Energy enables and empowers people around the world and is central to every opportunity and challenge the world faces today. It is critical for growing the economy and creating jobs; for promoting social equity and enabling an environment that supports the sustainable development of the planet.
Recognizing the inextricable link of energy to nearly every aspect of life, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, with ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’ as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to be achieved in the next 15 years.
From 1990 to 2010 significant progress was achieved in electricity distribution; more than 1.7 billion people around the world gained access to electricity within the 20-year period. Nonetheless, today, over 1.2 billion people, or one in six of the global population, living mostly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to electricity. And, more than twice as many, around 2.9 billion people, still rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating. Of the world’s population without access to electricity, fully a quarter, or around 300 million live in India and another 622 million live on the African continent.
Even among those people having access to electricity, the per capita consumption varied widely between countries. According to the World Bank in 2012, Ethiopia consumed 57kWh per person and Indian had 744kWh per capita consumption, while in the United States it was 12,954kWh and in tiny Qatar it stood at 16,183kWh per person. Moreover, the developed world with 20 percent of the world’s population accounted for 46.4 percent of global GHG emissions, while 80 percent of global population living in the developing countries accounted for 53.6 percent of GHG.
Whether from using solid fuels for cooking in the developing world, or from excessive electricity consumption in many parts of the Middle East and the Western world, energy is the dominant contributor to climate change and fossil fuel generation of electricity is the largest single source of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide.
A global economy reliant on fossil fuels and subsequent increase in the GHG emissions is precipitating climate change that undermines global stability and threatens food and water security for hundreds of millions of people around the world. The SDG-7 is an attempt to find respite to this situation by providing universal access to affordable and clean energy by 2030. However, to achieve this ambitious goal the world will need to expand current infrastructure, upgrade existing technologies and invest heavily in renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, water and thermal. Currently renewable energy accounts for only around 20 percent of global power generated.
In September 2011, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative. The SE4All global initiative brings together top-level leadership from all sectors of society —governments, business and civil society — with the aim of transforming the world’s energy system. The SE4All calls for advancing the three interlinked objectives of providing universal access to modern energy services; doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
The proposed goal and targets of SDG-7 are consistent with SE4All Ìs objectives on energy access, efficiency and renewable energy. From 2010 to 2012, the share of modern renewable energy in the global energy mix grew rapidly at 4 percent a year, making up 8.8 percent of total, but to meet the 2030 SE4All objective, the annual growth rate for renewables needs to be closer to 7.5 percent. It is estimated that just doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix from its current level will lead to the reduction of over 8.2 Gigatons of potential CO2 emissions.
A recent report compiled by the World Bank recommends that to help close the gap global policy makers should work to triple energy investments from the current level of roughly $400 billion to $1.25 trillion. The report also calls for transfer of knowledge and technology for sustainable energy and for increased effort to address the linkages between energy and other development sectors, including water, agriculture, gender and health. Better understanding those linkages will be critical to achieving SE4All and other development goals.
It is obvious that sustainable development is not possible without sustainable energy. Access to modern energy services is fundamental to human development and an investment in our collective future.