Renewable Energy

We’re way off track to meet sustainable energy goals

One of the key deterrents for the countries in the Global South is the lack of finance

By Jay C Shiv
Published: Wednesday 14 June 2023
Photo: iStock.__

The recently released Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report, 2023 highlighted the gap between universal energy access targets and achievements across the world, especially in the Global South. Energy transition has a central role in achieving universal energy access, the targets pledged in the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 and mitigating climate impacts.

The pertinent question to ask ourselves is whether we are doing enough to extend universal energy access. Some 754 million people are still without access to electricity, and 2.3 billion people didn’t have access to clean cooking in 2021, the report noted.

Read more: Full coverage: State of renewable energy in India

These numbers will surge further if we include the world’s population consuming a negligible amount of electricity — which is lower than the basic recommended per capita amount of about 360 units a year. There are about 40 countries with per capita electricity consumption below 360 units a year, ranging between as low as dismal 17 units to 330 units.

The document expressed apprehension about SDG targets achievement being missed significantly by the end of the implementation period ending in 2030. Already halfway through the implementation period, the progress is not very encouraging. There lies a massive gap in facilitating interventions on deploying renewable energy and clean cooking across the Global South.

As rightly pointed out by the experts, one of the key deterrents for the countries in the Global South is the lack of finance, let alone concessional finance, to drive the energy transition agenda. 

Countries cannot be given a free pass on account of continued reliance on natural gas through a significant share of carbon budget, especially for countries in the Global South. However, natural gas can be an essential link and ladder to step up the energy transition process from fossil fuel (oil and coal)-based energy systems to renewable energy-based systems, especially for the economies in transition.

Moreover, there’s a clear divide among countries in the Global South in terms of resource dependence — particularly in Africa. While northern Africa heavily depends on natural gas and oil for its primary energy needs, South Africa’s primary energy supply is dominated by coal, according to a report by the International Energy Agency.

On the other hand, the use of biomass is highly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), with oil catering to most energy requirements; SSA has much less reliance on coal than the other two regions. This clearly indicates the need to meet SSA’s energy demands with modern, bioenergy-based clean cooking solutions and efficient utilisation of biomass resources.

 Also read: Decentralised clean energy tech can impact 37 mn livelihoods in India’s agri, textile sectors: Study

Sustainable solutions will reduce the climate impact associated with the consumption of natural resources such as biomass, which can lead to deforestation. The current pace of growth indicates that SSA will house 60 per cent of the people without access to clean cooking by 2030, the report further warned.

Moreover, about 60 per cent population of Africa is concentrated in 27 countries in SSA, which have lower per capita access to electricity — as low as 5 per cent of the recommended benchmark of 360 units per year. This paints a clear picture of acute energy poverty in these countries. In a hypothetically worst-case scenario, a family here has to make a hard choice between using a fan for an hour a day for 300 hot days or a CFL bulb for five hours a day throughout the year.

SSA needs urgent attention through the extension of climate and concessional finance, with robust frameworks and roadmaps, for the regions and countries separately, for growth in investments for the energy transition in Africa and the Global South.

With such varying energy profiles as in the case of Africa, it is an uphill task to prioritise development goals for a region with regard to energy transition, as all the countries cannot be put in one basket. It, therefore, requires a clear roadmap for energy transition. The transition strategy should list a carbon budget as well as countries and organisations obligated to support climate finance.

The loss and damage fund can be instrumental in the growth story for SSA if it can be instituted before the opportunity runs out. Urgent action is thus needed before we cross the threshold of global temperature anomaly rising beyond the agreed 1.5°C, especially for the highly vulnerable population of the Global South.

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