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Policies for accelerating access to clean energy, improving health and mitigating climate change


Impending climate change, mainly driven by energy use, now also threatens health, Policies to promote access to non-polluting and sustainable sources of energy have great potential both to improve public health and to mitigate climate disruption. These are the conclusions of Professor Andy Haines, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and colleagues, authors of this sixth and final paper in The Lancet Series on Energy and Health.

The authors say: "There are several technological options, policy levers, and economic instruments for sectors such as power generation, transport, agriculture and the built environment." They add that barriers to change include vested interests, political inertia, inability to take meaningful action, and weak mechanisms for technology transfer to low income countries.

A comprehensive programme for clean energy should optimise mitigation and, simultaneously, adaption to climate change while maximising the co-benefits for health -- eg, through improved air, water, and food quality. The authors believe intersectoral research and concerted action, both nationally and internationally, will be required. The stress created by growing energy demand and pollution emissions on a finite planet requires putting policies into action that encourage changes across the board, from energy efficiency, the structure of energy use in the economy, the pollutant emissions from the energy used, and the distribution of current usage, which reinforces global inequities. It also raises again the importance of population growth in the equation and the need to provide access to family planning services to all populations to reduce the size of the eventual stable world population. Targets for meeting the energy requirements of the poor are needed including that by 2015:

  • 100% of the world's urban populations and 50% of the world's rural population use modern liquid and gaseous fuels for cooking
  • All of the world's population relying on household biomass fuels use improved stoves with chimneys and at least half of these are stoves having high combustion efficiency (low emissions)
  • 100% of the world's urban population and 75% of the rural population have a basic electricity supply to meet lighting and communication needs
  • 100% of the world's health facilities and schools have electricity supply and use modern liquid and gaseous fuels to meet cooking and heating needs

The authors conclude: "The clean-energy transition can become the first necessary, though insufficient, step toward sustainable development. It will be for future generations to judge whether we, who perceived the problems, had the vision and commitment to meet the challenge at its critical stage."


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