We Need a World Declaration on Energy Rights

This weekend when I was reading the Toronto Star I turned to the World Weekly and saw the following statistics:


  • 550 million people live without electricity in sub-Saharan Africa;
  • 1% of Liberians living in cities have access to electricity, 0% of rural Liberians;
  • 197,000 Kilowatts represents the total electrical generating capacity of Libera, less than the electricity used to run the stadium in Dallas where the NFL Cowboys play.


In his recent trip to Africa President Obama announced an initiative to develop 10,000 Megawatts of clean energy for six sub-Saharan African states backed by a 5-year, $7 billion investment. But the program falls far short of what is needed to develop a global energy strategy that makes it possible for all of humanity in the 21st century to benefit from technology first developed in the 19th.

According to the CIA Factbook the consumption of electricity per capita is a key differentiator between have and have-not countries. Countries that consume the most correlate with the Developed World. Leading the pack are the Scandinavian states with Iceland number one, Norway second, Finland fifth and Sweden sixth. My country, Canada, abundant in all kinds of energy resources from fossil fuels to hydroelectricity is fourth. And Persian Gulf fossil fuel energy producers Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are third and seventh respectively.

The United States is ninth. Russia is 41st and China is 70th. But it is those at the bottom end that are truly the have nots in the Developing World with the Gaza Strip 214th. African countries dominate the bottom third with, for example, the people of Chad, in Central Africa, consuming a mere 0.07% of the electricity used by an average American.

Today China is the world’s largest energy producer generating 4,604 billion Kilowatt hours per year. The United States is second generating 3.953 billion Kilowatt hours. But lowly Chad like so many of its African neighbors barely registers as an energy producer. Neither do other Developing World nations like those in the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean, and many states in Asia, South and Central America. And there is a correlation between this lack of energy production and per capita income with a distinct similarity in pattern between energy haves and income haves.

If we are to see the Developed and Developing World reach a healthy accommodation then technology and capital resources need to be applied to addressing this enormous energy disparity. That is why I have suggested in the title of this posting the development of a global energy declaration of rights.

The United States, through initiatives like the one described above for energizing sub-Saharan Africa, represents an important first step. But other nations of the Developed World need to come forward to address the disparity.

We have through the auspices of the United Nations and other international bodies developed universal declarations for human rights, for the rights of the child, for the environment, for indigenous people, and for forests and wildlife. So isn’t it about time that we created one for energy?

What should it embody? Here are my suggestions. I am sure you may have your own thoughts on what such a doctrine should contain and welcome your ideas.


World Energy Declaration of Rights.


  1. Humans everywhere on the planet shall have access to clean, renewable energy in sufficient quantity to allow them to lead healthy and productive lives.
  2. That all energy production on the planet shall be focused on achieving sustainable levels of development for individual nations with the elimination of poverty for its citizens.
  3. That all nations shall cooperate in the developing and sharing of energy resources to achieve the first two tenets in the charter.
  4. That those nations least developed shall be given special priority in the creation of renewable and sustainable energy that meets a globally determined standard of kilowatt hours per capita.
  5. That nations with surpluses in energy shall cooperate with those with insufficient energy capacity to develop a means of energy sharing to reduce disparities.
  6. That all new energy production shall be in harmony with the goals of creating a sustainable planet so that no energy source becomes a net carbon emitter.
  7. That all new energy production shall respect the environment to ensure no harm comes to indigenous peoples and biodiversity.


Energy is a human right

Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...


  • I suggest we start by defining what “healthy & productive lives” really means in the first statement “Humans everywhere on the planet shall have access to clean, renewable energy in sufficient quantity to allow them to lead healthy and productive lives”. I am not sure that we need a lot of “energy” to accomplish this.

    • lenrosen4

      Let’s define “healthy and progressive.” From my perspective – healthy means being able to live a full life that is free of the types of diseases that currently limit lifespans in the Developing World. These include malnutrition, Vitamin A deficiency, malaria and other insect borne diseases, AIDS, measles, respiratory diseases (caused by cook stove smoke), etc. So much of our medical infrastructure requires refrigeration for sera and other biomedical products. So energy is a basic ingredient whether it is delivered over the grid or in standalone fashion by a renewable source (not a diesel generator).

      Productive – means a fulfilled life that has been given opportunity, education and means to achieve. This doesn’t require bountiful electrical energy as in the Developed World model. It does, however, mean the development of energy sources that can be off grid or on, that are easy to build and maintain, and that provide enough lighting, heating, and smokeless cooking technology for domestic use, as well as lighting and heating for schools and business enterprise. This means the energy to drive telecommunications to provide Internet access. This means a financial infrastructure that can provide accessible and affordable funding to small business entrepreneurs to develop new businesses, including the ability to move money electronically where it is needed such as from a Diaspora community to a home country. Productive means maximizing the talent of the indigenous population by breaking through the limits that currently hold them back.

