A new report from five international agencies has concluded that the world is not on track to meet 2030 global energy targets set as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, but that “real progress” is being made and helping to show signs of promise, particularly in expanding electricity access in developing countries and increasing industrial energy efficiency.
The new report, Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report, was launched at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum on Wednesday, and authored by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank, and the World Health Organization (WHO). The authors of the report bill it as “the most comprehensive look available at the world’s progress towards the global energy targets” set as part of Sustainable Development Goal 7 — increasing access to electricity, clean cooking, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.
The Global Goals campaign was launched back in September of 2015 when world leaders adopted a series of 17 “ambitious” Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. The 17 goals covered a lot of ground and sought to “end poverty, fight inequality & injustice and tackle climate change for everyone by 2030.” SDG7 — “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all” — seeks to improve the health and livelihoods of billions of people around the world for whom “energy for all” is not a given.
“This detailed report describing the progress so far on SDG7 is a testament to the collaboration of the five international agencies on providing quality and comprehensive data and delivering a common message regarding the progress towards ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all,” said Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the Statistics Division of UN DESA. “Still, there is a need for improving statistical systems that collect energy information in those countries where the most pressing energy issues remain to be addressed. Better data are needed to inform policy accurately, particularly developing countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, and small island developing States. For this, investments in energy statistical systems are essential.”
The report, which is based on official national-level data and measures global progress up to 2015 for renewable energy and energy efficiency, and up to 2016 for access to electricity and clean cooking, opens with a grim warning: “Current progress falls short on all four of the SDG7 targets, which encompass universal access to electricity as well as clean fuels and technologies for cooking, and call for a doubling of the rate of improvement of energy efficiency, plus a substantial increase in the share of renewables in the global energy mix.”
In response to the publication of ‘Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report’ Helen Clarkson, CEO of The Climate Group, said: “The reduction in the cost of wind and solar power shown in this report is significant. But with 48% of total energy consumption being attributable to transport, this needs to become a real area of focus. It certainly needs to be a joint effort. Initiatives such our electric vehicle EV100 scheme are bringing some of the world’s biggest business to focus on this, driving forward demand and building the infrastructure needed to make electric vehicles the new normal by 2030.”
Access to Electricity
A total of one billion people, or 13% of the world’s population, currently still live without access to electricity — with those living in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central and South Asia with the least access. Unsurprisingly, nearly 87% of those without electricity live in rural areas, highlighting the role lack of infrastructure has on energy penetration.
However, according to the report, the rate of access has been accelerating since 2010 but needs to ramp up even further if we are to achieve universal access to electricity by 2030. Some of the strongest gains in penetration were made in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania, which all increased their electricity access by 3% or more annually between 2010 and 2016. India provided electricity to 30 million people annually — more than any other country — while Sub-Saharan Africa’s electrification deficit has begun to fall in absolute terms for the first time in history.
“The experience of countries that have substantially increased the number of people with electricity in a short space of time holds out real hope that we can reach the billion people who still live without power,” said Riccardo Puliti, Senior Director for Energy and Extractives at the World Bank. “We know that with the right policies, a commitment to both on-grid and off-grid solutions, well-tailored financing structures, and mobilization of the private sector, huge gains can be made in only a few years. This in turn is having real, positive impacts on the development prospects and quality of life for millions of people.”
Three billion people — over 40% of the world’s population — do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies, forcing them to instead rely on dirty and harmful fuels simply to cook their food. Household air pollution from burning different biomass fuels for cooking and heating is responsible for around 4 million deaths annually — placing women and children at even greater risk.
While there are small pockets of movement — parts of Asia are seeing access to clean cooking outpace growth in population — clean cooking continues to lag the furthest behind all of the four energy targets.
“It is unacceptable that in 2018, 3 billion people still breathe deadly smoke every day from cooking with polluting fuels and stoves. Every year, household air pollution kills around 4 million people from diseases including pneumonia, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and cancer,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, at the World Health Organization (WHO). “By expanding access to clean affordable household energy, the global community has the power to lift a terrible health burden from millions of marginalized people – in particular women and young children who face the greatest health risks from household air pollution.”
The authors of the report also highlighted the growing proof that economic growth is uncoupling from energy use, with global GDP growing nearly twice as fast as primary energy supply between 2010 and 2015. Global energy intensity fell by 2.8% in 2015, the fastest decline since 2010, increasing the average annual decline in energy intensity to 2.2% between 2010 and 2015. Industrial energy intensity also improved at 2.7% per annum since 2010, while six of the 20 countries that represent 80% of the world’s total primary energy supply reduced their annual primary energy supply between 2010 and 2015 while still increasing their GDP.
“It is clear that the energy sector must be at the heart of any effort to lead the world on a more sustainable pathway,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA). “There is an urgent need for action on all technologies, especially on renewables and energy efficiency, which are key for delivering on three critical goals – energy access, climate mitigation and lower air pollution. The IEA is committed to leading this agenda and working with counties around the world to support clean energy transitions.”
Finally, as of 2015, the world was obtaining 17.5% of its total final energy consumption from renewable energy sources. Renewable share is expected to increase to 21% by 2030 based on current policies, and rapidly falling costs have allowed solar and wind to begin competing with conventional power generation sources in multiple regions.
“Falling costs, technological improvements and enabling frameworks are fueling an unprecedented growth of renewable energy, which is expanding energy access, improving health outcomes, and helping to tackle climate change, while also creating jobs and powering sustainable economic growth,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “At the same time, this tracking report is an important signal that we must be more ambitious in harnessing the power of renewable energy to meet sustainable development and climate goals, and take more deliberate action to achieve a sustainable energy future.”