Author Archive

Do we need more coal to end energy poverty?

November 25, 2015

Cooking with bio-mass, Kenya

The climate threat from coal

The past week has seen a flurry of announcements about the future of coal in the run-up to the Paris climate talks.

Stopping support for coal is a priority since planned coal development would singlehandedly exhaust the world’s carbon budget, taking us beyond the 2°C ‘defence line’ against dangerous global warming.

Many organisations participating in the Paris talks advocate phasing out fossil fuels  altogether and switching to 100% renewable energy by 2050 at the latest to have a realistic chance of keeping well below 2°C. Let alone the  1.5°C threshold that Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) want.


Laudato Si’: the Pope’s call to action on sustainable development

June 22, 2015
Pope Francis in Palo, Philippines,

Pope Francis in Palo, Philippines, January 2015.

Encyclicals are letters to the Catholic Church outlining the thinking of the Pope and in this case of the Bishops of the world. They do not normally generate global media interest and get leaked ahead of time. But like so much done by Pope Francis, this encyclical bucks the trend.

Its chosen theme – on care for our common home – is a direct plea to stop destruction of the planet and protect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people and communities. In a first for a papal encyclical, it calls on everyone – not just Catholics and people of faith – to protect the climate as a common good; a system that it essential for human life.


Sharing the load: who pays for energy access?

May 29, 2015

Finance for off-grid energy is increasing – the big challenge is working out how best to blend public and private investment to deliver energy services for poor communities.

 Sinteyo and the women's group with solar panels at the greenhouse, Isiolo.

Community Based Green Energy Programme, Isiolo, Kenya. Sinteyo and the women’s group with solar panels at the greenhouse. Annie Bungeroth/CAFOD.

Policy makers are increasingly recognising that off-grid solutions offer the potential to rapidly increase access to energy in poor communities. But what is less clear is how to make the finance work. The question was raised at last week’s United Nations Sustainable Energy For All Forum – and will be the focus of a session organised by CAFOD, CIDSE and IIED at the EU Development Days (EDD) in Brussels next week. What are the different roles for public and private investment in financing energy access, particularly for the poorest people?


The good, the bad and the meaningful – measuring what matters in the Energy SDG

April 1, 2015

Sinteyo at the Community Based Green Energy Project, Isiolo, Kenya

This week’s The Economist bemoans the list of potential Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets under discussion at the UN as “sprawling and misconceived”.

Most people would agree that 169 is a lot of targets. But whether you also agree with The Economist’s view that the SDGs are being “set up to fail” – and whom/what is to blame – the discussion at the UN has moved on.

On the table now are a list of potential indicators to measure progress on the targets compiled by the UN Statistical Commission. While this may seem like one for the technocrats, given the old management adage that “what gets measured gets done“, it is also a crucial discussion for civil society to watch.


What makes a green economy a fair one too?

April 25, 2014

Guest blog post by Kate Raworth


Kate Raworth is a Visiting Fellow in Economics at IIED. Her research focuses on rethinking economics in the faces of extreme social inequalities and planetary boundaries. She blogs at and tweets @KateRaworth

Ask any country’s leaders about their nation’s strategy for the next decade, and chances are, its colour will be green. ‘Green economy’ and ‘green growth’ policies are moving to centre stage in a surprising number of countries, including many low- and middle-income ones. From Vietnam and Barbados to Ethiopia and Mozambique, there’s a new focus on combining environmental sustainability with economic growth – particularly by cutting or curbing greenhouse gas emissions, while ensuring a rising GDP.

For the sake of ecological integrity, that’s good news – but what about social justice? Green policies to transform key sectors – ranging from energy and transport to infrastructure and agriculture – bring many implications for women and men in vulnerable and low-income communities. And it would be dangerous to assume that they will automatically bring benefits. Indeed, without care, green policies could well do the opposite. (more…)

Ensuring an Energy Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) delivers for poor people and the planet

March 25, 2014



Collecting water from a solar-based purification system supplied by
CAFOD. Chila Union, Mongla District, Bangladesh.

In late February, discussions over the post-2015 development agenda reached a milestone. The co-Chairs of the Open Working Group (OWG), the body tasked with preparing a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposal for consideration by the UN General Assembly in September 2014, issued a “Focus Areas Document”.


Climate change: it matters on the ground

October 16, 2013



By Collins Cheruiyot

About the author: Collins Cheruiyot is CAFOD’s Policy Advocacy Adviser based in Nairobi

As a Kenyan, I found it troubling to read the raft of news stories following the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the state of our climate. Articles still asking ‘is it or isn’t it happening’, the truth sayers and deniers battling it out on the printed pages of newspapers.

The paradox is that local communities, despite living in poverty and often lacking education, understand the on-going climate threat and how it endangers their future and that of their children much better that climate skeptics, who are often so distant from the realities facing local communities, yet have a big say in policy discussions.

When it comes to global warming we can’t afford to be still fooling around with the idea of cooling. Despite being least responsible for climate change, poor communities in the developing world are being hit the most and hardest by its impacts. Scientists are as clear as they can be about the fact that mankind is responsible for global warming. Picking data from a few years to claim that warming is not happening, rather than looking at the long-term trend, is completely unscientific and bogus.

On the ground, we know that getting on with acting on climate change matters. Visiting rural communities in Kenya, hit in 2011 by the worst drought in sixty years which gripped the Horn and East of Africa, one soon learns that people understand their land and the seasons. The 2011 drought saw over 439,000 heads of livestock die in the Borana area in Ethiopia with similar losses in region.


Whoever you speak to, a pastoralist herder, a small holder farmer, they will recount how much more extreme weather has hit them, disrupting their way of life – from being at one with nature, they are forced to become nature’s refugees, moving across the land in search of water and food for their families and animals.

By 2030, it is expected that in sub-Saharan Africa droughts could make growing maize impossible. Most of Kenya now experiences climate extremes such as frequent, irregular rainfall and intense droughts. Once farming or pastoralist communities knew when and how much they will grow, now they are never sure what the changing seasons might allow them to grow and when.

They also have to deal with more water shortages, depleted pastureland, animal and crop diseases and loss of livestock. This has a knock-on effect on food supply, which impacts on the vulnerable, especially the under -fives, the elderly and pregnant or breast-feeding mothers, who become more susceptible to malnutrition and other diseases.

When water and pasture become scarce then it can also be the tinder box that ignites conflicts between communities, leading to the needless deaths of women, children and men.

CAFOD has a long history of working in Horn and East Africa. As well as responding to emergencies, they also need to support communities to tackle climate change and adapt to its impacts. CAFOD’s work is transforming the lives of people by building up their resilience to climate change, so that they can continue to live on the land and earn a decent living from it. Programmes range from supporting communities to better conserve water, or growing their vegetables in a sack, to helping people to access clean sources of energy, through the installation of solar panels in some of the remotest communities that do not have access to the electricity grid.

We may be poor and in many cases marginalised within society but we have been speaking out on the impact of climate change for many years. It’s time for people in other countries who still have the luxury of closing their eyes and ears, to listen to our voices.

For more information, read CAFOD’s new report on the impacts of climate change – What have we done? How the changing climate is hitting the poorest hardest.

Designing models to deliver energy services for people living in poverty

September 16, 2013

Collecting water from the solar based purification system supplied by CAFOD, Chila Union, Mongla District, Bangladesh, 2012

As trailed in my previous blog on what COMPASS says about climate change impacts on our partners, we are today launching a paper outlining an approach to designing energy delivery models that work for people living in poverty.

See also today’s The Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog.

This paper is the first output of an ongoing collaboration between IIED and CAFOD that aims to understand better how energy services can be designed to work for people living in poverty so as to maximise their development benefits and ensure they operate sustainably over the long term.

To reiterate, the big picture here is that 1.3 billion people still have no electricity and 2.7 billion cook over open fires – including many of the communities CAFOD works with.  Increasing access to modern, safe, sustainable and affordable energy is a hot topic in the post-MDGs debate. This is a potential “win-win” for poor people and tree huggers, since to reach universal access, 55% of new electricity must come from decentralized sources – 90% of them renewable.

The CAFOD and IIED approach starts from the insight that people’s energy needs must be understood holistically, in relation to their broader development needs, and services must be tailored to their specific local context. It aims, firstly, build a holistic understanding of people’s energy needs and wants and the interests of other stakeholders and then to analyse the local context in which a service will operate. Socio-cultural factors, as well as the formal enabling environment, are a crucial to the success of any ‘energy delivery model’.

Where does the COMPASS point on climate change and poverty reduction?

August 23, 2013

Woman farmer in Bolivia

The environment has changed. Now stronger rains come, the land collapses, and just stones are left behind. It is now three years that we have had this bad weather. Before there were just showers and the rain did not destroy the crops. Now it comes with hailstones and it takes the land away. It brings all kinds of diseases for the plants and does not let them produce well. There are more thunderstorms now and that kills sheep, men… before, this was not happening’ (Source: Artisan workshops, Yamparáez, Bolivia, COMPASS).