  • Jorge Morales

    I think that your proposal deserves further consideration. My preliminary comments are the following:
    1-The IEA estimates that 22 % of the world’s population did not have access to electricity in 2008; a total of about 1.5 billion people. Today, this figure has been estimated in 1.8 billion. In 2030, it is expected that the number of people without electricity could reach 1.4 billion, around 400 million less.
    2-Despite the reduction in the installed capacity during the period 2000-2010, fossil fuels power plants will remain the backbone of the European electricity-generation sector until at least 2030. For this reason, the energy sector will continue to depend on significant quantities of imported fossil fuels. This situation is somehow similar in other regions as well.
    The participation of renewable in the generation of electricity at world level will be between 20-30 % in 2030. In the case of Europe this level could be reach 34 % in the best scenario by 2020. This means that any energy plan that the international community would like to consider should be based on all energy sources available today in the world and not only with renewable energy sources.
    3- According to World Energy Investment Outlook, the total investment requirement for energy supply infrastructure worldwide over the period 2001–2030 is US$ 16 trillion, or US$ 550 billion a year. This investment is needed to replace existing and future supply facilities that will be exhausted or become obsolete during the projection period 2001-2030, as well as to expand supply capacity to meet projected primary energy demand growth of 1.7 % per year. As you can see, the level of investing in energy infrastructure is extremely high without having y clear picture of what is the real need of Africa.
    4- Over the next twelve years, 360 GW of new electricity capacity – 50 % of current EU electricity generating capacity – needs to be built to replace several ageing power plants in order to meet the expected increase in energy demand. Since energy investments are long-term investments, today’s decisions will influence the energy mix for the next decades. In the case of the USA and other countries the level of investment is also very high during the next decades.
    I do hope that these elements will help in the consideration of your proposal.

  • Steve Papagiannis

    Hi Len,

    Though it is a lofty goal, declaring something a right doesn’t mean that it will show up in developing countries. I think you might also be confusing cause and effect. Countries that are prosperous have electricity, it may not be that electricity creates prosperity.

    Until a region develops enough economic stability and wealth, I believe that declaring energy rights would become another failed program; where corruption and the inability to sustain the infrastructure would create a pool of misery.

    I would press for good government and better rules for wealth creation. That would drive the use of electricity and start the virtuous circle better than creating electricity capacity and hoping it lifts the poor from despair.

    • lenrosen4

      I think waiting for good government has little to do with establishing a basis upon which to build opportunity for the disadvantaged here on Earth who have little access to electricity, something we in the Developed World think so little about.

    • Niccolo5

      The problem might be even worse than you say. US industrial prosperity grew out of steam engines and water wheel/turbine mill towns. As soon as electricity and electric motors became available, the water wheel mill towns switched to electricity, which at first was generated by large-scale hydro-turbine electric plants. No one in his right mind would envision today’s underdeveloped regions founding an economy on water wheels and primitive steam engines. There is considerable evidence to suggest all prosperous modern economies passed through a railroad steam locomotive phase, during which a considerable critical mass of technical competence and heavy industry was developed. The importance of railroad technology to economic prosperity cannot be overstated. Prosperity in the modern sense is impossible without affordable electricity. In most of sub-Saharan Africa ‘affordable’ means below the costs of production and distribution. Impoverished people are ignorant unskilled people. If they had free electricity without any corruption or decaying infrastructure, they wouldn’t use it to build a better economic base; they would use it to produce and feed more children that would increase the size of their poverty pool.

      I would support a plan to provide free fission reactor or hydro electricity to impoverished African families that limit reproduction to one child per family. You have a second child and the lights go out! It would be an interesting social experiment to see how many Africans would trade large families for free electricity.

      • lenrosen4

        I understand a carrot and stick approach but I disagree with you on enforcement. What is increasingly happening in Sub-Saharan Africa is a population shift from rural to urban environments. This in itself will have the desired effect of tamping down reproduction rates in an area of the world where population is growing the fastest and the average age is less than 30. For this increasingly urban world the need for cheap, sustainable energy will be a priority. In rural, agrarian Africa the need for cheap, sustainable energy will be just as great but for another reason – to ensure that agricultural production doesn’t go rotting at the side of the road the way much of it does today (more than 50%). The cheap, sustainable energy will allow for the development of refrigerated storage and a transportation infrastructure that can move produce from rural areas to urban markets. In this case the carrot provided may lead to a self-imposed stick. Prosperity tends to lead to smaller family sizes. Subsistence-level farming on the other hand tends to lead to large unsustainable family sizes.

      • lenrosen4

        A further comment. For Developing World countries today the stages of the Industrial Revolution are irrelevant. The infrastructure for power may no longer need to go through the same model as Developed World countries. A mix of on and off-grid renewable solutions can address many countries’ needs in the same manner that Developing World countries are bypassing telecommunications land line technology for mobile networks at a fraction of the cost. Currently solar photovoltaic and wind are trending down in cost per kilowatt produced and new materials, form factors and lower costs will create the equivalent to the mobile revolution for power generation.