Rapidly growing slums could be the key to sustainable urban energy system transformation

Mukesh Gupta


Category: Ensuring access to energy in developing countries
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Rapidly growing slums could be the key to sustainable urban energy system transformation

Most of the growth in the world’s population for the near future will take place in the cities and towns of the developing world. Only 30 per cent of the world’s population lived in urban areas in 1950. Today more than half of the world’s total population is living in cities. Today’s developed countries were mostly urban by the 1950s. However, the group of less developed countries will only reach this level of urbanisation around 2019. It is projected that around 2050, about 70 per cent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas.


Historically, urban growth follows the trend of economic growth. Gradually cities and urban regions’ importance are being recognised as the major engines of economic growth, job creation and innovation. Urbanisation helps in reducing poverty by generating new opportunities, raising incomes and by increasing the numbers of livelihood options. Conversely, when accompanied by weak economic growth and ineffective or absent distributive policies, the outcome of urbanisation is increasing the concentration of poor people in slum populations rather than poverty reduction.


The urbanisation process is the major driving force behind energy demand in the buildings end-use sector and hence synonymous with development.


With increasing economic growth in developing countries, ownership of energy using assets is increasing to provide the opportunity to benefit from more energy services such as television, refrigerators, washing machines and air-conditioning. The positive trend of increased wealth leads to higher energy and resource consumption unless it is redirected to climate friendly development. Therefore building energy efficiency and renewable efforts should be oriented towards urban areas in developing countries, and the energy needs of the urban poor in particular have to be met sustainably. Building energy efficiency criteria into service provision early on can significantly improve the level and quality of energy services, whilst minimising costs.


Providing energy services at a basic human needs’ level will only have a limited impact on the increase of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the International Energy Agency, providing basic universal energy services would add 1.3 per cent to total global emissions by 2030. However a shift towards productive uses of energy services which goes beyond basic human needs could increase emissions considerably if not carefully managed. This shift highlights the importance of enabling renewable energy and fast deployment of energy efficient end-use devices to reduce the amount of energy used. It is even more urgent in the context of an increasing number of slum dwellers compared to their rural counterparts, as they move to productive uses of energy services that come with economic growth.


The academic community and policy makers have acknowledged the acute need for, and challenges associated with, the provision of quality energy services to the urban poor in sustainable ways. However the strategies and policies to tackle these challenges are yet to be fully understood. Therefore information which can lead to a better understanding and the development of such policies and strategies will be highly valuable to developing countries.

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