The world is still not on track: Global sustainable energy access gap persists

A new report released by International Energy Agency (IEA), International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), World Bank and World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the world is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 for energy by 2030.

The report offers the international community a global summary of progress on energy access, energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean cooking, and international cooperation to advance SDG 7. It presents updated statistics for each of the indicators and provides policy insights on priority areas and actions needed to spur further progress on SDG 7, as well as related SDGs.

Despite some progress across the indicators, the current pace is not adequate to achieve any of the 2030 targets.


Key highlights on SDG 7 targets


Renewable energy

Universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy depends on faster deployment of renewable energy in electricity, heat, and transport. But unless the pace quickens, the share of renewable energy in total final energy consumption (TFEC) will remain sluggish. In 2020, the share of renewable energy in TFEC stood at just 19.1 percent (or 12.5 percent if traditional use of biomass is excluded), not much more than the 16 percent a decade earlier.

If the world is to be on track to limit the temperature rise to less than 1.5°C throughout the century, the share of renewables must reach 33–38 percent by 2030 (In the power sector, renewables would need to account for 60-65 percent of electricity generation.). Much greater effort is needed to increase the use of renewables in transport and heating, both directly (through the use of bioenergy, solar thermal and geothermal, and ambient heat) and indirectly (through electrification), while progressing on energy conservation.

Enhancing renewables-based electricity supply in developing countries deserves particular attention. Positively, developing countries saw a record-breaking renewable capacity growth in 2021 (+9.8 percent year-on-year), with cumulative installations reaching 268 watts per capita. Yet this growth is unevenly distributed, and further action is required in the least developed countries.


Clean cooking solutions

The global population lacking access to clean cooking fell from 2.9 billion in 2010 to 2.3 billion in 2021, but the goal of universal access by 2030 remains elusive: some 1.9 billion people would still be without access to clean cooking in 2030. If current trends continue, almost six out of ten people without access to clean cooking in 2030 would reside in Sub-Saharan Africa.

With the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and soaring energy prices, the IEA estimates that 100 million people who recently transitioned to clean cooking may revert to using traditional biomass (IEA 2022a). (…) Integrating clean cooking into broader energy planning, improving affordability, and devising better delivery mechanisms are some of the key policy levers to drive clean cooking. If such efforts are paired with sustained financing at an adequate level, the world can get back on track to making clean cooking a reality for all.


Access to electricity

Recent progress is not on track to reach universal access by 2030. Globally, access to electricity grew by an annual average of 0.7 percentage points between 2010 and 2021, rising from 84 percent of the world’s population to 91 percent. The number of people without electricity almost halved during the period, from 1.1 billion in 2010 to 675 million in 2021. The pace of annual growth slowed during 2019–21 to 0.6 percentage points.

To bridge the gap, especially for people living in poor and remote regions, the annual rate of growth in access must be 1 percentage point per year from 2021 onward—almost twice the current pace. If no additional efforts and measures are put in place, some 660 million people, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, would still be unserved in 2030 (IEA 2022a). Policies for energy access should demonstrate political commitment and maximize the socioeconomic benefits of access, keeping the most vulnerable populations at the forefront of efforts to close the access gap.


Energy efficiency

SDG target 7.3 calls for doubling the global rate of improvement in energy intensity over the average rate during 1990–2010—which means improving energy intensity by 2.6 percent per year between 2010 and 2030.1 Yet progress between 2010 and 2020 averaged only 1.8 percent. To make up for lost ground, improvement in energy intensity must now exceed 3.4 percent globally from 2020 to 2030—twice the rate achieved in the past decade. An even greater improvement would be needed to be on track to limit the end-of-century temperature rise to less than 1.5°C.

The needed improvements will require more aggressive efficiency mandates—including bans on the sale of the most inefficient equipment—and codes requiring that new buildings meet net-zero standards.


International financial flows

International public financial flows in support of clean energy in developing countries began to drop before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and continued to fall through 2021. In 2021, these flows amounted to USD 10.8 billion, an 11 percent drop from 2020, 35 percent less than the 2010–19 average and only about 40 percent of the 2017 peak of USD  26.4 billion. Commitments remain heavily concentrated in a handful of countries. It is expected that the downward trend in public investments continued in 2022. Data released in 2022 and 2023 will provide a clearer picture of the effects on public financial flows of the energy crisis in Europe sparked by the war in Ukraine.

While there is no quantitative target for this indicator, IEA and IRENA scenarios estimate that staying in line with international climate and energy goals requires annual investments in renewable electricity generation and related infrastructure of USD  1.4–1.7 trillion through 2030. Investments will be needed not only in technologies, but also in policy interventions and international cooperation. Although the private sector finances most renewable energy investments, the public sector remains a critical source of finance, particularly for many developing countries. Overall, redirecting investments from fossil fuels, increasing aid commitments, introducing structural reforms in international public finance, innovating funding mechanisms, and improving the transparency of commitment reporting are all necessary steps.


Excerpt of: Tracking SDG 7. The Energy Progress Report 2023 (IEA, IRENA, UNSD, World Bank, WHO 2023), page 11-13


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