Adopting sustainable energy would save millions of lives each year, U.N. says

Sustainable energy wouldn't just help combat climate change; it would also save at least 4.3 million lives annually

Published January 26, 2016 8:45PM (EST)


Discussions of climate change are often abstract. Yet with a dangerous increase in destructive extreme weather and a proliferation in large-scale droughts, its adverse effects are becoming more and more palpable.

Climate change is clearly already causing enormous human suffering and economic costs, in the here and now. According to the United Nations, adopting sustainable energy would not only help combat these ills of climate change; it would also save millions of lives per year.

In late 2015, the international community agreed upon the U.N.'s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which include ending poverty, stopping hunger, achieving gender equality and more. Goal 7 calls for the world to "ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all."

At the World Future Energy Summit 2016 last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke about the importance of moving toward sustainable energy sources. Ban stressed that adopting sustainable energy technologies will help combat climate change and prevent the global temperature from exceeding the two degree Celsius goal.

Ban moreover estimated that sustainable energy could save at least 4.3 million lives each year, the U.N. News Centre reported. Annually, an estimated 4.3 million people around the world die prematurely from pollution from indoor stoves that use fire, coal, charcoal or animal waste, the U.N. says.

The secretary-general also emphasized the disproportionate impact of energy and climate change on women. "Most of these people are women and children, who spend their time near wood-burning stoves and open flames," he explained. "It is women and girls who bear the brunt of collecting firewood and fuels – time-consuming activities which limit their work and education opportunities."

"Women are often the primary managers of energy in their households and communities and so can be powerful agents of change in the transition to sustainable, clean, green energy," Ban said at the summit.

An estimated 1 billion people around the world do not have access to electricity. Adopting sustainable energy technologies could help provide access to these people as well.

"Achieving SDG7 well before 2030 will vastly improve our chances of achieving the Global Goals on food security, health care, education, employment, sustainable cities and more," Ban continued.

The U.N. secretary-general called on governments, non-governmental organizations and businesses around the world to take action on climate change. Ban insisted governments will need to make sure the private sector's interests are aligned with theirs.

"Every dollar of the trillions that will be spent on new infrastructure in the next 15 years must be invested in climate-friendly projects," he said.

The secretary-general added, "Sustainable energy is the thread that connects economic growth, social equity, and our efforts to combat climate change."

By adopting sustainable energy technologies, millions of annual deaths could be avoided. And this is just one factor among a multitude in the fight against anthropogenic climate change, which kills countless more.

A comprehensive U.N. report released late last year found that 90 percent of major disasters in the last 20 years were weather-related.

Roughly 606,000 people were killed in thousands of extreme weather disasters in the past two decades. A further 4.1 billion people were injured, made homeless or left in need of emergency assistance because of the extreme weather.

The estimated costs of these thousands of weather-related disasters, the U.N. report calculated, were between $5 trillion and $6 trillion.

World Bank's Rachel Kyte On Sustainable Future

By Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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Aol_on Climate Change Sustainable Energy U.n. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon United Nations