Category Archives: International Policy

Combatting the Effects of Climate Change and Global Disparities in Energy Access through Solar Electrification

 

Climate Change: Current State

Source: NASA

Climate change discussions are nothing new. Fossil fuels and alternative energy discussions have been in place since before Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth in 2006, and will continue long after this year. NASA reported that 2016 was the warmest year globally, and 2015 was the warmest before that, illustrating gradual increases in temperature. In turn, rising temperatures have contributed to increased intensity of weather related threats such as hurricanes, like the devastating Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina last year. Rising temperatures have also contributed to warmer water and air around the Antarctic, which recently resulted in a large iceberg, the size of Delaware, breaking off from Antarctica and “fundamentally changing the landscape of the Antarctic peninsula.” As the landscape around us reacts to changes in the environment, what does the future hold?

David Wallace-Wells, a journalist focusing on climate change and the environment, recently outlined his vision to this question in a New York Magazine article “The Uninhabitable Earth.”  He paints a bleak future where disease burden increases, increased violence erupts, economic instability rises, and humanity faces the consequences of the resulting turmoil. Wallace-Wells warns “parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.”

Global Disparities in Energy Access

Source: USAID

In order to feel the gravity of climate change consequences, one should first understand the disproportionality of electricity access and energy consumption. In the United States, virtually everyone has access to electricity. At the same time, the U.S. is also one of the highest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. The country produced 6.587 million metric tons of Carbon Dioxide in 2015, with 29% from electricity use.

Compare this to the 1.2 billion people (16% of the global population) who lack access to electricity. Nearly 95% of this energy-poor population resides in rural Sub-Saharan Africa or Asia, revealing one of the largest development challenges of our time. The world’s population is expected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050, with half the growth occurring in Africa. If these individuals were to gain access to electricity via natural gas or coal, given the expected population growth, it is likely that the Wallace-Wells perspective of climate change will be a quickly emerging reality.

So how are businesses tackling both the development challenge of increasing global electricity access while simultaneously understanding the importance of sustainability and limited resources?

Sustainable Developments in Solar Electrification 

Source: Matthieu Young, USAID

Enterprising companies have been creating alternate sources of renewable energy to bring electricity to individuals in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. By moving straight to clean technology and renewable energy in the form of solar and wind powered electricity initiatives, these companies are “leapfrogging” past the detrimental effects of natural gas and coal. This is right in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number seven to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”

Electrifying Sub-Saharan Africa is important – not just for those living in the region but also for the world. Increased access to affordable and reliable electricity will help poverty alleviation, as there are increased opportunities for business growth, longer hours of operation, and the ability to integrate technology into daily life. Hospitals are able to treat patients in better conditions, leading to overall health improvements. Schools are able to increase students’ access to education through different information communication technologies leading to increased teacher retention and student completion rates.

The main push, as described by Bill McKibben in the New Yorker, has been a “Race to Solar-Power Africa.” McKibben describes how both American and African led businesses are using innovative and affordable mechanisms to supply electricity though affordable off-grid solar kits in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Off-grid solar power systems do not require the same cumbersome and expensive infrastructure that currently exist in the United States. As a result, these innovative systems help cut labor and capital costs in bringing electricity to regions previously without access. These systems also help lower long-term costs as they are affordable – essentially the same cost, if not lower, as traditional kerosene – and provide clean electricity lasting up to four times longer.

Both the affordability and increased duration of electricity are partially due to the drop in prices of solar panels, coupled with technology advances enabling the creation of more efficient light bulbs.

Innovative Solar Companies

Several solar companies and entrepreneurs are entering the electrification space in Sub-Saharan Africa because it is relatively nascent and not yet monopolized. Companies are entering the market through different avenues including as a solar panel providers, solar panel installers, as utility companies, or as wholesalers or retailers of solar products.

One American company, Off-Grid Electric, sells a starter kit including “a panel, a battery, a few L.E.D. lights, a phone charger, and a radio” priced at just $8 a month for three years. After the three years have passed, the family or individual then owns the kit.

Black Star Energy, a Ghanaian company offers solar power in the guise of a utility company. Black Star installs solar micro-grids in communities needing electricity. Unlike Off-Grid Electric where individuals pay for the physical equipment, Black Star users “will always pay bills, but the charges start at only two dollars a month.” They are essentially paying for the utility of electricity, and therefore, will never own the technology themselves.

These personal home solar kits are one sustainable method by which to electrify Africa. Innovations, such as Off-Grid Electric, have gained traction due to venture capital support from Silicon Valley and USAID’s Power Africa mechanism which pledged four million dollars to solar start-ups focusing on African off-grid energy.

The benefits from electrification will help Sub-Saharan African nations close the gap in energy poverty while rising against several existing development challenges. Leadership from these nations benefitting from renewable energy initiatives will be essential in curbing global climate change threats, and can perhaps alter the way we currently think about development and growth.

