Sustainable Energy Transition in Developing Countries

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Under climate change mitigation efforts, the proposition of leapfrogging toward a sustainable energy pathway is considered a viable option and it is often suggested that developing countries adopt this path to bypass the dirty stage of energy development in order to secure a green future. Through the scenario analysis of two developing countries from two different regions, namely Kenya and Bangladesh, this article explores whether or not leapfrogging is a realistic and viable goal. After analyzing the two countries’ rural energy sector scenarios and their relationship with economic, social, technical, and political factors, the key finding of the article is that the proposition of leapfrogging is not a quick, easy, and clear path. Considering rural people’s capabilities, along with social, economic, political, and technical factors, the proposition looks unrealistic in a developing country context. Furthermore, energy planning with a foreign technology-based top-down approach makes the leapfrogging proposition incompatible within a developing country context. The tension between technology absorption and rural people’s capabilities also affects the question of priority—sustainable energy development or economic and social development? Should the priority be the environment or the lives of undeveloped communities who are still dependent on primary energy sources such as biomass? However, despite its unrealistic and complicated path, it is also not rational to reject the proposition given the threat of global climate change catastrophe. But deficiencies in leapfrogging planning need to improve significantly from a developing country context. In this regard, the article proposes some policy recommendations, including a holistic approach in energy development planning; addressing social, economic, technical challenges critically; understanding people’s capability and needs; and community participation in planning processes.