A new report released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has claimed that the world is falling behind in achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 for energy by 2030.
As the halfway mark towards achieving the SDGs by 2030 is reached, SDG 7, which aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy, remains a significant challenge. This goal encompasses universal access to electricity and clean cooking, substantial improvements in energy efficiency, and a significant increase in the utilisation of renewable energy sources. Achieving SDG 7 would have profound effects on people’s health and well-being, safeguarding them from environmental and social risks like air pollution, while also expanding access to essential healthcare and services.
According to the 2023 edition of Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report, current efforts are inadequate to meet the SDG 7 targets within the designated timeframe. While progress has been made in specific areas, such as the increased adoption of renewables in the power sector, it falls short of the goals outlined in the SDGs.
The global energy crisis is expected to drive the deployment of renewable energy and enhance energy efficiency, with several government policies emphasizing increased investment. However, IRENA estimates indicate that international public financial support for clean energy in low- and middle-income countries has been declining even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and funding remains limited to only a few countries. To meet the targets of SDG 7 and ensure that people fully benefit from the socio-economic advantages of transitioning to sustainable energy, it is imperative to implement structural reforms in international public finance and identify new opportunities to unlock investments.
The report also highlights that growing debt and escalating energy prices are exacerbating the challenges of achieving universal access to clean cooking and electricity. Current projections indicate that by 2030, 1.9 billion people will still lack clean cooking facilities, while 660 million will remain without electricity access if further action is not taken and current efforts continue.
These disparities will have adverse effects on the health of the most vulnerable populations and accelerate climate change. The WHO estimates that each year, 3.2 million people die from illnesses caused by the use of polluting fuels and technologies, leading to increased exposure to toxic levels of household air pollution.
Key findings from the report include:
In 2010, 84 per cent of the global population had access to electricity, which increased to 91 per cent in 2021. This means that over one billion people gained access during this period. However, the rate of progress slowed down between 2019 and 2021 compared to previous years, with a significant gap remaining in urban areas despite efforts made towards rural electrification.
In sub-Saharan Africa, 567 million people lacked access to electricity in 2021, accounting for more than 80 per cent of the global population without electricity access. The access deficit in the region has remained relatively unchanged since 2010.
Universal access to clean cooking remains out of reach. Up to 2.3 billion people, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, still rely on polluting fuels and technologies for cooking. Additionally, the use of traditional biomass forces households to spend up to 40 hours per week gathering firewood and cooking, preventing women from pursuing employment and participating in decision-making processes, and denying children the opportunity to attend school.
Household air pollution caused by using polluting fuels and technologies for cooking leads to an estimated 3.2 million premature deaths each year, according to the 2019 WHO estimates.
The global share of renewable electricity in consumption increased from 26.3 per cent in 2019 to 28.2 per cent in 2020, marking the largest single-year increase since the tracking of SDG progress began.
However, efforts to increase the share of renewables in heating and transport, which account for more than three-quarters of global energy consumption, are not on track to achieve the climate objectives of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Energy intensity, which measures the amount of energy the global economy consumes per dollar of GDP, improved by an annual rate of 1.8 per cent from 2010 to 2020, surpassing the 1.2 per cent improvement of previous decades.
Nonetheless, the rate of improvement in energy intensity has slowed down in recent years, dropping to 0.6 per cent in 2020. This represents the worst year for energy intensity improvement since the global financial crisis, primarily due to pandemic-related restrictions. This setback is likely temporary, but it underscores the need for annual improvements averaging 3.4 per cent until 2030 to meet the SDG target 7.3.
International public financial flows supporting clean energy in developing countries amounted to $10.8 billion in 2021, which is 35 per cent lower than the 2010-2019 average and only about 40 per cent of the 2017 peak of $26.4 billion. In 2021, 19 countries received 80 per cent of these commitments.
The report will be presented to top decision-makers at a special launch event on July 11, 2023, during the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, ahead of the second SDG Summit in September 2023 in New York. The authors urge the international community and policymakers to safeguard the progress made towards achieving SDG 7, implement structural reforms, and maintain a strategic focus on the countries that require the most support.