Towards Universal Energy Access by 2030: the Role of Energy in Achieving Sustainable Development
16 of November 2015
Towards Universal Energy Access by 2030: the Role of Energy in Achieving Sustainable Development
Richenda Van Leeuwen

On September 25, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, along with a set of bold new Global Goals, which Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon hailed as a universal, integrated and transformative vision for a better world.  The 2030 Agenda includes 17 goals and 169 targets to end poverty, fight inequality and address climate change over the course of the next 15 years; a challenging but achievable vision with the right actions and partnerships.

Recognizing the role of energy in addressing these interconnected development challenges, the United Nations General Assembly designated Goal 7 for ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.  Specifically, the UN plans to substantially increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix; to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; to enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology.  It further plans to promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology, and to expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries.

This new Sustainable Development Goal focused on energy access is an extension of ongoing work led by the UN-led Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4All), established in 2011 by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whose three interlinked objectives around energy access, efficiency and renewables provided a strong global framework for the establishment of SDG7.  As the sector now matures, the importance of quality solutions and services, affordability, sustainability in delivery and ongoing operations and support for market development, and accessibility for those for whom solutions have been out of reach must remain front and center in our ongoing collective work.  

As a part of the contribution to support the UN’s work on energy access by the United Nations Foundation, it established the Energy Access Practitioner Network to help catalyze efforts to mobilize and leverage the emergence of lower-cost and innovative decentralized renewable energy solutions for off-grid electrification to reach their full potential within the suite of energy access solutions.  It has grown in four years from a handful to more than 2,000 business and civil society members drawn from 170 countries focus on delivering a range of solutions and approaches that provide a rapid and flexible means to complement and support national government efforts to bring the benefits of energy access to underserved populations, while focusing particularly on the application of a range of renewable energy solutions and services.  By promoting new technologies and innovative business models, facilitating investment and funding opportunities, and fostering new partnerships for the development of quality standards, the Practitioner Network catalyzes energy service delivery leveraging improvements in education, health, livelihoods, the environment, and gender equity.  

We welcome the partnership with ALER and its members in national, regional and broader global engagement around our collective efforts to make universal access to modern energy services a reality by 2030.

Achieving any of the global goals will also require unlocking investment.  We are seeing many new partners –including from the private sector – now beginning to step up with the growing recognition that creating a sustainable future represents not only a moral obligation, but also an economic opportunity.  Indeed, total investments broadly across renewable energy in 2014 were almost equal between “developed” and “developing world” countries.  While this is encouraging, there is still all too often limited focus on the contribution of decentralized solutions as a rapid way to reach underserved homes and communities, a mismatch between opportunity and investor.  Having the right amount of capital, structured in the right way and at the right time remains critical to the growth of enterprises able to address energy needs in their own market.  UNF, for its part, helps to bridge the information gap and bring the work of its membership to the attention of global commercial and impact investors as well as development financing entities to help address this residual issue.

But targeted applications that go beyond the reach of existing commercial business approaches also remain a critical need, whether in agriculture, water, sanitation and beyond.  The delivery of sustainable power solutions such as to help power health facilities across sub-Saharan Africa is a high priority for the UN Foundation, and our partners UN Women and WHO within the Sustainable Energy for All initiative.  There remains a need to continue to prioritize such targeted interventions where a profit margin may not be immediately attainable, if at all.  This will help ensure the accessibility, quality, and safety of essential health services particularly for women during childbirth and their newborns – through the holistic and sustainable electrification of health care facilities that adequately addresses their needs.  The targeted use of clean energy micro-grids for bringing full community electrification as well as the use of standalone solutions using solar photovoltaics where needed combined with a diesel generator for can be a way by which we ensure this outcome in areas where grid power is not planned, or sufficient.  Ensuring a priority focus on targeted applications will not only help us to reach goal seven, but also goals three, on good health and well-being and goal five on gender equality, showing again how energy is intertwined across each of the global goals as an enabler in improvements across the full spectrum of development needs.

2015 is an unprecedented moment for global action for people and the planet.  We have an unprecedented opportunity to make major global decisions that can mobilize the world around a shared agenda to promote enhanced opportunity for all while protecting the planet.  Indeed, our common future for our children and their children depends on our ability to get this right.

By coming together to support the global goals and the road to and through Paris to ensure that the world tackles climate change with the unity and urgency it requires, we can be the first generation to end extreme poverty, the most determined generation to fight inequality, and the last generation to need to address climate change.

Richenda Van Leeuwen
Executive Director, Energy Access, Energy and Climate, United Nations Foundation