Developing world's energy needs set stage for fight
Developing nations' urgent need for more energy has become a central issue this year as developed countries push for a global reduction in carbon emissions.
At a wedding ceremony in New Delhi, the power blinked off just as the groom was placing the ring on his bride's finger. A factory in Nigeria was forced to relocate because the cost and scarcity of electricity made it impossible to turn a profit. Street protests over the chronic lack of power in Karachi, the economic hub of Pakistan, turned deadly as mobs chanted anti-government slogans.Skip to next paragraph
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Scenes like these unfolded with increasing frequency this summer across the developing world as the demand for energy expanded but governments eager to create more industrialized economies failed to keep up.
Developing nations' urgent need for more energy has become a central issue this year as developed countries — including the United States — push for a global reduction in carbon emissions ahead of a climate change conference scheduled for December in Copenhagen.
Many African, Latin American and Asian countries want to avoid legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for global warming. They say that their emissions are well below those of the developed world and that such limits would hinder their efforts to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, even though economic growth would also inevitably expand the nations' carbon footprints as more of the poor gain access to electricity, air conditioners, refrigerators and cars.
The stance of developing nations will also have repercussions in Washington this fall, as the Senate takes up cap-and-trade legislation intended to limit carbon emissions and promote the use of renewable energy. Critics say the proposed emission caps will put US companies at a disadvantage by forcing them to limit their carbon output while businesses in developing countries remain free to pollute.
In places like Noida, a burgeoning suburb of New Delhi, the demand for new power sources seems to know no bounds. Without government-supplied power, people turn to homemade solutions. Even in big cities, the poor often forage in forests and parks for scraps of wood to build cooking fires.
From Nigeria's Kano district to the posh boutiques of New Delhi, entrepreneurs rely on diesel-powered generators to run their businesses when the grid goes down. In slums and villages of the developing world, people power televisions and fans with a car battery, the poor man's generator.
Power shortages are caused by a mix of poor government planning, booming industrialism and, in some countries, a lack of rainfall affecting the rivers that feed hydropower plants. The shortage of power stymies industrial growth and the resultant job opportunities, which can destabilize fragile governments in some of the poorest parts of the world.
"Although there are frequent cuts even in the capital, let's be frank, reliable power in the rest of the country — including big mega-cities — is really not there," said Srikanta K. Panigrahi, an energy adviser to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose government has pledged to provide "power for all" by 2012. Singh's administration signed a historic nuclear deal with the United States, in part to try to tackle the shortage.