Pandemic and war in Ukraine threaten clean energy gains for world’s poorest
Progress towards a global goal to provide everyone on the planet with clean electricity and cooking by 2030 is set to slow, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and energy price spikes caused by the war in Ukraine, international organizations warned on Wednesday.
Efforts have made progress over the past decade – but achieving the goals – considered essential to protect the climate and human health – will require much greater political will and funding, they said in a new report.
The annual assessment of Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7), which covers access to energy, predicts that 670 million people will remain without electricity by 2030, while 2.1 billion people will will still not have their own means of cooking.
“The shocks caused by COVID-19 have reversed recent progress towards universal access to electricity and clean cooking, and slowed vital improvements in energy efficiency even as renewables have shown resilience. encouraging,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Here are some of the reasons why it is so difficult to provide the world’s poorest communities with modern electricity and cooking fuels to fight harmful pollution and climate change, and what needs to be done to overcome the problem. :
Where are the efforts to provide electric power lagging behind?
The share of the world’s population with access to electricity increased from 83% in 2010 to 91% in 2020, the latest year for which data is available.
The number of people still without electricity has fallen steadily to 733 million in 2020.
But the pace of progress on electrification has slowed since 2018, the report says, mainly due to the complexity of reaching poorer communities in rural areas – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa – and the effects of the pandemic. of COVID-19.
Jem Porcaro, head of energy access at Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), an international body working to achieve SDG7, said renewable energy providers in developing countries had largely succeeded in overcoming the economic hardship of the pandemic, with relief funding from donors.
But supply chains for off-grid solar equipment have been disrupted and some poorer families have struggled to afford new home systems and pay their bills, he noted.
The report – produced jointly by the IEA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, the United Nations Statistics Division, the World Bank and the World Health Organization – said the impact of the pandemic on income meant that basic energy services were no longer affordable for nearly 90 million people in Asia. and Africa.
Porcaro said it would not be easy to bring electricity to remote and conflict-affected communities in places like the Sahel and central Africa. But, he said, efforts should be intensified to resolve the problem over the next two years.
“There is general recognition among development partners…that we need to make a concerted effort to focus on these more challenging and immature markets as these are the ones that are increasingly home to the underserved.”
Why do so many people still cook with polluting fuels?
The share of the world’s population with access to clean cooking fuels and technologies – which include electricity, gas and solar power – has risen to 69% in 2020, from 57% a decade earlier.
But population growth is outpacing many gains, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the report warned.
Improvements in Asia have led to a drop in the number of people worldwide who cook with dirty fuels, such as charcoal, coal, crop waste, manure, kerosene and wood, from about 3 billion people in 2010 to 2.4 billion in 2020.
But the deficit in sub-Saharan Africa has almost doubled since 1990, the report notes, calling for a more concerted approach between governments and sharing of lessons.
New estimates indicate that 3.2 million deaths from causes including heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, lung disease and cancer were attributed to household air pollution in 2019, the burden falling mainly on women in poor countries.
SEforALL’s Porcaro said there is greater global political recognition of the urgent need to promote clean cooking. But this remains a low priority in many developing countries, with responsibility fragmented across ministries.
It should be treated as a key part of energy policy and supported by the development of viable commercial markets rather than viewed solely as a health issue, as has been the case so far, he added.
Is the global community ready to fund clean energy for all?
The report shows what Porcaro described as a “very worrying trend” of declining international public funding for clean energy in developing countries – which began even before the pandemic fiscal tightening.
Finances fell for the second consecutive year, to $10.9 billion in 2019, despite the immense needs. That’s down 25% from the 2010-2019 average and less than half of the 2017 peak of $24.7 billion.
East and Southeast Asia have been hardest hit, with organizations warning that the pandemic could further reduce funding.
Although the private sector finances most investments in renewable energy, public financing remains essential to attract private money by reducing risk and helping to create stable markets.
IEA chief Birol noted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had triggered a global energy crisis this year, leading to huge price spikes that are having serious repercussions for developing economies.
“Many of these economies were already in dire financial straits as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and overcoming these challenges to get on track for (the) Sustainable Development Goals will require massive and innovative financial solutions from from the international community,” he said. added in a press release.