Report Underscores Urgency To Expand Sustainable Energy Solutions and Protect Gains
To meet the targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, countries must safeguard the gains already attained and accelerate efforts to achieve affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.
Despite accelerated progress during the past decade, the world will fall short of ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy by 2030 unless efforts are scaled up significantly, according to a new report released by the International Energy Agency, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Statistics Division, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization.
According to the report, “Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report,” significant progress had been made on various aspects of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 before the start of the COVID-19 crisis. This includes a notable reduction in the number of people worldwide lacking access to electricity, strong uptake of renewable energy for electricity generation, and improvements in energy efficiency. Despite these advances, global efforts remain insufficient to reach the key targets of SDG 7 by 2030.
“Renewable energy is key to achieving SDG 7 and building resilient, equitable, and sustainable economies in a post COVID-19 world,” said Francesco La Camera, director general of IRENA. “Now more than ever is the time for bold international cooperation to bridge the energy access gap and place sustainable energy at the heart of economic stimulus and recovery measures. IRENA is committed to scale up action with its global membership and partners to channel investment and guide policy intervention in pursuit of sustainable development for all humankind.”
The number of people without access to electricity declined from 1.2 billion in 2010 to 789 million in 2018; however, under policies that were either in place or planned before the start of the COVID-19 crisis, an estimated 620 million people would still lack access in 2030, 85% of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. SDG 7 calls for universal energy access by 2030.
Other important elements of the goal also continue to be off track. Almost 3 billion people remained without access to clean cooking in 2017, mainly in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Largely stagnant progress since 2010 leads to millions of deaths each year from breathing cooking smoke. The share of renewable energy in the global energy mix is only inching up gradually, despite the rapid growth of wind and solar power in electricity generation. An acceleration of renewables across all sectors is required to move closer to reaching the SDG 7 target, with advances in heating and transport currently lagging far behind their potential. Following strong progress on global energy efficiency between 2015 and 2016, the pace has slackened. To meet the goal, the rate of improvement needs to speed up dramatically, from 1.7% in 2017 to at least 3% in coming years.
The report states that accelerating the pace of progress in all regions and sectors will require stronger political commitment, long-term energy planning, increased public and private financing, and adequate policy and fiscal incentives to spur faster deployment of new technologies. An increased emphasis on “leaving no one behind” is required, given the large proportion of the population without access in remote, rural, poorer, and vulnerable communities, the report says.
The 2020 report introduces tracking on a new indicator, 7.A.1, on international financial flows to developing countries in support of clean and renewable energy. Although total flows have doubled since 2010, reaching $21.4 billion in 2017, only 12% reached the least-developed countries, which are the furthest from achieving the various SDG 7 targets.
The five custodian agencies of the report were designated by the UN Statistical Commission to compile and verify country data, along with regional and global aggregates, in relation to the progress in achieving the SDG 7 goals. The report presents policymakers and development partners with global, regional, and country-level data to inform decisions and identify priorities for a sustainable recovery from COVID-19 that scales up affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy.
Key Highlights on SDG 7 Targets
Access to Electricity. Since 2010, more than a billion people have gained access to electricity. As a result, 90% of the planet’s population was connected in 2018. Yet 789 million people still live without electricity and, despite accelerated progress in recent years, the SDG target of universal access by 2030 appears unlikely to be met, especially if the COVID-19 pandemic seriously disrupts electrification efforts. Regional disparities persist. Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Asia, and Southeastern Asia are approaching universal access but Sub-Saharan Africa lags behind, accounting for 70% of the global deficit. Several large access-deficit countries in the region have electrification growth rates that are not keeping up with population growth. Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo have the largest deficits, with 85 million and 68 million unelectrified people, respectively. India has the third largest deficit with 64 million unelectrified people, although its rate of electrification outpaces population growth. Among the 20 countries with the largest access deficits, Bangladesh, Kenya, and Uganda showed the greatest improvement since 2010, thanks to annual electrification growth rates in excess of 3.5 percentage points, driven largely by a comprehensive approach that combined grid, minigrid, and off-grid solar electrification.
Clean Cooking. Almost 3 billion people remained without access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking, residing mainly in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. During the 2010 to 2018 period, progress has remained largely stagnant, with the rate of increase in access to clean cooking even decelerating since 2012 in some countries, falling behind population growth. The top 20 countries lacking access to clean cooking accounted for 82% of the global population without access between 2014 and 2018. This lack of clean cooking access continues to have serious gender, health, and climate consequences that affect not only the achievement of SDG target 7.1 but also the progress toward several other related SDGs. Under current and planned policies, 2.3 billion people would still be deprived of access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in 2030. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to swell the toll of prolonged exposure of women and children to household air pollution caused by mainly using raw coal, kerosene, or traditional uses of biomass for cooking. Without prompt action, the world will fall short of the universal cooking access goal by almost 30%. Greater access to clean cooking was achieved largely in two regions of Asia. From 2010 to 2018, in Eastern Asia and Southeastern Asia, the numbers of people lacking access fell from 1 billion to 0.8 billion. Central Asia and Southern Asia also saw improved access to clean cooking; in these regions, the number of people without access dropped from 1.11 billion to 1.0 billion.
Renewables. The share of renewables in the global energy mix reached 17.3% of final energy consumption in 2017, up from 17.2% in 2016 and 16.3% in 2010. Renewables consumption (+2.5% in 2017) is growing faster than global energy consumption (+1.8% in 2017), continuing a trend in evidence since 2011. Most of the growth in renewables has occurred in the electricity sector, thanks to the rapid expansion of wind and solar power that has been enabled by sustained policy support and falling costs. Meanwhile, the use of renewables in heating and transport is lagging. An acceleration of renewables across all sectors will be needed to achieve SDG target 7.2. The full effect of the COVID-19 crisis on renewables is yet to become clear. Disruption to supply chains and other areas risks delaying deployments of wind and solar photovoltaic energy sources. The growth of electricity generation from renewables appears to have slowed down as a result of the pandemic, according to the available data. But, so far, they appear to be holding up much better than other major fuels such as coal and natural gas.
Energy Efficiency. Global primary energy intensity— an important indicator of how heavily the world’s economic activity uses energy—improved by 1.7% in 2017. That is better than the 1.3% average rate of progress between 1990 and 2010 but still well below the original target rate of 2.6% and a marked slowdown from the previous 2 years. Specific metrics on energy intensity in different sectors indicate that improvements have been fastest in the industry and passenger transport sectors, exceeding 2% since 2010. In the services and residential sectors, they have averaged between 1.5 and 2%. Freight transport and agriculture have lagged slightly behind. Achieving SDG target 7.3 for energy efficiency will require the overall pace of improvement to accelerate significantly to around 3% a year between 2017 and 2030. But preliminary estimates suggest that the rate remained well below that level in 2018 and 2019, making an even more substantial increase in the coming years necessary to reach the SDG 7 target.
International Financial Flows. International public financial flows to developing countries in support of clean and renewable energy doubled since 2010, reaching $21.4 billion in 2017. These flows mask important disparities with only 12% of flows in 2017 reaching those most in need (least developed countries and small island developing states). To accelerate renewable energy deployment in developing countries, there is a need for enhanced international cooperation that includes stronger public and private engagement, to drive an increase of financial flows to those most in need—even more so in a post-COVID-19 world.