Universal access to energy unlikely by 2030 say energy agencies

A tracking report by the IEA and other energy agencies say sustainable development goals are unlikely to be reached on time

Murwan Abu Mharib, 50, lights a stove using gas produced using manure. On a farm in eastern Gaza. Rosie Scammell for The National
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Universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern sources of energy is unlikely to be achieved by 2030 unless efforts are scaled up significantly, according to a joint report by the world’s top energy agencies.

Significant progress was made on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) prior to the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of access to electricity, renewable energy generation and energy efficiency. However, global advances remain “insufficient” to reach key targets by the 2030 deadline, according to a tracking report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), the United Nations Statistics Division, the World Bank and the World Health Organisation.

The UN has 17 SDGs, with the tracking report focused on the seventh goal of achieving affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Populations living off-grid declined to 789 million in 2018, down from 1.2 billion in 2010. However, an estimated 620 million could still lack access to electricity by 2030. Around 85 per cent of people with no access to electricity live in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the deep inequalities around the world in terms of access to modern, affordable and sustainable energy. Electricity has been a vital underpinning of the response to the public health emergency in many countries – but hundreds of millions of people worldwide still lack basic access to it, with the majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

“Even before today’s unprecedented crisis, the world was not on track to meet key sustainable energy goals."

Achieving these now is likely to be even harder. The world must redouble efforts to bring affordable, reliable and cleaner energy to all – especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the need is greatest, he said.

An acceleration of renewable energy capacity deployment is needed to reach SDGs within the targeted timeline, the report said.

Energy efficiency targets, which made strong progress between 2015 and 2016 have also “slackened”. The rate of improvement needs to be sped up to 3 per cent from 1.7 per cent at present to reach 2030 targets.

Financial flows to developing countries to fund access to clean energy doubled since 2010 reaching $21.4 billion (Dh78.54bn) in 2017. However, only 12 per cent of the available money reached the least-developed economies, which are furthest from realising their SDG goals, the tracking report said

Abu Dhabi-headquartered Irena said last month that decarbonisation of the entire global energy system away from fossil fuels could require up to $98 trillion in investment between now and 2050.

Citing “exceptional measures” undertaken by countries to bring the health emergency and human toll under control during the pandemic, the organisations also urged states to adopt policies to ensure long-term sustainability.

"Under such circumstances, countries have an opportunity to consider options for economic stimulus that not only respond to the immediate crisis, but also ensure longer-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability,” the report said.