, Victoria, Canada; and Ms. Anumita Roychowdhury, Coordinator, Policy Research and Advocacy on Vehicular Pollution in India for the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.
The main objective of the dialogue was to contribute to the debate on the importance of sustainable energy and transport solutions for sustainable human development and for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The dialogue was structured in two modules.
The first module focused on access to modern energy services and a sustainable energy future. Its main objectives were to discuss affordable and successful energy solutions, and the constraints which cities faced in implementing such solutions.
Sustainable transport was the focus of the second module of the dialogue. The key aims of the module were to consider the shape and form of a new urban transport which took into account the needs of all urban dwellers, how cities could take the lead in promoting energy-efficient and cleaner transport, and the types of technology options available.
Energy services and sustainable energy
Following introductory remarks by the moderator, panellists identified key challenges in energy efficiency and the provision of affordable, reliable and sustainable energy to the urban poor.
Professor Modi said that the principal challenge was to identify reliable and affordable energy supplies and technologies for poor slum dwellers, most of whom relied on unsustainable energy sources such as firewood and charcoal, which also had adverse health consequences. He particularly highlighted the acute energy requirements of the urban poor for the purposes of cooking, noting that the poor paid disproportionately high prices for energy.
Ms. Amissah-Arthur identified a number of constraints in the provision of affordable and reliable energy to the poor in developing countries. They included the lack of leadership at various levels of government; the absence of long-term planning and vision; the unreliability of energy service provision and consequent unwillingness of the public to pay for those services; and the inadequacy of present systems to communicate the right information effectively to stakeholders and the public at large.
Mr. Jaccard stressed that the key issue was not the rapid depletion of fossil fuels but rather the finite availability of easy oil. The extraction and consumption of fossil fuels were likely to remain the cheaper option for the foreseeable future, but the challenge was to use those resources efficiently. Whereas the need for energy efficiency and greater use of renewable energy was evident, non‑renewable energy sources should not be discarded: the cleaner use of non-renewable fuels remained a cheaper option for energy provision in developing countries.
The debate that followed examined key issues relevant to the provision of affordable, reliable and clean energy services, including climate change, international declarations, multinational companies and their investment strategies, government subsidies, decision-making and leadership, and also public awareness and engagement.
The importance of political responsibility on the part of developed countries and their commitment to international declarations (including the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) was highlighted. In that respect, it was noted that whereas the poor in developing countries were victims of climate change, they were not the key contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
On the role of multinational oil companies and their investment strategies in renewable energy sources, it was noted that the bulk of their research and development still focused on fossil fuels.
It was also noted that the main responsibility in the provision of affordable and reliable access to energy services lay with national governments, which should be held accountable in that regard. The importance of government in mobilizing key actors to develop relevant energy policies, thereby creating the necessary environment for the various players to do their part, was also stressed.
Regarding the role of government subsidies in promoting access to reliable and affordable energy sources by the poor, it was noted that the privileged segments of society, rather than the poor, often benefited from such schemes. It was also noted that energy subsidies could still play a crucial role, as the strategies to ensure that they reached the poor existed. The example was given of Brazil, where the State had, over a matter of two or three decades, enabled the public to use liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Recently, subsidies for the rich had been cancelled and those for the poor increased.
The lack of adequate management of information as a key leadership challenge in developing countries was identified, and the need for adequate public information and awareness – with a view to enlisting effective community participation – was emphasized. It was pointed out that civil society organizations were increasingly engaged in raising awareness on energy issues, solutions and potentials, although the question was whether they were resourced adequately enough to be effective.
Ms. Ortega made a strong statement on how mayors could use information, education and advocacy to change the transport structure in cities. In her home town of San Fernando, Mayor Ortega had convinced the operators of two-stroke tricycles to use four stroke engines and renew their fleet. That had led to a significant reduction in health problems caused by air pollution and at the same time reduced greenhouse gas emissions. No new legislation had had to be introduced to achieve the change.
