2014 marks the launch of the United Nations decade of Sustainable Energy for All, which calls for universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Energy access is a vital development goal, and the focus on energy as part of the agenda reflects energy as crucial in solving many development challenges.
The importance of universal access to modern energy services may not be clearly obvious, but its impact on developing countries are wide and far reaching, being critical to a country’s socioeconomic development. Increased access to reliable clean energy is essential for the protection of ecosystems through basic human rights such as sanitation and healthcare, as well as strengthening economies through improving access to education and improving national infrastructure.According to the World Energy Outlook 2014 report, nearly 1.3 billion people are without access to electricity and the benefits it offers, with terrible living conditions concentrated mainly in the developing nations and rural areas of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, most of which are classified under the UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs). A vast majority of the countries with the lowest electricity access rates in the world are located in Sub-Saharan Africa, which would need an additional USD19 billion to achieve universal electricity access by the SDG deadline of 2030.
OBSTACLES IN THE FACE OF UNIVERSAL ENERGY ACCESS
The main obstacles preventing investment to developing countries are mainly the lack of conducive environment which minimizes investor risk, most of which come from the private sector and developed countries. There is general consensus on the importance of universal energy access. However, the broadness of the 7th Sustainable Development Goal means that quantifying and determining what exactly constitutes “modern access” to energy is debatable according to the Copenhagen Consensus Center.
While an increased number of developing countries continue to display strong commitment to the SDGs, international cooperation is needed for LDCs to succeed. The international community should endeavour to provide more financial and technical support to help the LDCs in their efforts to build capacity to provide for national transformative change and the eradication of poverty through sustainable modern energy policy implementation.
The potential impact of sustainable modern energy ranges far and wide. However, implementation is one of its main challenges, with partnerships on every level—community, local, national, international—imperative to ensure that national energy policies follow the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) framework, a United Nations initiative in partnership with the World Bank. It aims to form major investments in the energy sector to achieve the goal of ensuring universal access to modern energy services, increasing energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. Currently, there are eighty governments which are engaged with the initiative.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon provided an illustration in advocating for universal access to energy:
“Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, social equity, and environmental sustainability. I know this from my own experience. When I was a boy in post-war Korea, I studied at night by a dim and smoky oil lamp. Only when I prepared for examinations was I allowed to use a candle. Candles were considered too expensive to use for ordinary homework. This memory has stayed with me. My country changed, and my prospects changed, with the advent of affordable modern energy in Korea.
But too many others have not been so lucky. Widespread energy poverty condemns billions to darkness, to ill health, to missed opportunities. Energy poverty is a threat to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. It is inequitable and unsustainable.
Children cannot study in the dark. Girls and women cannot learn or be productive when they spend hours a day collecting firewood. Businesses and economies cannot grow without power.
We must find a way to end energy poverty.”
Sources: Sustainable Energy For All, UN Foundation, Copenhagen Consensus Center, World Energy Outlook
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