To the rural people, energy is an essential element both for the fulfillment of basic needs-especially cooking and heating, but also hygiene, health, etc. –and for sustainable rural development, including energy for agriculture, food processing and education. However, today, there are still nearly 2 billion people who have no access to adequate energy services (Goldemberg, 2000, 368). How to address the energy needs of the rural people has become a big concern of many governments and development agencies. The proponents of the conventional model, based their analysis on economic basis, proposed that the rural people need to step further up the “energy ladder” and have more access to modern energy resources, such as oil, gas and electricity. So how to make those energy resources affordable to the rural people becomes their major concern. Proponents of the sustainable development model put more emphasis on the social and environmental aspects of rural energy services, and how to meet rural energy needs in a more sustainable way is what they are concerned with most. This essay aims to review the goals and associated policies of sustainable development, analyze the links between rural energy service and sustainable development, and enunciate how the basic principles of sustainable development could be used in addressing rural energy needs.
2. Energy and Sustainable Development
2.1 Sustainable development: goals and objectives
Sustainable development is defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, 4). Within this definition, it is commonly understood that the three attributes need to be addressed are economic, social and environmental. This is enunciated as follows in Agenda 21:
Experience has shown that sustainable development requires a commitment to sound economic policies and management, and effective and predictable public administration, the integration of environmental concerns into decision making and progress towards democratic government, in the light of country-specific conditions, which allows for full participation of all parties concerned. (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, 1992, Chapter2.2.6) However, the nature of current rural energy production and consumption patterns in China, with a heavy reliance on biomass and fossil fuels, would seem to present some serious challenges to successfully achieving the goal and objectives of sustainable development. Therefore, how to blend the objectives and principles of sustainable development into China’s rural energy development is what this essay is going to looking for.
2.2 The links between energy and sustainable development
There are many close links between energy use and sustainable development. Unsustainable energy use, typically represented by the wide use of fossil fuels, has played an important role in industrial growth and lifting socio-economic levels, but that has occurred with a high price to social and environmental values. Along with the economic growth, there comes with it poverty, inequity, degraded health conditions and severe environmental problems. If no efforts would be taken to prevent these problems, all of them will pose a big challenge to a country’s sustainable development. In contrast, wise and sustainable energy use, like promotion of energy efficiency /conservation, and the development of renewable energy resources, will greatly contribute to and definitely lead to sustainable development. In this sense, energy was regarded as an instrument of sustainable development. As Wang summarized:
Energy as an instrument for sustainable development is believed to eradicate poverty, increase women’s role in development, especially in developing countries, reduce