Monday, 17 November 2008

Working towards a global energy charter

Robin Simpson, Senior Policy Adviser at CI, gives an insight into the development of the CI Global Energy Charter:

Indoor air pollution from biomass causes more premature deaths each year than malariaWorld Energy Outlook 2006 Focus on clean cooking fuels, International Energy Agency 2007

While the world is rightly concerned about atmospheric emissions, there are approaching two billion people without access to energy services. In developing countries only about two thirds of the population are connected to electricity and in some countries the coverage is far lower, less than half in South Asia, less than a quarter in sub-Saharan Africa.

Of the rural population, worldwide, about half are not connected. Furthermore, in countries with relatively high rates of connection, notably the Former Soviet Union, there are frequent interruptions of supply.

Individual consumers and entire economies pay a high price for lack of access in terms of family incomes and health among other social and economic losses. So does their environment too, due for example, to deforestation caused by foraging for fuel, reported by our members in countries as different as Senegal, Dominican Republic and Macedonia. Huge amounts of time are lost in such foraging, while non-networked fuels such as kerosene, cost much more, for example five times the equivalent electricity bill in rural India, where two thirds of the population use kerosene.

As the quotation above demonstrates, lack of access leads to serious health risks, with current premature deaths from indoor air pollution (leading to smoke inhalation particularly by mothers and children) running at 1.3million a year.

The 2.5 billion people that use fuel wood, charcoal and agricultural waste including animal dung as fuel is projected to rise to 2.6billion by 2015 and 2.7billion by 2030 a little under one third of the world’s population.

The absence of service to poor consumers does them harm while also doing harm to the environment. But extending alternative services should be done in as sustainable a manner as possible. It is our view that a consumer energy charter will help towards that goal.
A CI member survey last year showed clear support for an energy charter and this will be launched in November 2008 following two rounds of consultation with members.

While the initial impetus towards a charter came from our members in Europe, notably Energywatch UK (now part of Consumer Focus after the merger with the National Consumer Council), the Charter is careful to take account of the non-served populations and to emphasise for example the rights of consumers to be informed about extensions to networks or to be served equitably, for example avoiding inequalities in hours of service which so often penalise the poor.

The Charter sets out principles covering the following aspects of energy service:

  • Access - development of network services and ensuring continuity

  • Sustainability and promotion of sustainable alternatives and energy efficiency

  • Choice and flexibility - development of off-grid systems; choice of payment methods

  • Fairness - equitable distribution of supply, fair price formulae

  • Customer care and support - protection through consumer contracts

  • Mediation and redress - complaint and dispute resolution systems

  • Special assistance - targeted help for poor consumers

  • Governance and consumer influence - representation and regulation.

We aim to persuade governments and service providers to adopt the charter. But we do not stop there. We also want consumers to accept their responsibilities to consume prudently and contribute to the running of the services."

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