 COMPASS puts a human face on the intensifying costs of climate change and environmental degradation. The participants’ experience reinforces the view that climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ amplifying existing stresses, and offers important insights for would-be planners of “climate smart” development paths.

Its – depressing – key finding is that for most of the 1,420 people taking part, things have got worse in the last 15 years.  This is down to a combination of different factors, but among the most significant are resource stress, natural disasters and conflicts.

Changing climatic conditions and weather impacts – such as the increased droughts and flooding described by people in Bolivia, Uganda and the Philippines – often play their part. Communities in Kormatan, Philippines give us a glimpse into how conflict and environmental degradation can be mutually reinforcing. Farmers with livelihoods impacted by disputes between armed groups turned to illegal logging – which leads to further environmental stress. 


 ‘We make some progress but then, every 10 years, something happens that brings us back to where we were or worse than before. All the work done, the efforts and sacrifices are lost. This could be due to violent conflict or a severe drought.’ (Vicar General, Diocese of Soroti, Uganda).


Communities also describe the devastating and long-lasting impacts of conflict and natural disasters, resulting in emotional and cultural as well as material loss. This echoes the experience of poor people globally, who are bearing the brunt of global warming caused by the rich world.  In fact, climate change is the poster child for COMPASS participants’ awareness of ‘increased interconnectedness [and] how decisions and actions in one country have global implications’.

All this points to a shared responsibility to limit global warming and increasing environmental degradation – with the onus for action on rich countries, whose unsustainable economic paths are its root cause.  Otherwise the deterioration in poor people’s well-being so eloquently articulated by COMPASS participants will continue, and their ability to build viable livelihoods – their central demand – will be further undermined.

Poor communities and vulnerable groups must be supported to build resilience to unavoidable climate impacts, which requires national and local governments integrating resilience and climate change adaptation into development planning, plus adequate financial and technical support from rich countries. As CAFOD’s DRR adviser Kate Crowley puts it, ‘fair, local-level and participatory’ planning, supported by the right international frameworks is critical. And as COMPASS has found, meaningful participation of poor people in such processes takes time, resources – and political will on the part of elites.

This brings me to the participants’ fundamental goal: control over their own well being and self-reliance.  To support them to achieve this, “climate smart” development must be built around the varying needs and wants of people living in poverty, and respond to their varied circumstances and local contexts. It cannot be top-down or “one size fits all”.

This is the bottom line for any truly “bottom up” approach. CAFOD and IIED are exploring how to apply this insight to designing sustainable energy services for people living in poverty.

‘In the community of Rogongon [in the Philippines], the school has a computer lab but the computers are falling into disrepair since the area has been without electricity for more than a year. Even if they had electricity, there are no other computers in the area, and so IT skills may not be very relevant to local life.’ (COMPASS)

 1.3 billion people still have no electricity and 2.7 billion cook over open fires so increasing access to modern energy is a hot topic in the post-MDGs debate. This is a potential “win-win” for poor people and tree huggers, since to reach universal access, 55% of new electricity must come from decentralized sources – 90% of them renewable.

However, energy needs must be understood holistically, within people’s broader development needs. For instance, more and better quality education is identified as a crucial need by COMPASS participants. This will not be met by providing electricity alone. It also requires books, computers that work, classrooms, well-trained teachers and so on.

CAFOD and IIED have developed an approach to designing energy delivery models that starts by building a holistic understanding of people’s energy needs and wants and the interests of other stakeholders, using a participatory process. It then analyses the local context in which a service will operate- which for us includes socio-cultural factors, such as local preferences, as well as the more formal enabling environment.

All these factors are built into the design with the aim of producing an “energy delivery model” with a greater chance of being financially, socially and environmentally sustainable. We have begun to test our approach with partners on the ground. Watch this space for more news, including a forthcoming paper.



Britain out in front?

March 26, 2012

Last week, speaking at a security conference, Energy and Climate Change Minister Ed Davey bemoaned the lack of public awareness of how much a threat climate change is to our future security and well being – both in the UK and globally.

The Minister also recognized that decisions taken now by governments, businesses – and, by extension, by voters and consumers – means we will (or won’t) manage this risk. As he put it: “Many of the homes, the cars and the power stations we build today will be operating in the middle of the century. We are choosing our future now, but most people don’t realise it.”

This view is backed up by yet another report on the dire state of our planet – this time by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, not known for its tree-hugging tendencies. The report, called The Consequences of Inaction, says that by 2050, without changes to current policies, a world economy 4 times larger and a population much greater will mean an exponential increase in demand for food, water and energy. And ditto for the production of waste. In terms of energy, demand will be up by 80% on today’s levels, with fossil fuels still making up 85% of the mix. (more…)