By Damilola Ogunbiyi*
The energy transition story is a story of energy access. I’ve often said this, and it’s worth repeating. The climate crisis and the energy access crisis are intrinsically linked. The billions of people who lack access to safe, clean, and reliable electricity and cooking fuels are forced to rely on polluting means to go about their daily lives.
This produces the power equivalent of up to 1,000 coal-fired power stations. The clean energy transition is impossible while energy poverty still exists. We will not be able to meet our goal of net-zero by 2050 unless we’re able to provide safe, clean, and affordable access to electricity and cooking solutions to every person on the planet.
But we’re not even close. Even in pre-pandemic times, we were far from achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7—universal energy for all. The pandemic has pushed us further from this goal. And with just over nine years to go, there is an urgent need to pull together every country and corporation to make bold and ambitious commitments to support a just and human-centred energy transition.
The scale of the challenge
In Africa alone, 570 million people live without access to electricity, and close to a billion people lack access to clean cooking solutions. This energy poverty impacts every aspect of what it means for people to live a modern, dignified life.
For instance, without access to electricity, health centres cannot provide appropriate levels of service to the populations they serve, which can mean the difference between life and death. In sub‑Saharan Africa, 60 per cent of all health centres do not have access to electricity. Of the ones that do, only 34 per cent of hospitals and 28 per cent of health clinics have reliable access. This impacts the safe storage of vaccines and medicines, and the running of life-saving equipment like ventilators. Globally, half of all vaccines are ruined owing to lack of refrigerated storage facilities.
Schools that operate without reliable electricity face higher drop-out rates, especially among adolescent girls. Farmers who do not have adequate, temperature-controlled storage and transport facilities report higher post-harvest losses. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are unable to grow and increase profits owing to restricted hours of operations because of electricity constraints. In the absence of reliable power, many resort to fossil fuel-based generators that come at a high price – economically, environmentally, and ultimately, socially as well.
Putting people at the centre of our efforts to achieve SDG 7 has the power to unlock multiple socio-economic benefits for regions in Asia and Africa that continue to grapple with the impacts of the pandemic.
So, how do we get there?
It starts with commitment
Recognizing that the clean energy transition is tied to the achievement of several SDGs, this September, the United Nations High-level Dialogue on Energy will include a global call to action in the form of Energy Compacts providing an opportunity for countries and corporations to express commitments to accelerate the deployment of clean energy solutions. These commitments will continue to be updated throughout the current Decade of Action to ensure action that will put us on a trajectory towards achieving the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
But we need adequate financing
Commitments won’t amount to much unless they’re backed by political will, inclusive planning approaches, and most importantly, finance, in order to move towards action. The Energy Compacts include an opportunity for developed countries and organizations to offer support for developing countries as part of their commitment to a clean, equitable energy transition.
To achieve universal energy access, we need an investment of at least USD 45 billion annually until 2030. We need stronger ambition to drive this volume of financing. And we need to ensure that the right solutions receive finance to support the faster delivery of clean energy solutions to achieve our net-zero agenda.
We cannot do this alone
During my time at the Lagos State Electricity Board as well as with the Federal Government of Nigeria, I saw first-hand the kind of impact electrifying economies can have on people and communities. Countries like Nigeria have made immense strides in closing the access gap, but much more needs to be done to help grow the economy and lift people out of poverty, while at the same time ensure a sustainable future for our planet.
We cannot keep speaking to developing countries like this is a problem they need to solve and looking to developed countries like they have all the solutions. We’re all in this together and we all need each other. No country or organization is going to be able to solve the climate crisis alone. The pandemic has shown us why energy access is so critical for countries to be able to respond effectively to crises like these.
Collaboration and partnerships across various levels is imperative if we are to deliver sustainable energy for all which will generate multiple benefits.
Young people are the energy leaders of tomorrow
While we need the participation of all countries and organizations to push towards a just and inclusive energy transition, we must include young people as part of this process. I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of young entrepreneurs in Lagos, Nigeria. I always come away from interactions like these inspired by the enthusiasm and resolve of the younger generation. This energy needs to be leveraged in our fight for a just, equitable and sustainable world. Young people need to be given the opportunities and skills to further progress and develop energy leaders of the future.
*The writer is CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) and Co-Chair of UN-Energy. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.