By Dr. Fatih Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Agency
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been ratified, and access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030 is a target in its own right (SDG 7). Modern energy is central to achieving global development: it has never been a more important time to understand where the world stands on achieving this target, and to propose pragmatic strategies for achieving universal energy access.1
Achieving modern energy for all is within reach. The number of people without access to electricity fell below 1.1 billion in 2016, from 1.7 billion in 2000. We have undertaken an in-depth assessment of each country’s progress, finding some staggering successes. Half a billion people gained access to electricity in India alone, with government policies putting the country on track to universal access by the early 2020s, a tremendous achievement. Moreover, some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya and Ethiopia, are on track to universal electricity access by 2030. However, progress overall has been uneven. Despite current efforts, over 670 million people will still be without electricity by 2030, 90% in sub-Saharan Africa.
While significant electrification progress has been achieved in many countries, the same cannot be said for clean cooking access. Far more people do not have access to modern and clean cooking facilities: 2.8 billion people, half of the population of the developing world, cook with polluting biomass, coal and kerosene. This number is the same as it was in 2000, a shameful fact given that it is the cause of indoor air pollution linked to nearly 3 million premature deaths each year. Taking into account current trends and policies, 2.3 billion people will still be without clean cooking facilities in 2030.
So, how can we best fill the gap and deliver energy access to those who would otherwise be left behind by 2030? And what are the costs and benefits of doing so?
The International Energy Agency has developed a strategy to achieve “Energy for All” by 2030 that describes how countries can build on existing successes to accelerate access at least cost. It won’t be easy, but it is critical. Consider four key action areas.
First, for access to electricity, renewables play a growing role in both grid-based electrification and the expansion of decentralised technologies that are essential for remote rural areas. We are already seeing the emergence of new entrepreneurs and finance streams in the off-grid space using innovative business models, which are converging to boost the number and success rate of initiatives targeting access to electricity.
Second, if we are to witness the kind of progress expected on electricity, clean cooking must be placed on par with electricity access in the policy agenda. Women spend on average 1.4 hours a day collecting fuelwood and four hours cooking. They also suffer the most from household air pollution, and they must be at the heart of finding solutions. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is the most effective route to access in most urban areas, while progress in rural areas is best achieved with a range of solutions including improved biomass cooking.
Third, an additional investment of USD 31 billion annually is needed compared to our base case to ensure that no one is left behind. All actors, including the private sector and public financing, need to scale up investments for the target to be achieved. But it is not just a question of money – efforts on clean cooking in particular have to take into account social and cultural factors if they are to succeed. There can hardly be a better dollar invested in unlocking development than in providing modern energy. Governments need to set high-level targets, backed by investments and appropriate policies and regulations, for the private sector to flourish in providing access. But energy access cannot be left to the market alone. Energy access is a policy choice, and fundamentally political leadership is needed.
And fourth, ‘’energy for all’’ does not have to cost the earth. Even a minimal increase in energy demand will not cause a net increase in greenhouse-gas emissions. The increase in CO2 emissions from the additional fossil fuel demand is more than offset by a reduction in methane and other greenhouse-gases as a result of phasing out inefficient biomass cookstoves. But the reward is huge. 1.8 million premature deaths are avoided in 2030 from improving indoor air quality. Women especially stand to gain; reducing the burden on them to collect firewood unleashes a labour force equivalent to 80 million people, opening a new world of economic possibility.
Ultimately, the reasons for hope are many. The SDGs recognise the centrality of energy for all aspects of human and economic development. But recognising the importance of access to energy is not enough; we must take action. That is why under my leadership, the International Energy Agency is committed to helping all governments, including our associate countries, deliver universal energy access. We are ready to continue leading on data collection, analysis and energy policy advice to ensure that no one is left behind.
1.↩Energy Access Outlook: from Poverty to Prosperity and explore the country-by-country energy access data underpinning the report. The Energy Access Outlook, a special report from the 2017 World Energy Outlook series, builds on the work of the International Energy Agency over the last 20 years to understand the persistent energy access deficit and to propose solutions.