Universal Access to Sustainable, Affordable, Reliable Energy by 2030 Unlikely

If the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 is to be achieved by 2030, global efforts will have to redoubled otherwise it simply isn’t going to happen.

At the same time, the urgency to increase sustainable energy solutions worldwide has increased dramatically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which continues to ravage world economies and destroy communities. The overall goal is to ensure that every single person worldwide has access to modern energy sources that are reliable, affordable, and, of course, sustainable.


These startling facts are revealed in the most recent Energy Progress Report compiled by the five world custodian agencies and published by the World Bank, which is the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The report also shows that even though the global rate of electrification increased from 83% to 90% from 2010 to 2018, there were still 789 million people without access to electricity.

The bottom line is that to accelerate the pace of progress globally, in all regions of the world, there will have to be:

  • Considerably stronger political commitment from all countries.
  • Much more emphasis and action when it comes to long-term planning.
  • An increase in public and private financing of projects and infrastructure.
  • Sufficient fiscal and policy incentives that will encourage much faster deployment of the new technologies to achieve what is required.

Of course, there are many organizations, companies, and individuals in the world doing all they can to accelerate the pace of progress in this regard, and to ensure that we stay safe. For example, engineering firms like New York Engineers recommend ways to ensure that buildings do not become a risk for the spread of COVID-19. And health authorities publicize daily routines to keep us all safe during the pandemic.

About the Energy Progress Report


The result of a multi-agency initiative headed by the World Bank, the 2020 edition of Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report is the fourth in the annual series. Originally launched in 2013 as the Global Tracking Framework Report, it analyzes the progress made in terms of specified goals using 2010 as the baseline with data collected up to two years prior to the date of publication for energy access (2018 for the 2020 report) and three years before the date of publication for progress of renewable energy and energy efficiency issues.

The development of the report is due to a collaboration between the five SDG 7 custodian agencies that form a steering group:

  1. World Bank
  2. World Health Organisation (WHO)
  3. United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD)
  4. International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)
  5. International Energy Agency (IEA)

The steering group is supported by a technical advisory group comprising close to 40 organizations of various types from banks like the African Development Bank, government ministries in various parts of the world, to 15 United Nations (UN) bodies including the UN Development Programme, the UN Environment Programme, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and several UN economic commissions and programs. Other energy-related bodies include the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN 21), Sustainable Energy for All, and ENERGIA, an international network that focuses on gender and sustainable energy in developing countries. The 2020 edition was chaired by IRENA.

The report focuses on access to electricity, access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. There is a separate chapter that provides an outlook for SDG 7 as well as another that describes the tracking of SDG 7 progress across the various targets that cover indicators and data.

Additionally, it identifies the measures and “best” policies and practices that should be taken to accelerate the progress needed to achieve SDG 7.

The Impact of COVID-19

As mentioned above, the goals of SDG 7 remain seriously off-track, and the coronavirus pandemic has increased the urgency to broaden the solutions for sustainable energy. The fact is that even though significant progress had been made on some aspects of the SDV 7 goals before the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis the stats on people who lacked electricity worldwide were still fat too high to even imagine that the SDG 7 key targets could ever be reached by 2030. The same applies to the improvements so desperately required for meaningful energy efficiency and renewable energy to generate electricity.

The report shows that fewer people were without access to electricity over the eight years between 2010 and 2018, figures having dropped substantially from 1,2 billion from 2010 to 789 million in 2018. But with the policies that were either planned or in place when the COVID-19 crisis hit it was estimated that there would be more than 620 million people who would not have access to electricity by the 2030 deadline. Of these, 85% were identified as being in sub-Saharan Africa.

Although not contained in the report, the message from the World Bank points clearly to the need to safeguard the gains made before COVID-19. Because so many people live in remote, rural areas and communities there are poorer and incredibly vulnerable, there is a need for much more political commitment globally to ensure proper long-term planning and meaningful incentives combined with hugely increased financing.


Key Energy Progress Highlights

Based on achievements to 2017 and 2018, it is very clear that the goals of SDG 7 are in jeopardy. The fact that they were already way behind before COVID-19 reared its ugly head made this even more frightening – and challenging.

On the bright side, since 2010, more than a billion people have gained access to electricity, a benefit they had never had. This translated to 90% of people globally being “connected” to power. But there are still at least 789 million people in the world who don’t have the privilege of being able to live with the power electricity allows. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for nearly three quarters (70%) of the global deficit.

Access to “clean cooking” is also dismal, with about 3 billion people lacking the opportunity to access the clean fuels and technologies to be able to cook without being face with household air pollution. As it stands right now (mid-2020), there will probably be around 2.3 billion people who won’t have access to clean cooking methods in 2030.

Renewable energy and energy efficiency have their own challenges and these could be massive. As the report states, the use of renewable energy for transport and heating is lagging way behind, and the full impact of COVID-19 isn’t clear. We still have a long way to go. Energy efficiency paints a similar picture and the targets are also still well below what we had hoped.

There is no doubt that the world needs to recover and we are going to have to pull out the stops to ensure that there is universal access to sustainable, affordable, reliable energy sometime in a future we can imagine.

Ricardo is a freelance writer specialized in politics. He is with foreignpolicyi.org from the beginning and helps it grow. Email: richardorland4[at]gmai.com

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