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Data shows G20 still mostly talk, little action, when it comes to energy poverty

by Rebekah Shirley | Power for All
Wednesday, 5 July 2017 16:44 GMT

A man stands among solar panels installed by the United Nations Developments Programme at Abu Salem hospital in Tripoli, Libya January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Hani Amara

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

"Off-grid" clean power is getting a tiny slice of the aid pie, despite a G20 action plan to boost energy access

The G20 meets this week with energy and climate a central focus following President Trump’s much-criticized decision to pull the United States out of the Paris agreement. The G20 cannot use the Trump noise, however, as an excuse to renege on its earlier pledge to overcome another major global energy challenge: eradicating electricity poverty for 1.1 billion most rural poor, also known as U.N. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7.

The G20 has previously agreed on an Energy Access Action Plan, acknowledging that “the lack of access to energy that is affordable, reliable, viable, sustainable and modern currently acts as a severe obstacle to poverty eradication, economic growth and social development and inclusion, particularly in developing countries.” Many of those developing countries are also the most vulnerable to climate change.

The initial phase of the plan was specifically focused on “improving electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa”, where two-thirds of the 1.1 billion unelectrified live, mostly in remote areas that are difficult and expensive to reach through traditional approaches. Investment and financing was one of six areas of support in the plan.

Yet, the G20—whose 19 member nations and the European Union account for 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 65 percent of global clean energy investment—is so far showing little action. 

This is perhaps most glaring when viewed through their collective investment in distributed renewable energy (DRE), such as rooftop solar and green micro-grids. The International Energy Agency has said such solutions will account for 60 percent of the connections needed to end electricity poverty and achieve SDG7. So it makes sense that the G20 would invest more in distributed renewables and help hundreds of millions of people gain energy access for the first time.


But a data analysis by sector and project reveals that leading aid donors among the G20 members are not yet doing what they promised.

Eight of the top aid donors among G20 members (US, Germany, European Commission, France, Italy, UK, Japan, and China) contributed an estimated $122 billion in total foreign aid in 2016. In comparison, only $2.7 billion is estimated to have been spent on clean energy production and support in 2015; support for DRE solutions (also sometimes referred to as “off-grid” clean energy), specifically, is even smaller at an estimated $705 million. 

In comparison, $1.1 billion of aid was earmarked for fossil-fuel based energy generation in 2015.

The figures offer an even starker comparison with aid figures in other social development and infrastructure sectors. 

In 2015, the same top seven donors (excluding China, which does not publish by-sector aid breakdown) contributed $9.3 billion on transportation infrastructure aid; an estimated $7.6 billion went to government and civil society support; and $4.1 billion was spent on banking and financial services sectors. This is of course not to argue that other priorities are somehow over-supported or that aid should be funneled away from those issues. Rather, it is to point out how clean energy production and distributed renewables in particular are under-supported and underfunded. 

Dramatic cost reductions in recent years mean distributed renewable technologies will play an important part in not just fighting climate change but also in creating new economic opportunities through increased energy access. G20 members in particular, as leaders in international development aid, must do more. 

Dr. Rebekah Shirley is director of research at Power for All, and the Platform for Energy Access Knowledge (PEAK).