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Report: COVID-19 Slows Progress Toward Universal Energy Access

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been a key factor in slowing progress toward universal energy access. Globally, 733 million people still have no access to electricity, and 2.4 billion people still cook using fuels detrimental to their health and the environment. At the current rate of progress, 670 million people will remain without electricity by 2030—10 million more than projected last year.
Report: COVID-19 Slows Progress Toward Universal Energy Access
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The 2022 edition of Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report shows that the impacts of the pandemic, including lockdowns, disruptions to global supply chains, and diversion of fiscal resources to keep food and fuel prices affordable, have affected the pace of progress toward the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 7) of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy by 2030. Advances have been impeded particularly in the most vulnerable countries and those already lagging in energy access. Nearly 90 million people in Asia and Africa who had previously gained access to electricity, can no longer afford to pay for their basic energy needs.

“The shocks caused by Covid-19 reversed recent progress towards universal access for electricity and clean cooking, and slowed vital improvements in energy efficiency even as renewables showed encouraging resilience. Today, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a global energy crisis, driving huge price spikes that are causing particularly severe impacts in developing economies. Many of these economies were already in dire financial straits as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, and overcoming these difficulties to get on track for Sustainable Development Goals will require massive and innovative financial solutions from the international community,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Agency

The impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on energy have been compounded in the last few months by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has led to uncertainty in global oil and gas markets and has sent energy prices soaring.

Africa remains the least electrified in the world with 568 million people without electricity access. Sub-Saharan Africa's share of the global population without electricity jumped to 77 percent in 2020 from 71 percent in 2018 whereas most other regions saw declines in their share of the access deficits. While 70 million people globally gained access to clean cooking fuels and technologies, this progress was not enough to keep pace with population growth, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The report finds that despite continued disruptions in economic activity and supply chains, renewable energy was the only energy source to grow through the pandemic. However, these positive global and regional trends in renewable energy have left behind many countries most in need of electricity. This was aggravated by a decrease in international financial flows for the second year in a row, falling to USD 10.9 billion in 2019.

SDG 7 targets also cover energy efficiency. From 2010 to 2019, global annual improvements in energy intensity averaged around 1.9 percent. This is well below the levels needed to meet SDG 7’s targets and to make up for lost ground, the average rate of improvement would have to jump to 3.2 percent.

"We believe SDG 7 is and remains an achievable goal and we urge governments and the global community to scale up efforts to integrate universal energy access into national energy transition plans, and to focus on the most remote, vulnerable and poorest unserved populations to ensure no one is left behind," said Riccardo Puliti, Infrastructure Vice President, The World Bank

In September 2021, the United Nations High-Level Dialogue on Energy brought together governments and stakeholders to accelerate action to achieve a sustainable energy future that leaves no one behind. In this context, the SDG 7 custodian agencies, the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank, and the World Health Organization (WHO), as they launch this report, are urging the international community and policymakers to safeguard gains toward SDG 7; to remain committed to continued action towards affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all; and to maintain a strategic focus on countries needing the most support.

Some key highlights on SDG 7 targets

Renewables. 

Ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy implies accelerated deployment of renewable energy sources for electricity, heat, and transport.  Although there is no quantitative target for SDG 7.2, custodian agencies agree that the share of renewable energy in total final energy consumption (TFEC) needs to rise significantly, even though renewable energy consumption did continue to grow through the pandemic, overcoming disruptions to economic activity and supply chains. While the share of renewable capacity expansion rose by a record amount in 2021, the positive global and regional trajectories mask the fact that countries where new capacity additions lagged were those most in need of increased access. Moreover, rising commodity, energy and shipping prices, as well as restrictive trade measures, have increased the cost of producing and transporting solar photovoltaic (PV) modules, wind turbines, and biofuels, adding uncertainty for future renewable energy projects. Renewable shares need to reach well over 30 percent of TFEC by 2030, up from 18 percent in 2019, to be on track for reaching net-zero energy emissions by 2050. Achieving this objective would require strengthening policy support in all sectors and implementing effective tools to further mobilize private capital, especially in least-developed countries, landlocked developing countries, and small island developing countries. 

Energy efficiency. 

SDG 7.3 aims to double the global rate of annual improvement in primary energy intensity—the amount of energy used per unit of wealth created—to 2.6 percent in 2010–30 versus 1990–2010. From 2010 to 2019, global annual improvements in energy intensity averaged around 1.9 percent, well below the target, and the average annual rate of improvement now has to reach 3.2 percent to make up for lost ground. This rate would need to be even higher—consistently over 4 percent for the rest of this decade—if the world is to reach net-zero emissions from the energy sector by 2050, as envisioned in the IEA's Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario. Early estimates for 2020 point to a substantial decrease in intensity improvement because of the COVID-19 crisis, as a result of a higher share of energy-intensive activities in the economy and lower energy prices. The outlook for 2021 suggests a return to a 1.9 percent rate of improvement, the average rate during the previous decade, thanks to a sharper focus on energy efficiency policies, particularly in COVID-19 recovery packages. However, energy efficiency policies and investment need to be scaled up significantly to bring the SDG 7.3 target within reach.

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