Mr. Litman spoke in favour of mixed-use plans for cities. Current planning was focused on the automobile, leading to perverse subsidies, roadway capacity expansion, price distortions and zoning codes that prohibited mixed use. Smart, win-win transportation solutions would result in reduced tax costs and fewer accidents, and would help non-drivers, improve the health of urban residents and also result in reduced air pollution and energy consumption.
Ms. Roychowdhury said that one death took place every hour as a result of air pollution in India. The air pollution was caused by the rapidly rising number of vehicles running on conventional fossil fuels. She argued that it was necessary for developing countries to leapfrog and, instead of repeating the mistakes of developed countries, capitalize on their own appropriate solutions. The fact that there was still a high reliance on non-motorized transport in countries such as India should be used to the advantage of public transport solutions. She drew attention to regulatory measures which inhibited progress in that direction, such as higher taxes on public transport than on private cars.
The ensuing debate focused on questions such as conflicts between local and central government, the barriers to adopting sustainable transport solutions, how to steer consumers’ choices towards environmentally friendly behaviour, and fiscal instruments.
In was pointed out that transport in the developing world was a matter of status. It posed mayors with huge political conflicts and marketing challenges to convince the rich to move to public transport. It was agreed, however, that every city was unique and required its own solution. It was also recognized that it was a mistake to accommodate unlimited private vehicles, as to do so would lead to a social trap that would leave everyone worse off in terms of security, health, costs and climate change. There were a number of smart growth solutions to improve urban density and attract families to live in old, high‑density neighbourhoods, for example, by providing affordable housing, services, schools and workplaces.
It was observed that mayors could do much, even where the central government had an opposing policy. Local governments were urged to become members of the World Mayors’ Council on Climate Change or join mayors’ associations in their home countries. It was stressed that a way to solve conflicts between levels of government was to achieve local autonomy through decentralization.
Fiscal instruments were highlighted as effective in boosting sustainable transport. It was noted that much could be learned from congestion taxes, which were being used with some success in Europe to reduce traffic jams in city centres. The example of Bogotá, where a 25 per cent surcharge on gasoline paid for road infrastructure and where cross-subsidies (with the rich paying more for public services than the poor) on energy costs had led to full coverage of electricity and gas in the city. The benefit of market reforms was also noted.
It was noted that the issue of sustainable transportation in developing countries was a political one in which the vested interests of privileged segments of society were likely to be prioritized at the expense of those of the urban poor.
It was emphasized that cities in developing countries required a rapid increase in energy production and consumption to accelerate economic development, alleviate poverty and meet the basic needs of low-income urban populations. The primary challenge was to provide equitable and affordable access to clean, modern energy services for all urban residents in an economically efficient and environmentally sound manner.
It was also emphasized that land-use planning, urban transport service provision and energy consumption patterns in human settlements must be at the forefront of responsible planning in order to minimize trip distances and reduce the ecological footprint of transport. While rapid urbanization was associated with an attendant rise in energy demand and its problems, many of the negative effects of urbanization could be at least partially mitigated by innovative and more environmentally responsible energy policies, such as densification and co-locating business, residential and commercial land uses.
The following were among the most salient recommendations that emerged from the dialogue:
Leadership was seen as crucial to the successful promotion of access to both sustainable energy and transport services;
In seeking sustainable solutions to energy services for the urban poor, there was a need to explore and develop advanced technologies immediately to achieve an immediate impact on their lives;
As the world would depend on fossil-fuel technologies for some time to come, measures to encourage energy conservation and efficiency in both the developed and developing worlds must be considered alongside renewable energy options;
There was a pressing need to promote non-motorized transport infrastructure in cities by building pedestrian and cycling ways;
Congestion charging was highlighted among best practices for improving transport systems in both developed and developing countries;
Urban transport policies should be put in place to stop the aggressive expansion of car‑friendly cities;
Every city was unique and should have energy and transport solutions appropriate to the local context.