Campaign to End Energy Poverty Launches at the United Nations

New York, USA – The COVID-19 pandemic has set back decades of progress on poverty and development, including the push to eliminate energy poverty forever by the end of the decade.

On Friday, world leaders gathered for the United Nations General Assembly are expected to re-commit to promises to end energy poverty and take those efforts one step further by crafting a roadmap to achieve it.

Some 138 energy pacts They have been signed by several UN member states in the run-up to Friday’s UN High-Level Dialogue on Energy (HLDE), where activists and academics will rub shoulders with world and business leaders.

The meeting will see nations commit to accelerating previous pledges to promote clean energy for all by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Member states will redouble their efforts to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the targets set by the 2015 global Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.

In 2015, 193 UN member states voluntarily pledged to comply 17 development goals known as the SDGs for 2030. The ambitious agenda promises to “leave no one behind” by ending hunger and poverty and ensuring quality education, clean water and sanitation for all.

Progress, but not enough

Sustainable Development Goal 7, or SDG 7, aims to ensure that everyone on the planet has access to clean, reliable and affordable energy by 2030.

And although access to energy has grown in recent years, it is not growing for everyone.

Some 760 million people worldwide still do not have electricity and 2.6 billion people, or one in three people worldwide, do not have access to clean cooking fuels, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The coronavirus pandemic has seen the status quo further deteriorate by reversing decades of development progress and entrepreneur 97 million more people around the world return to poverty. Some 118 million more people went hungry last year compared to 2019, according to the UN.

In his speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres underscored the urgency to act before the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) later this year, and warned that the world it is “apparently light years away from reaching our goals.” .

If the trajectory continues the way it is going now, there will still be 650 million people without electricity by 2030, the UN warns.

“A minimal level of access to energy, a simple light, for example, is simply not enough,” Damilola Ogunbiyi, special representative of the UN Secretary General for Sustainable Energy for All, told Al Jazeera. “People need enough electricity to live healthy and fulfilling lives.”

“Does that turn into clean energy financing abroad?”

Three-quarters of all greenhouse gas emissions come from energy production. It is the main cause of the climate crisis, which hits the world’s poorest and most vulnerable the hardest, according to the UN.

While the challenges of bringing affordable, clean energy to all are formidable, there has been some positive momentum recently, Atlantic Council Global Energy Center Deputy Director Reed Blakemore told Al Jazeera.

For example, during his speech to the UN on Wednesday, President Xi Jinping of China said that Beijing would no longer finance the construction of new coal-fired power projects abroad.

China had previously invested money in coal projects in developing countries like Indonesia and Bangladesh.

The question, Blakemore said, is, “Does that turn into clean energy financing abroad?”

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks remotely during the 76th session of the General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York City [File: Mary Altaffer/Reuters]

In 2009, developed nations promised to mobilize $ 100 billion per year by 2020 for developing countries to help meet clean and renewable energy goals. And while that amount increased from $ 52.4 billion in 2013 to $ 78.3 billion in 2018, according to a recent report (PDF) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, a group of major economies), there is still a significant deficit.

The total climate finance mobilized by rich nations for developing economies in 2019 was just under $ 80 billion, meaning that developed countries will need to fill a $ 20 billion gapthe report said.

While the previous US administration of President Donald Trump met global climate goals with a setback by withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and slashing funding for the UN and its agencies, current US President Joe Biden this week underscored the renewed commitment of Washington to address climate change in his first UN speech since taking office.

“The Biden administration is clearly making an effort to set a marker for America’s new commitment to global climate goals,” Blakemore said.

Last month, the United States Senate passed a $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill, the largest in decades, to build better roads, bridges, public transportation, and broadband internet over the next five years.

But time is running out, warned UN chief Guterres this week.

“Promises, after all, are worthless if people don’t see results in their daily lives,” he said. “We have to get serious. And we must act fast. “

Africa and Asia: still in the dark

Three-quarters of the people worldwide who lack access to electricity (some 580 million people) live in sub-Saharan Africa. And that number is believed to have risen during the pandemic as governments divert financial resources to the public health response, according to the IEA.

A woman uses paraffin light while cooking during a power outage in Soweto, South Africa [File: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]

That deficit can be deadly.

Only a quarter of primary health care facilities in Africa have electricity, says the UN.

And some 2.6 billion people around the world lack access to clean cooking oil, depending instead on solid biomass, kerosene or coal, according to the IEA.

“Not having enough electricity or clean cooking options can mean the difference between life and death. Leaving billions of people in energy poverty is simply unacceptable, ”UN Special Representative Ogunbiyi told Al Jazeera.

Air pollution in homes, mainly from kitchen smoke, is linked to around 2.5 million premature deaths a year, and women and children are disproportionately affected.

And while the number of people without clean cooking oil has been gradually declining over the past decade, particularly in India and China, the pandemic threatens to reverse this modest progress.

And clean energy is also key to lifting people out of poverty, says Blakemore.

“We cannot forget that we have to configure these countries to power all their economies with clean energy,” he said. “If we think about it in a purely limited sense, then we will not create overwhelming economic growth in these parts of the world powered by clean and sustainable energy.”

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