Countries Fall Behind on UN’s 2030 Goal of Energy Access for All
Stronger political leadership, more ambitious action, and better data will be needed if the world is to meet the global energy targets for 2030 that form a part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, says a recent report produced by five international agencies.
Otherwise, 674 million people around the world will still lack access to electricity a dozen years from now, and 2.3 billion will still have no access to clean cooking.
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A joint effort of 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), Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report drew from official national data on renewables and energy efficiency up to 2015, and on access to electricity and clean cooking up to 2016.
The report found that a billion people around the world still live without electrical power, with Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central and South Asia continuing to suffer “the largest access deficits”. Though “tens of millions of people now have access to electricity through solar home systems or [connections] to mini-grids,” countries are still far short of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of providing universal access to electricity by 2030.
“If current trends continue,” IRENA states in a release, “an estimated 674 million people will still live without electricity in 2030.”
As well, three billion people continue to make their meals over makeshift stoves and open fires, IRENA reports, even though “household air pollution from burning biomass for cooking and heating is responsible for some four million deaths a year, with women and children at the greatest risk.” While access to clean cooking has outpaced population growth in parts of Asia, largely due to wider distribution of natural gas or liquid petroleum gas, population growth in Sub-Saharan Africa “has outstripped the number of people gaining access to clean cooking technologies by a ratio of four to one.”
Overall, out of four targets in the energy SDG, “clean cooking continues to lag the furthest behind,” IRENA states. “If the current trajectory continues, 2.3 billion people will continue to use traditional cooking methods in 2030.”
The report did find “mounting evidence of the uncoupling of growth and energy use,” with “economic growth outpac[ing] growth in energy use in all regions except for Western Asia, where GDP is heavily tied to energy-intensive industries, and in all income groups.”
IRENA reports that “six of the 20 countries that represent 80% of the world’s total primary energy supply, including Japan and the U.S., reduced their annual primary energy supply in 2010-15 while continuing to grow GDP—indicating a peak in energy use.” And “among the large energy-intensive developing economies, China and Indonesia stood out, with annual improvement exceeding 3%.”
Globally, the ratio of energy used per unit of GDP “fell at an accelerating pace of 2.8% in 2015, the fastest decline since 2010,” and “improvement in industrial energy intensity, at 2.7% per annum since 2010, was particularly encouraging, as this is the largest energy consuming sector overall,” writes IRENA. But “progress continues to be slow in low-income countries, where energy intensity is higher than the global average.”
Progress was more modest in transportation, particularly in freight, and most specifically in high-income countries.
While 17.5% of the world’s final energy consumption came from renewable sources in 2015, only 9.6% of the total “represents modern forms of renewable energy such as geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind,” with the remainder coming from “traditional uses of biomass” like fuelwood and charcoal. “Based on current policies,” says IRENA, “the renewable share is expected to reach just 21% by 2030, with modern renewables growing to 15%, falling short of the substantial increase demanded by the SDG7 target.”
While the global renewable share in electricity rose to 22.8% in 2015, electricity as a whole “accounted for only 20% of total final energy consumption that year, highlighting the need to accelerate progress in transport and heating.” China alone “accounted for nearly 30% of absolute growth in renewable energy consumption globally in 2015,” while “Brazil was the only country among the top 20 largest energy consumers to substantially exceed the global average renewable share in all end uses: electricity, transport, and heating.”