The world’s poor are, as we know, suffering under the yoke of capitalism, getting ever poorer as we rich grab an ever-greater share of the world’s resources and pollute the environment for everyone else. We know this because the Left keeps telling us so. But amidst the unrelenting gloom of an ever-more unequal world, one might think there would be a little room for reporting the odd piece of positive news. Yet it is not easy to find. One thing you probably haven’t seen this week are the latest statistics from the International Energy Authority (IEA) which show that the number of people without access to an electricity supply in their home has fallen to under one billion – for the first time ever, or at least since 1800 when the world’s population crossed the billion threshold.
The IEA reports remarkable progress in developing countries. In Indonesia, 50 per cent of households had an electricity supply in 2000. It is now 95 per cent. In Bangladesh, coverage has risen from 20 per cent to 80 per cent over the same period, in Kenya from eight per cent to 73 per cent and in Ethiopia from five per cent to 45 per cent. It is instructive to examine how this revolution in living standards has come about. It is not a triumph of unbridled capitalism, but neither is it down to socialism. Kenya’s electricity, for example, is supplied mostly through Kenya Power, a company which is 50 per cent owned by the government and 50 per cent by private investors. In Bangladesh, 42 per cent of electricity generation is by private companies and 58 per cent public-owned.
Nor is the huge rise in access to electricity thanks to well-meaning aid programmes in the West trying to sell green energy to developing countries. In Bangladesh, 84 per cent of electricity is from oil and gas. In Indonesia, 41 per cent comes from oil, 24 per cent from gas and 29 per cent from coal. The remaining six per cent is mostly from hydro plants – much of it thanks to a £17bn investment in the country by China Power.
Who in Britain is aware of any of this? Instead the message we tend to pick up is that the developing world is struggling, suffering from declining living standards thanks to capitalism and climate change – but that western aid programmes giving the world’s poor access to solar panels and other sustainable energy is helping to make a real difference to their lives and setting them on the path to ‘green growth’. The reality is that a combination of state power companies, private investors and overseas investment, a lot of it from China, is helping to fuel a huge expansion in electricity supply. Green energy is a small part of the picture, just as it is in Britain.
One day, I am sure that electricity generation in developing countries, as well as that in the West, will come from much cleaner sources. But for the moment, we ought to be celebrating the huge rise in living standards in developing nations and understanding how and why it is happening. Instead, we are being bombarded with an infantile, Left-wing parody of global development.