Progress on sustainable energy too slow, but certain areas show promise, new report finds

The world is not on track to meet the global energy targets for 2030 set as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but real progress is being made in certain areas – particularly expansion of access to electricity in least developed countries, and industrial energy efficiency, according to the latest report by five global authorities on energy, including the Statistics Division of UN DESA.

“Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report,” launched at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum today, is the most comprehensive overview available of the world’s progress towards the global energy targets on access to electricity, clean cooking, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Access to electricity

The report finds that global electricity access has been expanding rapidly since 2010, but not nearly enough to achieve universal coverage by 2030. It estimates that if current trends continue, 674 million people will still live without electricity 12 years from now.

While global trends are disappointing, recent national experiences around the world offer encouraging signs. There is mounting evidence that with the right approaches and policies, countries can make substantial advances in clean energy and energy access, and improve the lives of millions of people.

Some of the strongest gains on electricity access were made in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, all of which increased their electricity access rate by 3 per cent or more each year between 2010 and 2016. Over the same period, India provided electricity to 30 million people annually, more than any other country.

“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.

Renewable energy

As of 2015, the world obtained 17.5 per cent of its total final energy consumption from renewable sources. Renewable energy is making impressive gains in the electricity sector, the report found. But these are not being matched in transportation and heating – which together account for 80 per cent of global energy consumption.

Based on current policies, the report expects renewable share to reach just 21 per cent by 2030, with modern renewables growing to 15 per cent, falling short of the substantial increase demanded by the SDG7 target.

“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,” commented the Director‑General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Adnan Z. Amin.

Clean Cooking

Three billion people – or more than 40 per cent of the world’s population – do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies. Household air pollution from burning biomass for cooking and heating is responsible for some 4 million deaths a year, with women and children at the greatest risk.

While parts of Asia have seen access to clean cooking outpace the growth in population, in sub-Saharan Africa, the overall population growth is four times higher than the number of people gaining access to clean cooking technologies. If the current trajectory continues, 2.3 billion people will continue to use traditional cooking methods in 2030.

“It is unacceptable that in 2018, 3 billion people still breathe deadly smoke every day from cooking with polluting fuels and stoves,” said Dr. Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at the World Health Organization (WHO). “Every year, household air pollution kills around 4 million people from diseases including pneumonia, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and cancer,”

Energy Efficiency

There is mounting evidence that the global economic growth is no longer dependent on increasing energy use. Between 2010 and 2015, the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew nearly twice as fast as primary energy supply. Energy intensity – the ratio of energy used per unit of GDP – fell at an accelerating pace of 2.8 per cent in 2015 – the fastest decline since 2010.However, this still falls short of the SDG7 target of doubling the global improvement in energy efficiency by 2030.

Quality data on energy

Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the Statistics Division of UN DESA praised the “quality and comprehensive data” contained in the report, but noted that many blanks remain in the global energy picture, presenting a serious challenge to effective policy making.

“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,” he said. “Better data are needed to inform policy accurately, particularly in developing countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, and small island developing states. For this, investments in energy statistical systems are essential.”

“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.”

“To meet 2030 targets, we must make every unit of energy work harder,” said Rachel Kyte, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and CEO of Sustainable Energy for All. “We need to increase investment in the technologies and business models that make electricity access affordable for everyone, place even bigger bets on the remarkable capacity of renewable energy and build big markets for clean fuels and cooking access.”

Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report is a joint effort of the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Statistics Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), the World Bank, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

It is the fourth edition of this report, formerly known as the Global Tracking Framework (GTF).  Funding for the report was provided by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP).


Photo: Michael Taylor/IRENA

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