Rachel Kyte has a unique perspective on climate change and the environment. She’s both a special representative to the United Nations and CEO of an international organization called Sustainable Energy for All, technically one job for which she wears two hats. All the work is geared toward broadening access to sustainable energy worldwide, including for the billion or so people who still don’t have access to electricity.
When Kyte came to Penn at the invitation of the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, she spoke to an overflowing room about the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, how the world can more easily transition to renewables, and how, despite the progress to date, there’s still much farther to go.
Penn Today discussed with Kyte her vision for making sustainable energy available to all.
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Though the world has made significant headway in the push toward renewable energy, with serious technological advancements and lower costs for those technologies, there’s one area that Kyte says the world isn’t yet doing well enough: Clean fuels for cooking.
“It seems ridiculous to me that in 2019, in a world with so many sophisticated solutions to so many problems, we can’t find a way for almost 3 billion people to have access to a meal that’s cooked with clean fuels,” she says.
It’s a deadly problem, she adds. The World Health Organization estimates that each year, nearly 4 million people die from illnesses related to indoor air pollution caused by using kerosene and solid fuels like charcoal and dung in open fires. The people who do the cooking—mostly poor women in rural areas—and their children experience the greatest levels of exposure.
But that fact, that there’s a human-health cost is finally starting to turn the tide in a way that environmental and climate pressures never did, Kyte says. “It’s been a silent problem because it’s a got a female face,” she adds. “But the health statistics are now beginning to force this issue to the top of the to-do list.”