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Sustainable Energy Transitions

Collaborative energy program

The objective of the collaborative program envisioned here is to contribute to the sustainable energy initiatives in low and middle-income countries, and their associated positive impacts on health, social outcomes, economic growth, climate change and natural resources.


Energy has been called the golden thread because it provides a very important mechanism to reduce poverty, improve health, protect the environment and both adapt to and mitigate the effects of global climate change. As several global initiatives (SE4All, EnvDev) and the proposed SDG (#7) imply, deliberate policy and community action is justified because of very serious efficiency issues (truly scare inputs are being squandered) and equity concerns. Energy poverty is possibly one of the biggest challenges for the current and future generations because there is a systematic under-representation of the science and data and therefore the policy reliant on science of energy issues in the global south – e.g., rural electrification, modern transportation, mechanized agriculture, and especially improved cooking, heating, lighting. We worry that without urgent action these trends will not be reversed because the sciences is biased towards engineering, science, public health, and lacks high degree of inter-disciplinarity and scholarship by authors from the global south.

The Environment for Development program, with its locus in East & South Africa, in close collaboration with the Duke Household Energy & Health Initiative, with its locus in South Asia, are well placed to form a global consortium to address this fundamental science-policy gap. We can only succeed if we take deliberate and proactive steps by first stock taking, then lay the foundation for a self-organizing action research process, all the while engaging key decision makers. Specifically, we propose three sets of inter-related activities requiring frequent meetings and discussions. First, we will produce a set of policy science documents (edited books, journal special issues) that summarize the main lessons (to be immediately translated into policy briefs to engage policy makers) and the main knowledge gaps (to provide a road map for research). Second, we will start in Ethiopia, leveraging the launch of a new center, the Environment and Climate Research Center (ECRC), based at the Ethiopian Development Research Institute (EDRI), to seed two or three new research studies to immediately and proactively fill in the missing science and pilot the idea of a new ‘center without walls’ that thinks global, but acts local. Third, all of these initiatives will put Southern scholars at the core of the action research and policy engagement (via South-South, North-South partnerships) because not only is this the only way to build the evidence base where it is most needed in the global South in the short run, but it is the only way to improve energy access, reduce environmental and health damages, and reduce poverty in the long run.

This program is led by Professor Subhrendu Pattanayak, Professor of Public Policy and Environment at the Sanford School of Public Policy & Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He is a distinguished professor with expertise in health and household energy in developing countries, and his main research interests include issues surrounding Environmental Law, Health Policy and Environmental Management and Policy.

An inception workshop for the program was held in Ethiopia on June 1st to 3rd, 2015. More information on this workshop can be found here.