Current patterns of energy production, distribution and utilization are unsustainable. There are wide disparities in the level of energy consumption within and between developed and developing countries. About three-quarters of the world’s commercial energy is consumed in urban areas, and many of the people in the direst need of access to modern energy systems are located in rapidly growing informal urban settlements (slums) throughout the developing world.
It is widely assumed that since the urban poor reside in the cities of the world, they must have no energy needs or challenges at all. But nothing could be further from the truth. Even if there is availability of electricity in urban areas, this does not automatically translate into accessibility for the urban poor. Recent studies by UN-HABITAT show that the urban poor and especially slum-dwellers are particularly hard hit by lack of access to modern energy. Because of poor infrastructure and prohibitively high up-front costs, the poor often face much higher energy costs than the non-poor. They pay more for their cooking, water and electricity than wealthier people connected to the service networks. The energy needs of the urban poor have not been properly addressed as development efforts tend to focus on the rural poor.
Access to affordable, modern energy services is a prerequisite for sustainable development and poverty alleviation and, more specifically, for achieving each of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Cities in developing countries require a rapid increase in energy production and consumption to accelerate economic development, alleviate poverty and meet the basic needs of their populations. Urban areas offer special opportunities and thus need special attention. They are a hub for economic development and high population density offers possibilities for good economics in terms of electricity access. The current political/environmental agenda in many of those countries is still fragile, and different challenges constrain the capacity of city managers to conceive and design appropriate programs and policies in support of energy access for poor urban settlements.
This is why UN-HABITAT established the Global Energy Network for Urban Settlements (GENUS) to encourage and support the design and implementation of energy-access programmes and projects for the urban poor worldwide. This dynamic partnership will foster collaboration among the public and private sectors, governmental and nongovernmental organizations, grass-roots groups, national and international development agencies, working in the urban energy sector.