It is eight years since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed upon in Rio de Janeiro bringing together the world to set ambitious targets on the well-being and prosperity of our planet and its people. Much has been written and debated about what the world should look like in 2030, but that is all for nought if incremental progress isn’t made in the lead-up to 2030.
The last few years, in particular, have shone a garish light on the centrality of clean and sustainable energy is not only addressing the problem of the lack of access to electricity, but also enabling progress in other Sustainable Development Goals – reducing poverty, fighting hunger by fixing food storage chains, and combating climate change. Despite the importance of reliable, affordable, modern and clean energy to achieve the SDG goals and climate ambition, the world is, unfortunately, lagging behind in meeting targets.
"The heartening news is that approximately 89 per cent of people around the world are now connected to some level of electricity, an increase of 150 million people who have gained access since 2018."
The heartening news is that approximately 89 per cent of people around the world are now connected to some level of electricity, an increase of 150 million people who have gained access since 2018. On the flip side, this also means 840 million people in the world still do not have access, and 573 million of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa. With just a decade to go until 2030, that figure is staggering. Moreover, the number of people who lack access to clean cooking, known as energy efficient solutions like clean cooking fuels and technologies like fuel-efficient cooking stoves has remained even more stagnant, with almost three billion people without clean cooking solutions, which is equivalent to two in every five people on the planet! This inaction condemns an entirely new generation of women and children to indoor air pollution, stalls economies because of health and environmental impacts and threatens significant deforestation due to the use of forest wood for burning.
The data also shows that progress on energy efficiency is not up to the mark. Work on energy efficiency remains our most reachable and inexpensive step to decarbonize the global economy, clean the air we breathe and expand energy access. However, data shows the largest energy-intensive economies are seeing improvements in energy intensity slowing or even coming to a standstill. Worryingly, some countries are even moving backwards.
So, all this begs the question – where is it going wrong, and how can we get back on track? Data shows that countries which made significant progress are those which made “access” a political priority at all levels of government. This means a greater emphasis on integrated electrification planning and embracing both on-grid and off-grid solutions. Access must also be defined as productive access; meaning, energy that allows people to contribute to the local economy, have access to adequate healthcare, and enough power to enable education.
This requires us to shift the conversation of energy access from beyond just keeping the light on. Moreover, despite available technology and the high demand for modern renewable energy solutions, the growth in this sector has slowed. Governments will need to reprioritize the shift to renewable solutions across the end uses of electricity, transport and heat. True, the magnitude by which change is required in rejuvenating the dream of sustainable energy for all by 2030 is daunting, and much of it is in the hands of government bodies, as well as big players across the public and private sector. The demand, however, remains in the hands of consumers. As long as we play an active part in making shifts in our lifestyles and calling for sustainable solutions in our homes, schools and workplaces, we will find that sustainable energy for all is within our grasp.