New York City, United States – The COVID-19 pandemic has held back decades of progress on poverty and development, including the goal of eradicating energy poverty for good by the end of the decade.
World leaders meeting Friday for the United Nations General Assembly are expected to recommit to commitments to end energy poverty — and take those efforts one step further by laying out a roadmap. work to make this happen.
Some 138 energy compacts have been signed by several UN member states in the run-up to Friday’s UN High Level Dialogue on Energy (HLDE), where activists and academics will put their shoulders to the wheel with world and business leaders.
At the meeting, countries will commit to accelerate previous commitments to promote clean energy for all by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Member States will step up their efforts to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the goals of the 2015 Paris global agreement on climate change mitigation.
In 2015, 193 UN member states voluntarily pledged to comply with 17 development goals known as the SDGs by 2030. The ambitious agenda promises to “leave no one behind” by ending hunger and poverty and ensuring quality education, clean water and sanitation for all.
Progress, but not enough
Sustainable Development Goal 7, or SDG 7, aims to ensure that by 2030 everyone on the planet has access to clean, reliable and affordable clean energy.
And while access to energy has grown in recent years, it’s not growing for everyone.
About 760 million people worldwide still have no electricity and 2.6 billion people — or one in three people worldwide — do not have access to clean cooking fuels, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The coronavirus pandemic has further worsened the status quo by decades of development gain and Push another 97 million more people worldwide back into poverty. Last year, 118 million people were more hungry than in 2019, according to the UN.
In his address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres underlined the urgency of action ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) later this year, warning that the world is “seemingly light years away from reaching of our goals”.
If the trajectory continues as it is now, there will still be 650 million people without electricity by 2030, the UN warns.
“A minimum level of access to energy — a simple light, for example — just isn’t enough,” Damilola Ogunbiyi, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sustainable Energy for All, told Al Jazeera. “People need enough electricity to live healthy and fulfilled lives.”
‘Will that change in financing clean energy abroad?’
Three quarters of all greenhouse gas emissions come from energy production. It is the main cause of the climate crisis, which, according to the UN, affects the world’s poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.
While the challenges of bringing clean, affordable energy to all are formidable, there has been some positive momentum recently, Atlantic Council Global Energy Center deputy director Reed Blakemore told Al Jazeera.
For example, during his UN speech on Wednesday, President Xi Jinping of China said that Beijing would no longer finance the construction of new coal-fired electricity projects abroad.
China had previously invested in coal projects in developing countries such as Indonesia and Bangladesh.
The question, Blakemore said, is, “Is that being funded abroad for clean energy?”
In 2009, developed countries pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year for developing countries by 2020 to help achieve clean and renewable energy goals. And while that amount has increased from $52.4 billion in 2013 to $78.3 billion in 2018, according to a recent report (PDF) of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, a group of major economies), there is still a significant deficit.
Total climate finance mobilized by rich countries for emerging economies in 2019 was just under $80 billion, meaning developed countries have a $20 Billion Gap, the report said.
While the previous US administration of President Donald Trump made a setback to global climate goals by withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and cutting funding for the UN and its agencies, current US President Joe Biden underlined the renewed commitment this week. from Washington to address climate change in his first UN address since taking office.
“The Biden administration is clearly making an effort to set a marker for the US’s renewed commitment to global climate goals,” Blakemore said.
the US Senate last month approved a $1 trillion infrastructure bill — the highest in decades — to build better roads, bridges, public transportation and broadband internet over the next five years.
But the clock is ticking, UN chief Guterres warned this week.
“After all, promises are worthless if people don’t see results in their daily lives,” he said. “We have to get serious. And we have to act quickly.”
Africa and Asia: still in the dark
Three quarters of the people worldwide who have no access to electricity – some 580 million people – live in sub-Saharan Africa. And that number would have increased during the pandemic as governments spend funding on public health response, the government said IEA.
That deficiency can be deadly.
Only a quarter of primary health care in Africa has electricity, the UN says.
And some 2.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean cooking oil and instead rely on solid biomass, kerosene or coal, according to the IEA.
“Not enough electricity or clean cooking options can mean the difference between life and death. Leaving billions of people in energy poverty is simply unacceptable,” UN Special Representative Ogunbiyi told Al Jazeera.
Household air pollution, primarily from cooking smoke, is associated with approximately 2.5 million premature deaths each year, disproportionately affecting women and children.
And while the number of people without clean cooking oil has gradually declined over the past decade – particularly in India and China – the pandemic threatens to negate this modest progress.
And clean energy is also key to lifting people out of poverty, Blakemore says.
“We must not forget that we have to set up these countries to provide their entire economies with clean energy,” he said. “If we look at it in a purely narrow sense, then we will not provide these parts of the world with significant economic growth driven by clean, sustainable energy.”