First analysis of progress against Sustainable Development Goal 7 - which targets green energy - finds limited headway made against clean cooking, renewables, and energy efficiency targets
At the start of 2018 global consultancy PwC warned companies are only paying "lip service" to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the set of global targets unanimously agreed by the United Nations in September 2015.
Now fresh fears have emerged that nations are also not doing enough to deliver on the global development agenda set out by the goals, with a new paper released today by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) warning countries are falling short on almost every aspect of the UN's energy goal, SDG 7.
Under SDG 7 nations collectively promised to "ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all" by 2030. Beyond this somewhat vague umbrella goal, the UN set out four more precise sub targets:
- Ensure universal access to electricity by 2030.
- Ensure universal access to clean cooking fuels by 2030.
- Increase "substantially" the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
- Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030.
According to IRENA's analysis, the world is currently falling short against almost every one of these measures.
Although electricity access has improved rapidly in recent years, largely thanks to the roll out of distributed solar generation which has connected at least 30 million people to power in emerging markets, based on current deployment rates there are still expected to be millions of people without access to electricity by 2030.
As of 2010, the baseline year for the SDGs, around 83 per cent of the global population had access to electricity, according to IRENA. Between 2010 and 2016 the share with access to power jumped to 87 per cent, but by 2030 it is only projected to increase to 92 per cent. That will leave 680 million people still living without power, according to UN population projections for 2030.
But that's not to say progress has stalled. IRENA reports that in Africa efforts to roll out electrification are finally starting to get ahead of population growth, while since 2010 Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania have delivered power to at least an extra three per cent of their population every year.
However, the shortfall between the SDG ambitions and progress on the ground is even starker in other areas. On clean cooking, some three billion people around the world still cook by burning polluting fuels such as wood and coal.
Access to cleaner fuels has only increased "modestly" since 2010, according to IRENA, with global access to cleaner cooking fuels jumping from 58 per cent in 2010 to 59 per cent of the population in 2016. At this rate, access would only have hit 73 per cent by 2030, meaning progress needs to accelerate six-fold to bring the universal target in reach by the end of the next decade.
The report said countries need to target action in rural areas, where people are much more likely to lack access to cleaner cooking sources such as natural gas than in cities, where infrastructure is more developed. Currently only a handful of countries are making any serious headway, according to IRENA, with Vietnam and Indonesia applauded for increasing access to clean fuels by an additional three per cent per year since 2010.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy is an area where nations are doing a little better, although shortfalls remain. Global energy intensity - the amount of energy it takes to produce a single unit of GDP - has been falling at an accelerating rate of 2.2 per cent a year since 2010, and the trend is expected to quicken to 2.4 per cent a year by 2030.
Across all global regions except Western Asia, global GDP grew nearly twice as fast as primary energy supply between 2010 and 2015. Developed nations are leading the way, with countries including Indonesia, Japan, UK and China highlighted for strong improvements to energy efficiency between 2010 and 2015.
However, even here improvements in energy efficiency are expected to fall short of the 2.6 per cent a year target required under SDG7. And across the world sectors such as transport and freight continue to lag behind the improvements in other parts of the economy, delivering energy efficiency improvement rates less than half that of higher performing sectors such as industry.
Finally, perhaps the most promising progress towards SDG7 can be found in the rollout of renewable energy.
IRENA said the share of renewable energy in the world's total final energy consumption has risen from 16.7 per cent in 2010 to 17.5 per cent in 2015, of which 9.6 per cent is modern renewables such as geothermal, solar, hydropower, and wind.
By 2030 IRENA predicts 21 per cent of total final energy consumption will be provided by renewables, in large part thanks to the rapid rollout of wind and solar capacity across global electricity systems. But it cautions against a premature celebration, warning progress has been "challenging" in countries where energy consumption continues to grow rapidly, and rolling out renewables in sectors other than electricity is slow-going.
It should also be noted that the renewables target - to "substantially" increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030, is the vaguest sub-target of them all. It could conceivably be achieved, even as the wider energy goal is missed.
The evidence presented by IRENA suggests that it may be a little harsh to say nations are only offering lip service to the SDGs. But while progress is undoubtedly happening, countries cand companies need to go further and faster if they are to deliver on their laudable sustainable development ambitions.
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