It is universally accepted that energy is a sine qua non for the all round development of a nation - socially, industrially and agriculturally. But poor countries are lagging behind in this vital sector compared to the developed ones. Under this circumstance, the global rich countries with high energy production and consumption have a role to play for the development of the poor countries' energy sector. This is necessary to bring parity in energy consumption among nations and overall economic development of developing countries like Bangladesh. This would not only help close the energy gap between the rich and the poor in poor countries needed for accelerating the poorer countries' development pursuit but will also ensure egalitarian distribution of the fruits of modern industrial civilisation across the world.
A United Nations (UN) report, of late, urges the wealthy nations to do more to honour their aid commitments to help the least developed countries (LDCs) bridge the energy gap that now exists among the people in these countries. The world's least developed countries urgently need access to more electricity if they are to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty that they are currently trapped in and develop socio-economically at the earliest. The report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development says that 60 per cent of people in the world's poorest countries, 47 of which are the "least developed", have no access to electricity at all. In those countries live some 577 million people. Access to stable supply of electricity is crucial for helping businesses, industries and agriculture in developing countries to grow rapidly.
According to the UN report more than 40 per cent of businesses and industries in the countries covered in the report suffer from inadequate, unreliable and unaffordable power for use. It said that an average of 10 power outages a month, each lasting about five hours, cost them 7 per cent of the value of their sales. Energy as a source of transformation of an economy is one of the key issues of economic development and this is what the UN is trying to highlight, specifically for the least developed countries. There is a shortfall of US $1.5 trillion in funding to help meet the goal of universal access to power by the year 2030.
As per the report it would cost an estimated US $12 billion to US $40 billion in annual investment while it will cause a more than tripling of the annual rate of gaining access to electricity in the poor countries across the world. The countries covered in the report include 33 in Africa, 9 in Asia, and 5 in the South Pacific and Caribbean region. The UN is encouraging governments in those poor countries to adopt policies to attract investors in the relevant sectors and improve the use of their energy resources to the desired extent to meet necessary development goals.
It is widely argued nowadays that the world has come to a point in recent times when many people are of the opinion that many solutions to socio-economic development are best triggered by the private sector of an economy. But it is not possible to say so about the least developed countries, as yet.
Renewable energy sources have the potential to play a revolutionary role to meet the challenges in such countries. But, so far, most of the initiatives in this regard have been on small scales, and the UN is urging that the use of such technologies be scaled up to be useful for public utilities of those countries. It is expected that the relevant authorities in those countries including Bangladesh will expedite their efforts to that end for enhanced development of their economies to alleviate poverty and income inequality of their people.
However, so far as Bangladesh is concerned, the World Bank (WB) has approved US $185 million to help Bangladesh add up to 310 Megawatt (MW) in renewable energy generation capacity. This is also to mobilise private sector participation to meet the growing demand for electricity in the country. It will build the first 50 MW phase of a large-scale solar panel energy park in Feni district. This will be implemented by the Electricity Generation Company of Bangladesh (EGCB). For the scaling-up of Renewable Energy Project, the support will increase the country's installed capacity of renewables through piloting and expanding investments in key market segments.
A strong collaboration between the public and private sector in this regard will not only help meet energy demand of the country but also lower carbon emissions to avert climate change. The US $185 million credit also includes a US $26.38 million loan and a US $2.87 million grant from the Strategic Climate Fund (SCF) of the World Bank's Climate Investment Funds (CIFs).
Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled is a retired Professor of Economics and former Vice Principal of Cumilla Government Women's College, Cumilla.