"Every day we delay, or every day we don't deliver, it becomes more painful and expensive, and we risk losing people and leaving people behind"
By Megan Rowling
BARCELONA, April 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Just over 1 billion people, or around one in seven, still have no access to electricity, a figure that has barely improved in two years, while the number cooking with health-harming fuels rose slightly to just over 3 billion, a report said on Monday.
Data for 2012 to 2014 showed progress in providing clean, modern energy to the poor was losing the race against population growth, especially in rural areas, the World Bank and the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a tracking report.
"If we are to make access to clean, affordable and reliable energy a reality, we're going to have to drive the rate of progress up, and that is going to require political leadership," said Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, an initiative of the U.N. Secretary-General.
This week, governments, business, development agencies and others will meet in New York to work out how to reach three international goals by 2030: universal access to modern energy services, doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and doubling the share of renewables in the global energy mix.
Reaching those targets is fundamental to achieving other global goals to end poverty and boost healthcare and education, as well as keeping global temperature rise below limits set in the Paris climate change accord, Kyte said.
"Every day we delay, or every day we don't deliver, it becomes more painful and expensive, and we risk losing people and leaving people behind," she told journalists by telephone.
The three organisations behind the report said some countries - even among the poorest - are making rapid progress.
For example, Kenya, Malawi, Sudan, Uganda and Zambia increased electrification by two to three percentage points per year, while Rwanda topped that and Afghanistan and Cambodia made use of off-grid solar energy to expand access even faster.
Paul Simons, the IEA's deputy executive director, said home systems and mini-grids powered by renewable energy offer "tremendous opportunities to provide electricity to communities in rural areas, and... this could help us close the gap".
Yet with 1.06 billion people lacking electric power in 2014, only a slight improvement from 2012, the report highlighted the urgent need to power growing communities in rural Africa.
In Africa, excluding the north, only 37 percent of people have electricity, compared with a global rate of 85 percent. Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo saw their rates fall.
'CINDERELLA' IN THE KITCHEN
Projections show the three energy targets - which were folded into a new set of global goals agreed in 2015 - will not be met, even taking into account new commitments under the Paris climate deal and technology trends like plunging costs for solar photovoltaic equipment, the report warned.
Particularly worrying was the number of people who use traditional, solid fuels like charcoal and dung to cook ticking up to just over 3 billion, experts said.
Vivien Foster, head energy economist with the World Bank Group, said clean cooking was the "Cinderella" of energy initiatives, despite causing some 4 million premature deaths per year due to inhalation of carbon monoxide and soot.
"Policy makers don't take it seriously," she said, as it is less appealing than electrification which is seen as a clear sign of a modernising economy.
More positively, the report showed some of the largest energy-consuming countries - Australia, China, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and Britain - cut their energy intensity, a measure of energy efficiency, by more than 2 percent annually.
The biggest reductions were in industry, but the residential sector, which is becoming more energy-intensive, should be the focus in future, the report said.
Renewable energy made modest advances, bringing its share in total energy consumption to 18.3 percent, but nowhere near fast enough to double its share to the target of 36 percent by 2030.
There has been a rapid increase in electricity generation from wind and solar, but electric power accounts for only a fifth of global energy consumption.
Progress on shifting to clean sources in heating and transport has been far slower, the report said.
"With technologies we need affordably available to us, with many pledges of financing over the last couple of years, and with policy roadmaps increasingly clear, it's now time to act on all of this," said Kyte.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)
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