Research highlight

Balancing climate change mitigation and clean energy access

Nature Energy

January 11, 2016

Pursuing stringent climate goals could mean that a significant number of people in South Asia will remain dependent on traditional cook stoves, despite the stoves’ negative health impacts, reports a paper published online this week in Nature Energy. This analysis of the trade-offs between policies for climate change mitigation and access to clean cooking fuels highlights the need to carefully design complementary policies that account for development goals.

In many parts of the world, people still rely on burning solid fuels like wood and charcoal for cooking and heating. South Asia has the greatest number of solid-fuel users, where household air pollution from the incomplete combustion of these fuels leads to 1.7 million premature deaths annually. Global programmes have been created to achieve universal access to modern energy services (such as electricity and natural gas) by 2030, with subsidies and other interventions aimed at reducing the costs of petroleum-based fuels (such as kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas).

Shonali Pachauri and colleagues explored the interaction between climate mitigation policies and clean energy access policies in South Asia, to show how the different goals affect each other. They modelled the energy needs of a number of groups based on income and fuel-stove options for a range of access policies, incorporating the effect that climate policy has on fuel cost. They found that the most stringent climate mitigation policy could increase the cost of clean fuel by as much as 38% and may leave as many as 433 million South Asians (21% of the population) unable to afford clean energy by 2030, meaning that policies to achieve universal clean energy access could become up to 44% more expensive, depending on how subsidies are allocated. The authors suggest that careful policy design could partially compensate for the additional access costs associated with climate mitigation.

doi: 10.1038/nenergy.2015.10

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