759 million people, 1 in 10 worldwide, do not have access to electricity and the opportunities it brings for enhancing their quality of life. A total of 2.6 billion people, a third of the world’s population, still do not have access to safe, clean sources of energy and technologies for essential activities like cooking or heating their homes, at significant health, social and environmental costs. Over 75 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. A just energy transition – the transformation of energy systems towards low-carbon, equitable, and more resilient systems – would deliver universal energy access while putting the world on track to limiting climate change.
The United Nations Development Program called for greatly increased public and private investment to transform energy systems in support of a just energy transition. This, at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in Rwanda, and amid growing pressure on the world’s energy systems from the climate crisis and the war in Ukraine.
“We are in a moment of profound global upheaval. The war in Ukraine has caused immense human suffering, and the ripple effect of that war – on our finance, food, and energy systems – threatens to tip millions more people into poverty and hunger,” says Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator and Co-Chair of UN-Energy in his message at the closing plenary of the Forum. “The current geopolitical situation reminds us just to what degree energy underpins our aspirations for a more sustainable future for all. There are still viable pathways to reach a net-zero global energy system while finding solutions to vulnerable communities, but the window is narrowing fast. It requires an unprecedented transformation of the energy sector. All countries must now reset their energy systems and put people into the center – ensuring that these systems are cleaner, more secure, more resilient and totally inclusive.”
The Forum confirmed once more that the world is falling far short of the level of investment required to achieve energy access for all and support countries to transform energy systems. Finance for electricity in the high-impact countries – the 20 sub-Saharan African and Asian countries, which together are home to more than 80 per cent of the people globally who lack energy access – is on the decline, from $32 billion in 2019 from $43.6 billion in 2018. Investment in clean cooking did not increase and remained at around $130 million between 2015 and 2019, except in 2017 when commitments dropped precipitously to less than $50 million. In Africa alone, achieving 100% access by 2030 will require connecting on average 60 million people per year. Yet of the USD 2.8 trillion invested in renewables globally between 2000 and 2020, only 2% went to Africa.
The negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are further hampering progress in energy access and the transition to a low-carbon economy. For example, private companies deploying decentralized energy, such as solar home systems and mini-grids, are facing operational and financial challenges due to the pandemic.
“Access to energy is key to powering Africa’s socio-economic transformation. It will generate real possibility for industrialization and up performance on social sectors like health and education, thereby accelerating human development.” said Ahunna Eziakonwa, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Africa. “We must seize the opportunity of COP 27 and the Decade of Action to provide the resources needed to ensure that the half of a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa without access to electricity, get connected via renewable energy sources. This is key for just and equitable transition”
A just energy transition presents a significant economic opportunity for all countries, including developing countries. New investments will create millions of new jobs, significantly lift global economic growth, and achieve universal access to electricity, including for health, and clean cooking worldwide by 2030. In Africa , a just energy transition could translate into 6.4% higher GDP, a 25.4% higher welfare index than that realized under current plans, on average up to 2050. It could also create 26 million more economy-wide jobs by 2050 than is anticipated under a business-as-usual scenario plan. Annual, global clean energy investments required to reach “net-zero” emissions by 2050 also need to triple by 2030 to reach $4 trillion.
About UNDP’s Sustainable Energy Hub
As part of the 2021 High-Level Dialogue on Energy, UNDP has pledged to catalyze partnerships, knowledge, innovation, and finance to increase energy access to 500 million more people by 2025.To reach this ambitious target and explore solutions, UNDP’s new Sustainable Energy Hub aims to drive forward a holistic approach in its support to countries on sustainable energy. This includes harnessing low-carbon technologies, de-risking investments and promoting innovative business models and financial mechanisms, with a focus on scaling up the productive uses of energy to boost livelihoods.
With the Sustainable Energy Hub, UNDP aims to bring about a new way of thinking, doing business, connecting people and knowledge to address today’s energy and climate challenges. This will be supported by UNDP’s broader goal of channeling 1 trillion dollars in public and private investment in the Sustainable Development Goals over the next 4 years – including towards clean energy through partnerships, appropriate policy frameworks and incentive systems.