Energy access and affordability: Powering ahead to 2030
20 September 2023
Game-Changers’ is a new editorial series from the UN Development Coordination Office (DCO) on key transitions that the UN Secretary-General has called for to advance progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), catalyzing a more sustainable and equitable future. This series explores the progress achieved since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015 in key areas and how the UN is supporting this progress. The world needs renewed ambition and action to deliver these Goals at scale.
With climate change, population growth and rapid urbanization, toppled by the full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, fuel prices have spiked, and countries have grappled with insufficient access to affordable and reliable energy. As the Secretary-General has stated, it is crucial to bring more ambition and financing to key catalytic areas for people and planet. Investing in clean energy is critical to keeping carbon emissions in check to creating millions of green jobs, boosting productivity, and ensuring better health and education, universal access to clean, reliable and affordable electricity, which are all essential for long-term sustainable development.
Where was the world in 2015?
When the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in 2015:
87 per cent of the world had access to some form of electricity. Yet nearly 1.1 billion people around the world, a majority of them living in Africa and Asia, were still lacking access.
Oil prices plunged to an all-time low and fossil fuels dominated the market with global investments amounting to nearly US$1.3 billion.
Coal alone accounted for nearly 40 per cent of global electricity generated.
Access to clean cooking fuels was lagging with just 60 per cent of the world’s population having access. The numbers in Sub-Saharan Africa were much lower. Women in particular bore a heavier health burden as a result, vulnerable to indoor air pollution and respiratory disease.
Where are we in 2023 at half-time?
Since 2015, while the world has seen rapid progress in energy access, this hasn’t been fast enough nor as inclusively as we needed:
Today, 91 per cent of the world has access to electricity. Globally, the number of people without electricity has dropped to 675 million, a nearly 38 per cent fall since 2015.
Renewables now account for more than 28 per cent of global electricity, growing by nearly 5 per cent since 2015.
Global investment in clean energy has hit near record highs at US$ 1.7 trillion.
Nevertheless, 2.3 billion people still continue to rely on coal, kerosene or solid biomass as their primary cooking fuel.
A lack of clean cooking is contributing to nearly 3.7 million premature deaths annually, with women and children most at risk.
Tackling rural energy access also continues to be an issue. About 80 per cent of the world’s population without electricity continues to live in rural areas, predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
How can a global energy transition make a difference?
Current projections show that by 2030, nearly 660 million people will continue to live without electricity and 1.9 billion without clean cooking fuels.
The world needs a transformed global energy system, that prioritizes access and affordability. We can get there with the right energy access policies and regulations, focusing on the needs of vulnerable communities. The world also needs energy interventions that are just and inclusive for present as well as future generations, along with greater investments and collaboration across different sectors, including through technology transfer between countries. Studies now show that meeting these clean energy goals will require us to triple our annual investments between now and 2030.
What is the UN doing about this?
UN Resident Coordinators are playing the crucial role of bringing together the right actors, connecting projects and initiatives and driving energy access to help countries meet their targets on sustainable development.
Spotlight Country: Supercharging Indonesia’s Path with just and clean energy
Indonesia has been a trailblazer in the shift away from fossil fuels to clean energy, securing greener jobs and livelihoods for communities.
Supporting Indonesia’s G20 Presidency in 2022 as it launched the landmark Just Energy Transition Partnership, the UN team, under the leadership of the Resident Coordinator Valerie Julliand, played a critical role helping raise the country’s ambition for a just energy transition.
For the first time on the ground, a comprehensive and coordinated UN strategy on sustainable energy is being launched in October 2023 along with the Government and development community at large. From providing technical assistance and policy advice to deploying pilot initiatives and advocating on cross-cutting issues such as gender and youth, nine UN agencies, led by the Resident Coordinator Office and UN Development Programme (UNDP) are helping Indonesia make a systemic shift towards affordable clean energy.
Matching these policy shifts with large-scale change, the UN is advancing several initiatives. For instance, with United Nations Office for Project Services' support, Perusahaan Listrik Negara, Indonesia’s state-owned power distributor, is enhancing its capacity to incorporate renewable energy (solar and wind) into the power grid. This benefits 160 million people in the islands of Java, Bali, and Madura, who were reliant on coal power. With UNDP’s support, the Government recently launched a domestic carbon market mechanism to incentivize the capping of emissions from existing coal-fired power plants, while increasing investments in renewable energy initiatives.
Complementing this, a Ministerial Decree was issued promoting means to reduce electricity consumption and increase energy efficiency, supported by the UN, which aims to save up to 62,580 tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions by 2024.
As countries reiterate their commitments to the SDGs at the 2023 SDG Summit and the Climate Ambition Summit, universal access to energy must remain at the center of a just and inclusive energy transition. The spark to fire up SDGs is right ahead of us.
Read more about how the UN is also supporting a just and inclusive energy transition in South Africa here. Read also about the work of the Joint SDG Fund in transforming global energy access.
Learn here about how a nature-driven transition, geared for climate action, can ensure people and planet are protected by 2030.