Ask your leaders "Why are you not acting now" on sustainable energy?

by Rachel Kyte, Sustainable Energy for All
Monday, 3 April 2017 14:19 GMT

Children watch television powered by solar energy at Meerwada village in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in this archive photo. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Sustainable energy provides many answers to our global challenges. From functioning clinics and heated schools, to buildings that give back energy to the system and cars that run on clean electricity, to new industrial hubs and cleaner air for the women who cook. Sustainable energy services allow us to build a brighter, cleaner future and to build that future for all.

In September 2015, the international community agreed the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 universal goals that together aim to leave no one behind. Just three months later, we reached agreement on action to combat climate change in Paris. These goals need to be reached while we decarbonize our economies. At the heart of this future vision is an energy transition that will provide Sustainable Energy for All.

So, just under two years on, how are we doing? Today, the latest edition of the ‘Global Tracking Framework: Progress Towards Sustainable Energy’ launches at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in New York. It shows us that the rate of progress across all measures of sustainable energy is not what it needs to be – in closing the energy access gap, in improving energy efficiency, or the extent to which renewable energy forms part of the energy mix.

For example, in the critical race to close the energy access gap, despite a number of countries and key political leaders setting stretch targets, extraordinary innovation in business models and financing, the rate of progress is slowing. If not reversed, we will miss the target of universal access by 2030.

The Global Tracking Framework shows that progress can happen and can happen quickly. Analyzing the data, we can tell stories of where leadership is making a difference: stories of bold policy reform and mobilizing investment; of new technologies solving problems for vulnerable communities, including the displaced; and new investors taking a risk on this massive opportunity.

Fifty-six million more Indonesians are now cooking with cleaner fuel instead of high-polluting kerosene. Ninety percent of the population in war-torn Afghanistan now has electricity - much of it solar - up from 50 percent only four years ago. And while 11 percent of Afghanistan’s rural population is getting power from the grid, 58 percent are getting it from off-grid solar.

* Read more about how to end energy poverty in our special series #EnergyAccess *

China is driving the energy intensity of its economy down, especially in the energy sector and turning now to transport and industry. Grid connected renewable energy is transforming energy systems and economies from Chile to Morocco, from Iceland to India. Plummeting costs for off-grid renewables – over 80 percent since 2010 for solar photovoltaics – coupled with new business models, has meant that off-grid, solar systems are bringing power to an estimated 60 million Africans who until now were living below or beyond the power lines

While we celebrate, and learn from these growing numbers of pockets of success, stark challenges remain. Just over one billion people still lack access to electricity. That’s just under one in seven people on the planet. Almost one in two and half people have no access to clean cooking. They face risking their health and the health of their young children to put food on the table.

The developed world must get on track to reduce the energy intensity of its buildings, transport and industry - and fast.

Almost every month we see headlines of incredible energy deals with grid connected modern renewable energy to be provided at prices that, even without subsidies, out competes traditional fossil fuels. But the speed and scale of renewable energy adoption is not where we need it to be if we’re to stay on track.

This new data helps us narrow down our choices on where we act can be more informed and aim at fast action for high impact.

Success has happened for a reason. We know the biggest gains in sustainable energy are across countries with supportive national policies that drive an integrated view of an energy system that puts a premium on efficiency, a commitment to ensuring affordable, reliable, cleaner energy for all and that levels the playing field for renewables. Add to this committed political leadership from the top and reforms that allow the private sector to take up the strain and we have a recipe that works.

At the Sustainable Energy for All Forum, gathering more than 1500 leaders from mayors to ministers, community investors to bankers, utility CEOs to women owned off-grid businesses, we are sharing the success stories, and interrogating the failures, with the hope to strengthen the resolve of those yet to act.

Thanks to the accumulating data and evidence, we can say, to all leaders, the need for action is urgent. With technology available, financial innovation possible, funds pledged and smart policy proven to be effective, citizens must mobilize around not just making the case for why act, but around questioning their leaders on “why are you not acting now”? Why not move to secure sustainable energy for all now? We’re gathering the people ready to help. Let’s get this done.

Rachel Kyte is chief executive officer of Sustainable Energy for All and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All. You can watch the Sustainable Energy for All Forum live from April 3-5 on their website

*Read more about how to end energy poverty in our special series #EnergyAccess*