World won’t reach Sustainable Development Goal 7 by 2030 without quick action, says UN report

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TO MEET Sustainable Development Goal 7 by 2030, countries must safeguard their gains and hasten efforts to achieve affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Despite accelerated progress over 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 the new Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report by the International Energy Agency, the International Renewable Energy Agency, the United Nations Statistics Division, the World Bank and the World Health Organisation.

According to the report, significant progress had been made on various aspects of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 prior to 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.

Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, commented on the report: “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the deep inequalities around the world in terms of access to modern, affordable and sustainable energy.

“Electricity has been a vital underpinning of the response to the public health emergency in many countries – but hundreds of millions of people worldwide still lack basic access to it, with the majority of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Even before today’s unprecedented crisis, the world was not on track to meet key sustainable energy goals.

“Now, they are likely to become even harder to achieve.

“This means we must redouble our efforts to bring affordable, reliable and cleaner energy to all – especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the need is greatest – in order to build more prosperous and resilient economies.”

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.

The rate of improvement needs to speed up dramatically, from 1.7% in 2017 to at least 3% in coming years.

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 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.

Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the United Nations Statistics Division, commented: “This report is an exemplar case of cooperation between the custodian agencies of SDG 7 to present comprehensive data and analysis, delivering a common message regarding the progress towards ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

“As to the current situation, it concludes that the Covid-19 pandemic can either widen the sustainable energy access gaps or accelerate the path towards achieving SDG 7, depending mostly on priorities of national economic stimulus packages and the global response to support those most in need.”

This collaborative work highlights once more the importance of reliable data to inform policy-making as well as the opportunity to enhance data quality through international cooperation to further strengthen national capacities.

The report has been transmitted by SDG 7 custodian agencies to the United Nations Secretary-General to inform the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s annual review.

Access to electricity: 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.

Clean cooking: Almost three billion people remained without access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking, residing mainly in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Under current and planned policies, 2.3 billion people would still be deprived of access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in 2030.

Renewables: An acceleration of renewables across all sectors will be needed to achieve SDG target 7.2. The full impact of the Covid-19 crisis on renewables is yet to become clear.

Energy efficiency: 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.

International financial flows: 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.

The report can be downloaded here