Rohini Ravi is a second year Master of Public Policy focusing on international development and global health.

 

 

COP-22 highlights need for American leadership in combating climate change in India

The skyline of Delhi remains hidden on a November morning. Photo Credit: Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The skyline of Delhi remains hidden on a November morning.
Photo Credit: Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

New Delhi, India: My father has struggled to complete his morning run for the past few weeks. Thick and unrelenting smog has settled over New Delhi, forcing residents to wear facemasks and invest in air purifiers. “My whole family has bought facemasks and air purifiers,” says Nikhil Dugal, long-term resident of the city.

Pollution levels are on the rise in developing cities like New Delhi, as president-elect Donald Trump has threatened to cancel the Paris Accord. This frustrating dichotomy and the need for American leadership in the fight against climate change were highlighted at United Nations COP22 summit that took place earlier in November. Continue reading

The Other Election: Choosing Earth’s Governor

Source: United Nations

All five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States) skipped the first World Humanitarian Summit in May. The summit produced groundbreaking agreements on a range of humanitarian issues. However, expert opinions are mixed on how effective these changes will be, due to the absence of the permanent five (P5.)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was resolute. “The absence of these leaders from this meeting does not provide an excuse for inaction,” he said. “They have a unique responsibility to pursue peace and stability, and to support the most vulnerable.” However, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s last day in office is December 31, and his tenure is almost over; the election for his successor is already underway.

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Can WhatsApp be used for policy innovations in developing countries?

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/87244355@N00/376781013/

When I was traveling through the gorgeous and remote Kerala Backwaters in India last year, I met a bright teenage entrepreneur named Amit, from the local fishing village. He owns three canoes, which he uses as taxis to transport locals and tourists from village to village. This story is as old as time, except for one thing: it was 2015, and his business depended entirely on the popular messaging app WhatsApp.

Amit uses WhatsApp to coordinate with his employees (other young men from his village), who operate his canoes in the area. He also pushes messages about canoe rates and locations to a growing list of customers (he believes he can find enough customers to invest in more canoes). Even as I finished my canoe ride, Amit made sure that we were connected — just in case I had friends coming to the area. “Hey bro, make sure you add me on WhatsApp.” Always hustling.

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Sanford LAC presentation event

Logo_SanfordLAC

On Tuesday 24th the Sanford Latin American and Caribbean Group (Sanford LAC) held a reception to formally launch the student group to the Sanford Community.

The passionate discussions we had in our first meetings about what is happening in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as with the region’s immigrants in the United States, led us to create a permanent group that could work as a platform for all members of the Sanford Community to promote academic, social, cultural or career initiatives related to the region.

Sanford LAC, which is led by both MPP and MIDP students, is the first student organization with a Latin American and Caribbean focus at Sanford. Currently, we are 23 students from eight different countries: Mexico, Chile, Peru, Dominican Republic, Brazil, USA, France, and Ecuador.

The ties between the Sanford School of Public Policy and Latin America and the Caribbean are strong. Not only are there 19 students from this region currently pursuing their master’s degree at Sanford, but also one of the first projects of the Duke Center for International Development was to serve as the Secretariat for the Central American Peace Commission in the late 1980s. The Commission successfully drafted the Arias Peace Plan to unite the region.

Throughout the years, Sanford faculty have provided advice and conducted studies around the region on different topics including economic, social, and environmental policy. So far more than 90 students from Latin America and the Caribbean have graduated from Sanford and more students will come.

Sanford LAC’s objective is to build on these strong foundations and bring Sanford, Latin America, and the Caribbean closer to each other. In order to achieve this objective, our mission is to:

Lead and support academic, career, outreach, cultural, and social efforts of the Sanford community focused on Latin America and the Caribbean in order to strengthen collaboration and engagement between the region and Sanford.

In addition, we have defined 4 strategic lines. The first one is Academic Affairs. We would like to increase the discussion about Latin American and Caribbean issues by creating discussion groups between faculty and students, bringing speakers, and participating in conferences. For example, on February 14th some members of Sanford LAC participated in two panels at the UNC-Duke Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

The second strategic line is Networking and Career Outreach. We would like to increase networking opportunities with Duke Alumni interested in the region. We have also started to create partnerships with other Latino groups at Duke, such as the Latino Student Council, and the Working Group of the Environment in Latin America (WGELA).

The third strategic line is Branding Sanford in LAC and vice versa. We would like to support incoming Sanford students from the region. We also want to promote Sanford in LAC and attract talented students.

Finally, our fourth strategic line is Community and Integration. We would like to organize cultural events, such as potlucks and Spanish conversation clubs. At the same time we want to get involved in community activities with local Latino population.

We kindly want to express our gratitude to Dean Kelly Brownell, Prof. Fernando Fernholz, the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and to the MPP and MIDP staff who have supported us during this process.We extend the invitation to join Sanford LAC to all the members of the Sanford community interested in any way in this region.

Sanford LAC 2

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