Energy Poverty and the Environment


Seattle University School of Law Research Paper No. 15-16

29 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2015 Last revised: 26 Dec 2015

See all articles by Carmen G. Gonzalez

Carmen G. Gonzalez

Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Date Written: December 9, 2015


Nearly three billion people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (the Energy Poor) face daily hardships due to lack of modern energy for cooking, heating, sanitation, lighting, transportation, and basic mechanical power. Despite their minimal greenhouse gas emissions, the Energy Poor will be disproportionately burdened by the floods, droughts, rising sea levels, and other disturbances caused by climate change. Although climate change has been framed as an issue of climate debt and climate justice, the plight of the Energy Poor has received short shrift in the climate change negotiations. Will efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions consign the Energy Poor to perpetual deprivation?

This chapter argues that the climate change negotiations represent a unique opportunity for affluent countries to mitigate climate change, repay the climate debt, and foster climate justice and energy justice by financing the provision of clean renewable energy to the Energy Poor. The black carbon emitted in the burning of biomass by the Energy Poor results in millions of deaths per year due to indoor air pollution (primarily among women and children), and constitutes the second most significant contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. Dependence on biomass for energy also ravages local ecosystems and accelerates deforestation. The cost of reducing black carbon emissions is minimal relative to other greenhouse gases, and the benefits are enormous because black carbon is a highly potent greenhouse gas that dissipates in as little as one week if emissions cease. Financing the provision of clean, renewable energy to the world’s Energy Poor will enhance their well-being, fulfill their human rights, produce an immediate decline in black carbon, and promote low-emission alternatives to the dominant fossil-fuel based development paradigm.

A justice-centered approach to climate change and energy poverty should recognize the right to energy as an emerging human right and prioritize the provision of appropriate sustainable energy technologies (ASETs) to the Energy Poor, including decentralized electricity generating systems based on solar, wind, and local biodiesel; efficient cookstoves; and solar thermal heating. Decentralized renewable energy will enable the Energy Poor to bypass existing fossil fuel-based energy systems that are cumbersome, expensive, polluting, and vulnerable to capture by national elites. Financing the provision of ASETs to the Energy Poor can therefore foster democratic local control of energy production in addition to mitigating climate change, protecting local ecosystems, fulfilling human rights, and hastening the transition to sustainable energy.

Keywords: Energy poverty, climate change, deforestation, indoor air pollution, black carbon, climate debt, climate justice, energy justice, energy poor, colonialism, debt crisis, human rights, common but differentiated responsibility, corporate accountability, human rights obligations of corporations, develop

JEL Classification: K32, K33, O1, Q4, N10

Suggested Citation

Gonzalez, Carmen G., Energy Poverty and the Environment (December 9, 2015). INTERNATIONAL ENERGY AND POVERTY: THE EMERGING CONTOURS Lakshman Guruswamy, ed. (Routledge, 2016), Seattle University School of Law Research Paper No. 15-16, Available at SSRN:

Carmen G. Gonzalez (Contact Author)

Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )

25 E. Pearson
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics