More from UNDESA Vol 23, No. 12 - December 2019

Women need to be front and center in the energy transition

By Sheila Oparaocha, International Coordinator and Programme Manager, ENERGIA

Close to 1 billion people in the world lack access to electricity, and another 3 billion lack access to clean cooking. This energy poverty disproportionately affects women and girls. Some entrenched gender norms see women as responsible for most of the unpaid household activities, heavily dependent on men for decision-making, underrepresented in the energy value chain and unable to access funds. Gender-based inequalities are still very intense and hinder the development of the sector as a whole. Ensuring women’s participation in the energy projects and programmes is an important step towards enhancing access to clean energy solutions and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In this light, the narrative on women is slowly changing. Nowadays, many organizations do not see women as victims, but as agents of change, pivotal to ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, as envisioned by SDG 7. It goes without saying that we must step up action to reform the energy sector to become more gender-sensitive and to enhance women’s inclusion. Failing on this means that we will fall short of achieving SDG 7, and consequently also SDG 5 on gender equality.

Women entrepreneurs: Crucial for scaling affordable, reliable and clean energy access in remote areas.

Since 1996, the ENERGIA International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy has worked at the nexus of energy access and gender. In the early years, our work focused on gender inclusion in energy programmes and projects, and on influencing energy policy. The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Energy for All partnership gave new impetus to our work. ENERGIA started implementing a programme that involves women in the energy supply chains, thus combining and sustaining advocacy efforts with experience on the ground.

Women are crucial in scaling sustainable energy access to remote areas, because of their unique position as household energy managers and users—leading to higher adoption rates—and thanks to their vast networks in hard-to-reach communities.

Together with long-term partners, we have supported thousands of women in their efforts to build micro- and small-scale energy enterprises, contributing to their communities’ energy access were there was none. And what success they have had! Together, they have provided almost three million people with clean energy services and created jobs for thousands of women and men in their communities.

One of these women is Hilaria Paschal. Supported by Solar Sister, Hilaria started a clean energy business in her rural village in Northern Tanzania because there was no electricity in her area or in neighboring villages. Her solar business changed the opportunities for her family. “Thanks to my income as Solar Sister, my children can go to school now,” said Hilaria. “And my baskets company also benefits from the solar lamps. Now I can weave in the evening.” But Hilaria’s success did not remain with herself and her family. In the six years as a Solar Sister, she has emerged as a true leader in her village and surroundings and a mentor to the Solar Sister group that has developed over the years. This group of women, through the solar products and the improved cookstoves they sell, have reduced women’s exposure to fire hazards and toxic fumes and decreased the communities’ impact on natural resources.

Oumy Ngom, an entrepreneur supported by Energy 4 Impact, also contributes to the clean energy shift of her village. Oumy lives in Tambacounda in Eastern Senegal. She is president of CESIRI, a network of 1,300 women active in processing local agricultural products. Driven by the lack of grid connections in many villages and frequent power outages where electricity from the grid is available, Oumy is working with the women in the network to make clean energy available to people in Tambacounda. They sell solar lamps and improved cookstoves to households and small food‑processing businesses. Oumy’s biggest dream is to build a fully equipped solar plant for her unit. Together, they have provided clean energy services and improved cooking solutions to 47,000 people in Tambacounda.

SDG 7 Technical Advisory Group to make sure no one is left behind 

As co-chair of SDG 7 Technical Advisory Group (TAG), ENERGIA brings to the table this unique experience with women entrepreneurs on the ground. From our journey alongside them, we have learned what is needed to make sure that no one is left behind in the energy progress, both on sustainable energy access and clean cooking. We have also seen that more and more targeted efforts, exponential increase in investments and political will are needed to put the world on track to meet SDG 7. In reviewing progress on the SDGs, we must constantly keep in mind that progress should be inclusive and for that, specific measures and mechanisms need to be in place.

The 2018 and 2019 SDG 7 policy brief, “Accelerating SDG 7 Achievement: SDG 7 Policy Briefs in Support of the High-level Political Forum 2019,”  focuses on the linkages between SDG 7 and the SDGs under review at that time. Incorporating gender into SDG 7 and energy policies and frameworks on the one hand and the wide recognition that SDG 7 is an important enabler to reach virtually all other SDGs has been a great leap forward. Now, we need to push for implementation.

There is not much time left and we still have a long way to go. World leaders, organizations, stakeholders and private sector are called upon to contribute accelerating action for sustainable development and inclusive sustainable energy access by 2030 and beyond.

*The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.

SDG 7 – clean and affordable energy

The world is making progress towards Goal 7 with encouraging signs that energy is becoming more sustainable and widely available. Access to electricity in poorer countries has begun to accelerate, energy efficiency continues to improve, and renewable energy is making impressive gains in the electricity sector.

Nevertheless, more focused attention is needed to improve access to clean and safe cooking fuels and technologies for 3 billion people, to expand the use of renewable energy beyond the electricity sector, and to increase electrification in sub-Saharan Africa.

Access more data and information on the indicators for SDG 7 in the SDG Progress Report 2019.

Action on energy will make or break our climate

As climate researchers, business leaders, activists and policymakers meet this month for the 25th Conference of Parties to the UN climate convention, better known as COP 25, the planet will be 1°C (1.8°F) warmer than pre-industrial levels and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have surpassed levels last seen hundreds of thousands of years ago.

The delegates will also know that there is little more than 10 years left to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels, as foreseen in the Paris Agreement, and that even half a degree Celsius beyond that threshold will substantially increase the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

For all the diverse streams and conversations at the COP, it is action in just one sector that will make or break the world’s chances of success at reining in climate change. That sector, responsible for about three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions, is energy.

Changing the global energy mix to move away from burning fossil fuels is the only way to decisively break the link between economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, current projections are at odds with the changes that are necessary. While most new power generation capacity added globally is coming from renewables, most energy consumed globally is still provided by fossil fuels.

At the same time, global energy demand continues to rise. Without more rapid gains in energy efficiency and conservation, global energy demand may increase by a further 50 per cent by 2050.

Decision makers the world over continue to underestimate the urgency of this energy transition, resulting in short-sighted decisions that expand investment into carbon-intensive assets. Newly built coal-fired power plants in many countries are locking in emissions of air pollutants for decades to come. They will contribute not only to catastrophic climate change, but also to rising numbers of premature deaths from air pollution, which is already the fifth-largest threat to human health globally.

The window of opportunity to act is narrowing. To succeed, an unprecedented global polit­ical and economic effort will be required, including investment and swift scale-up of renewable energy technologies, modernization of electricity transmission and distribution, and increase in energy effi­ciency and electrification.

More in-depth analysis on this and other regional issues related to the world economy and energy transition are available in the December Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects.


Effective governance for sustainable development: putting principles into practice

The confluence of economic, social and environmental trends – such as demographic shifts, growing inequalities, evolution of the digital economy, rapid urbanization and climate change – are reshaping governance. There is an increased demand for institutions that can design and deliver services integrating all three dimensions of sustainable development.

Recognizing these needs, UN DESA, together with the African Union/African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) organized the African Regional Workshop on Effective governance for sustainable development: Putting principles into practice from 30 October to 1 November in Pretoria, South Africa. It explored several entry points through which the principles of effective governance for sustainable development can lead to a way forward.

The principles were developed by the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA), and endorsed by UN Economic and Social Council, to assist interested countries, on a voluntary basis, to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. They apply to all public institutions.

The principles can be instrumental in accelerating progress towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda as well as Agenda 2063–Africa’s master plan for transforming the continent into a global powerhouse of the future. The ten substantive sessions of the workshop examined how.

Discussions during the workshop dwelled on elements that can enable both Agendas. Competent planning, robust monitoring and evaluation were linked not just with the economic needs but also the well-being of all Africans as well as a healthy environment. SDG training and research were covered as were data and statistics. Policy coherence was also addressed to depict a fuller array of experiences and institutional practices on the continent.

A report released by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the SDGs Center for Africa in June 2019 ranked the progress of 52 African countries in achieving the 2030 Agenda based on 97 indicators across the 17 SDGs. It concluded that the region has shown moderate gains in achieving the SDGs since 2018, with half of the surveyed countries showing no net progress or having regressed.

The African Regional Workshop affirmed that the continuous engagement of UN DESA with the APRM can help overcome barriers to building strong institutions while ensuring that the governance and sustainable development objectives of the continent are fulfilled.

For more information: Access workshop materials and summary report

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