Six years since the UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, national governments have fallen behind on many of their commitments to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they fit into their Nationally Determined Contributions. (NDCs). While developed countries have exhausted their carbon budgets, there is an expectation from developing countries to compromise on industrial and economic growth and make up for the damage created by the western world. COP 26 presented an opportune moment for the developed countries to work with the developing countries in supporting a clean and reliable transition away from fossil fuels and for all nations to come together and set up their commitments towards climate goals. This global collaboration will depend on climate finance and resiliency efforts towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals. A 2020 UN Sustainable Development Goals Report reveals advancements in some areas, such as improving maternal and child health, expanding access to electricity, and increasing women’s representation in government. However, these improvements were offset elsewhere by growing food insecurity, deterioration of the natural environment, and persistent and pervasive inequalities due to the COVID19 crisis. Prioritizing interventions towards a clean energy transition to achieve universal access, decent employment for all, and an end to hunger, may be a way of getting us back on track, in the new normal.
“Everything we do during and after this crisis [COVID-19] must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face.” - António Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations
Impact of COVID 19
The COVID 19 pandemic has stifled global economies as key human development indicators like access to food, decent employment, energy and healthcare services took hits. This has been more pronounced in the global south than elsewhere in the world.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021, found that compared with 2019, about 46 million more people in Africa, 57 million more in Asia, and about 14 million more in Latin America and the Caribbean were affected by hunger in 2020. An estimated 660 million people may still face hunger in 2030, in part due to lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global food security – 30 million more people, than in a scenario in which the pandemic had not occurred.
A recent report by The Rockefeller Foundation estimates that millions of workers lost their jobs in developing countries. The effects are more pronounced among young people, women, low-paid and low-skilled workers. Low access to vaccines globally, limited electricity and internet connectivity has rendered those that cannot work remotely, unemployed. Though significant investment in agriculture—a key employer for most of the agrarian economies in the global south—may have a multiplier effect on employment creation, the pandemic has tightened the structural bottlenecks that impede production, processing, and distribution of food, further limiting its access by those that don’t produce enough.
Access to renewable energy is crucial to addressing other key sustainable development challenges such as food security, employment, poverty reduction, health, education, and climate change, yet the world is behind schedule relative to achievement of SDG7 - ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all. The World Bank’s Energy Progress Report found that while the proportion of people with access to electricity increased up to 90 percent in 2019, the actual number of people in sub-Saharan Africa, without access to electricity grew in 2020.
Meeting in Cornwall in June of this year, the leaders of the G7 committed to support increases in energy efficiency, accelerate scaling of renewables and other zero emissions energy deployments to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2050. Per the Rockefeller report, investing $130 billion per annum over the coming decade could create 25 million new jobs in the power sector and generate another half a billion jobs in agriculture, health care, education, and diverse small and medium-sized enterprises all over the world. Reducing costs for renewable energy technologies such as solar can help countries expand access to clean energy for their people.
Importantly, energy access problems in the global south cannot be solved by investments in pilot projects alone; sustainable growth can only be achieved through scaling. In India for instance, financially empowering local governments to scale standalone solar mini-grids into a large network of interconnected mini-grids, can transform the entire economy of a province by ensuring year-round access to reliable clean energy for household and productive use. Though there has been headway in policy reform in many countries in Africa and India, universal energy access is still impeded by limited access to finance, knowledge, and human capital. The role of financial institutions is critical in rolling out DRE interventions at both local and national levels.
What we saw in Glasgow
While renewable energy investments and commitments from national leaders were underwhelming, non-state actors came together to unlock USD 100 Billion in public and private financing. The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) is a historic alliance with a mission to change energy for good through solving three problems: (1) POWER – reaching one billion people with reliable, renewable energy; (2) CLIMATE – avoiding and averting four billion tons of carbon emissions; and (3) JOBS – building an on-ramp to opportunity by creating, enabling, or improving 150 million jobs. With Anchor, Investment and Delivery partners the GEAPP presents an all new opportunity to funnel in climate finance and state motivations towards investing in renewable energy in the global south.
The time is now for a paradigm shift. If national governments are to build back better from the coronavirus pandemic, refocusing countries on SDG2 (hunger), SDG7 (energy access) and SDG8 (decent work) may be the catalyst for kickstarting improvements in the other SDGs. Post the commitments made at the UNGA,The High-Level Dialogue on Energy and the UN climate change conference in Glasgow, it is time to commensurate actions by the national governments to facilitate innovation around clean energy access Realizing the full potential of DREs can trigger growth in other economic sectors as highlighted above. National government and global partners should work towards ending energy poverty by investing in climate friendly renewable energy for universal access to be realized.