Yolanda Villegas
Director, Legal, Compliance and Institutional Relations
VEMO
/
Expert Contributor

Universal Access to Energy: The Post-Pandemic Challenge

By Yolanda Villegas | Mon, 09/19/2022 - 13:00

The Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) states that to build a better world for the entire population, cooperation is needed to guarantee access to affordable, safe, sustainable and modern energy for all communities. However, in the last couple of years, the overall progress on SDG7 has slowed down, mainly due to negative consequences from the COVID-19 pandemic. The confinement and the need to divert fiscal resources to control the increase in prices of key commodities, such as food and fuel, to avoid an economic crisis has affected the continuity of programs and projects aimed at fulfilling SDG7. In addition, energy shocks have intensified in recent months due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the imbalance between production and supply has caused uncertainty in global oil and gas markets, sending energy prices skyrocketing to levels not seen in years.

The current global energy situation is evidence of how far we are from meeting this goal. According to data from the 2022 edition of Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report, around 733 million people still lack access to electricity. Regarding clean cooking, although there has been significant progress since 2010, today, approximately 2.4 billion people do not have access to an alternative fuel for cooking to reduce the risk of harm to their health and the environment.

The number of people in the world with access to electricity showed significant progress over the past decade, rising from 83 percent in 2010 to 91 percent in 2020. In numbers, this means that 1.3 billion people now have access to electricity. However, as stated, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the progress has slowed down. This situation poses an important challenge since closing the gap on universal access to energy requires more resources to make the same progress as the year before because those communities that remain without access to electricity are further from the grid. 

If the goal of total global electrification by 2030 is to be achieved, 100 million new connections must be generated each year from now but most new connections are required in developing countries where the economic and infrastructure are a challenge, which means that international cooperation from developed countries and international financial institutions is required. For example, in 2020, the southern part of Africa concentrated more than 75 percent of people in the world without access to electricity.

SDG7 not only considers universal access to energy but also energy efficiency; however, the numbers are not encouraging. Between 2010 and 2019, the average annual global improvement in energy intensity was only 1.9 percent, which does not meet the necessary requirements to achieve the goals of SDG7 that would require an increasing rate of 3.2 percent per year. 

A positive aspect, though, is that under the COVID-19 pandemic, in developed and developing countries where there is access to electricity, progress on clean and affordable energy was made. Despite disruptions to economic activity and cuts to supply chains, renewable energy sources increased by a record number during this period. The addition of new renewable capacity is imperative to achieve SDG7, mainly due to the affordable, sustainable and modern preconditions included on the 2030 agenda. 

Finally, although the private sector has been one of the most important sources for financing renewable energy on more mature markets and economies, for the poorest and most remote communities, strong financial and regulatory support are required to mobilize capital and provide not only access to energy but also energy that is sustainable and affordable. Therefore, for the latter, public financing and international cooperation are the most important tools of the 2030 agenda. In addition, it is the responsibility of governments to create the enabling environments for investment to take place, as well as to develop the infrastructure and prepare for universal access to energy in a post-pandemic global economy.

Special emphasis should be placed on the importance of energy data and indicators, which require close cooperation between central and local governments, public and private actors, and national and international entities. Reliable and quality data is needed to monitor the progress that has been made not only at the global level but also regionally and by country. In this way, informed policies can be developed that are truly attached to the reality and needs of each area. Therefore, commitment to acquire and process good-quality statistics and data is important to guide national and international energy policies and strategies to ensure that no person is excluded from the benefits of achieving SDG7.

Photo by:   Yolanda Villegas