Fuel poverty is when households are unable to afford adequate energy for heating and lighting and spend 10 percent or more of their income on energy bills. This is a particular problem in colder countries, where energy costs can account for a large portion of household expenses. Fuel poverty is exacerbated by rising energy prices and can lead to poorer health outcomes as households are unable to heat their homes sufficiently. This can have a dramatic effect on household budgets, as well as on businesses’ ability to remain competitive.
For example, rising energy costs in Canada since the pandemic have been significant. According to Statistics Canada, electricity prices have risen more than eight percent and natural gas prices have risen more than 16 percent. This increase is because demand for energy has increased while supply has been limited due to pandemic-related restrictions and changing geopolitical circumstances. As a result, energy producers have increased prices in order to make up for lost revenue. In the UK, more than seven million people live in fuel poverty. To tackle fuel poverty, some governments have introduced measures such as energy efficiency schemes to help households become energy efficient, and lower taxes on energy bills.
The increased use of carbon-based fuels to generate energy is also having a significant impact on people's lives. Fuels such as coal, oil and gas are major sources of air pollution, which can have a range of negative health impacts. Air pollution has been linked to numerous illnesses such as respiratory illnesses, heart disease, stroke and even cancer. It is estimated that air pollution causes approximately seven million premature deaths each year, with the majority occurring in developing countries. As well as causing health issues, warmer temperatures resulting from climate change are leading to more frequent and severe extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, and heat waves, which can cause significant damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure. Warmer temperatures can also lead to more pests and plant diseases, which can affect crop yields and food security.
The recent floods in Pakistan are a devastating reminder of how extreme weather patterns are causing significant disruption to human lives. Overall, these floods have had a severe impact on the health of the population, leading to an increase in water-borne diseases, malnutrition, and mental health issues.
Climate resilience in the energy sector
Resilience is the ability of systems, such as energy and infrastructure, to withstand and adapt to extreme weather events and other shocks. Enhancing resilience requires investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Renewable energy systems are decentralized, meaning that energy is produced from many small sources, rather than from a single centralized power plant. Additionally, resilient energy infrastructure should be designed to withstand extreme weather events, and investments should be made to upgrade existing infrastructure and increase durability.
Mitigating GHG emissions from energy consumption
Energy consumption per person varies dramatically by country. Canadians, for example, consume over 100 MWh of energy per person each year while the per capita consumption in Pakistan is less than 5 MWh per year. Those living in wealthier countries have a particular ethical responsibility to reduce energy consumption and thus mitigate climate change. Transitioning from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy and safe nuclear energy is critical to mitigating climate change while meeting growing energy demands. While governments continue to make strides, we all have an obligation to change our behavior and thereby contribute to a more clean and resilient energy system that benefits human prosperity and well-being.
In a speech at the World Government Summit in Dubai last month, Prince Rahim suggested some ways to make our towns and cities more sustainable:
“As we look at the future of urban planning, we must put clean infrastructure at the heart of the design and development process if we want any chance of mitigating further global warming. This means designing buildings which minimise heat gain or loss, using green building materials and rooftop solar panels in all future construction, prioritising walking and cycling paths, and ensuring that there is safe, quick and reliable public transport that is powered by clean energy, among other imperatives.”
Here are a few simple ways you can help reduce carbon emissions associated with energy consumption:
1. Install energy-efficient appliances and LED lighting in the home and workplace.
2. Unplug devices and appliances when not in use. Phantom loads consume electricity even when devices are turned off or in standby mode.
3. Use natural light instead of artificial lighting whenever possible.
4. Install a programmable thermostat to reduce energy consumption when not in use.
5. Insulate windows and walls to reduce heating and cooling costs.
6. Choose or support the transition to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy as viable alternatives to fossil fuels.
7. Use energy-efficient transportation such as public transit, biking, or walking. Consider the purchase of either an electric or hybrid vehicle to replace one powered by a gasoline or diesel engine.
8. Reduce the amount of waste you produce and recycle whenever possible.
9. Utilise green building practices when constructing or remodeling your home or workplace.
10. Plant trees and other plants in your yard to help absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Over the last 20 years, Karim Asani has developed, designed, and implemented strategic and tactical solutions with respect to energy and climate change. The views and opinions represented in this article are his own.