Sustainable Development Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

The aim of sustainable development goal seven (SDG 7) is ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. At the moment however, there is a wide variety across countries, and the current rate of progress falls short of what will be required to achieve this goal. Redoubled efforts will be needed, particularly for countries with large energy access deficits and high energy consumption (UN SDG Indicators, 2019).

The facts

One in 7 people still lack electricity and most of them living in rural areas of the developing world. More than 40 percent of the world’s population (3 billion) rely on polluting and unhealthy fuels for cooking. And, as the population continues to grow, so will the demand for cheap energy, and an economy reliant on fossil fuels is creating drastic changes to our climate. The share of renewables in final energy consumption is modestly increasing (from 17.3 per cent in 2014 to 17.5 per cent in 2015), but only 55 per cent of the renewable share was derived from modern forms of renewable energy.

There have been improvements in recent years:

  • From 2000 to 2016, the proportion of the global population with access to electricity increased from 78 per cent to 87 per cent, with the absolute number of people living without electricity dipping to just below 1 billion.
  • From 2000 to 2016, the electricity access rate increased from 60 per cent to 86 per cent in Southern Asia and from 26 per cent to 43 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Global energy intensity decreased by 2.8 per cent from 2014 to 2015, double the rate of improvement seen between 1990 and 2010 (UN SDG Knowledge Platform, 2019).

The focus of SDG 7

The targets set to be achieved by 2030 include universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services, increasing the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, energy efficiency improvements, investments in clean and renewable energy and energy infrastructure.

Affordable and clean energy has come one step closer due to progress in electrification, particularly in least developed countries (LDCs), and improvements in industrial energy efficiency. However, national priorities and policy ambitions still need to be strengthened to put the world on track to meet the energy targets for 2030 (UN SDG Knowledge Platform, 2019).

Reaching SDG 7 is also crucial to achieving many of the other SDGs – from poverty eradication via advancements in health, education, water supply and industrialization to mitigating climate change.

The Energy Security Trilemma in Australia

Securing an affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible energy sector is a huge challenge for policy makers, also in Australia. In the face of rapid technological change in the energy sector, policy needs to evolve to achieve three objectives:

  • Meet Australia’s Climate Change commitments under the Paris Agreement;
  • Ensure stable supply of energy so the ‘lights don’t go out’ (again);
  • Mitigate rising electricity costs, particularly for vulnerable and elderly households (Pursuit, 2017).

While access to electricity is near universal in Australia, the retail price of electricity has more than doubled in the past decade. This means Australians now pay higher electricity prices than most other OECD countries. Rising retail energy prices are placing low-income households under significant financial pressure. The 20% of Australian households with the lowest incomes are spending 4-5% of their household budget on electricity alone. Additionally, low-income Australians often live in poorly insulated and energy-inefficient houses and are less likely to be able to afford solar panels and other high-cost items that help reduce energy bills, such as energy-efficient water heaters and appliances.

Australia remains highly dependent on fossil fuels, with renewable energy making up just 7.5% of the total final energy consumption for 2014. However, the Australian Government’s Renewable Energy Target and state–based actions are now driving substantial investment in renewable electricity generation and renewables are likely to account for 23% of electricity generated by 2020.

While this is good news, energy policy after 2020 remains uncertain. An absence of federal incentives for renewables means that investment will rely on state policies and commercial returns, putting future levels of investment and emission reduction targets at risk (Transforming Australia Report, 2018).

SDG Video

The video on SDG 7 is created by our CR3+ partner Hanken School of Economics (Finland). In the first part of the video, Professor Peter Björk talks about the General Assembly’s decision in 2015 to make energy part of the SDGs and discusses the Accelerating SDG7 Achievement document released in 2018. This publication includes 27 policy briefs by global energy authorities from the UN System, international organizations, Member States and others. It proposes a new Global Agenda for Accelerated SDG7 Action as a clear roadmap towards achieving universal energy access by 2030 and maximizing its positive impact on other SDGs (Division for Sustainable Development Goals, 2019). According to Peter, the document gives a good overview of what has been done between 2015 and 2018 to achieve SDG 7 and more importantly, what still needs to be done to achieve this SDG. In the second part of the video, Peter focuses on energy systems and interviews Jukka-Pekka Niemi from Wärtsilä, a partner company of Hanken School of Economics that produces and sells energy solutions. The interview focuses on Wärtsilä’s strategy in leading the energy sector’s transformation toward a 100% renewable energy future.

Please enjoy the presentation.

If you would like access to the full video to use in your teaching, please contact Dr Swati Nagpal.

This blog is part of the SDG Series, a series that focuses on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, in the lead up to the CR3+ Conference in October 2019. 
More blogs in the SDG Series:
- An introduction to the Sustainable Development Goals
- SDG Series: Sustainable Development Goal 1
- SDG Series: Sustainable Development Goal 2
- SDG Series: Sustainable Development Goal 3
- SDG Series: Sustainable Development Goal 4
- SDG Series: Sustainable Development Goal 5
- SDG Series: Sustainable Development Goal 6