a) Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
b) Ensure universal access to modern energy services
c) Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency in buildings, industry, agriculture and transport
d) Phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption
The stark contradictions of our modern global economy are evident in the energy sector. We need reliable energy to reduce poverty and sustain prosperity, but must increasingly get it from renewable sources to limit the impact on the environment. Globally, 1.3 billion people do not have access to electricity. 2.6 billion people still burn wood, dung, coal and other traditional fuels inside their homes, resulting in 1.5 million deaths per year. At the same time, extensive energy use, especially in high-income countries, creates pollution, emits greenhouse gases and depletes non-renewable fossil fuels. The scarcity of energy resources will grow ever greater. Between now and 2030, high-income economies will continue to consume large amounts. They will be increasingly joined by countries which are growing rapidly and consuming more. And by 2030, when the planet reaches around 8 billion people, there will be 2 billion more people using more energy. All this energy use will create enormous strains on the planet.
Governments naturally seek growth, prosperity and well-being for their people. In seeking sustainable energy for all, we must ensure that countries can continue to grow, but use all the tools at our disposal to promote less carbon-intensive growth.
As high-income countries replace outdated infrastructure and technologies, they can and should transition to less energy-intensive pathways.
These challenges are enormous. But so are the opportunities. Done right, growth does not have to bring huge increases in carbon emissions. Investments in efficient energy usage, renewable energy sources, reducing waste and less carbon-intensive technologies can have financial benefits as well as environmental ones. Tools are already available. We can reach large-scale, transformative solutions worldwide with more investment, collaboration, implementation and political will.
There is considerable momentum already. The Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4ALL) has signed up over 50 countries, mobilised $50 billion from the private sector and investors and formed new public-private partnerships in transport, energy efficiency, solar cooking and finance. The G20 committed to phasing out inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, while providing targeted support for the poorest. This means that governments can have life-line energy pricing for poor consumers—they are not the ones who are wasting consumption. It also means that large energy consumers should pay full price—including for the damages caused to health by pollution and the taxes that should be paid on energy.
We can build on and consolidate this momentum by explicitly drawing on SE4ALL and G20 targets and focusing on access, efficiency, renewable energy and reducing the waste of fossil-fuel subsidies. Up-front investment in new technologies – from simple solar LED lights to advanced hydropower – can save lives, reduce expenses and foster growth. In making this transition to sustainable energy, we must pay particular attention to the poor and vulnerable. Subsidies are one way that countries help people in need get affordable energy, so phasing out inefficient subsidies should not exclude targeted support for the poorest.
Providing people with access to modern and reliable energy to cook and light their homes has enormous social, economic and environmental benefits. The use of traditional fuels indoors is toxic, causing illness and death. A lack of light prevents children from studying and learning and women can spend too much time gathering wood for fires. Just one kilogram of ‘carbon black’ particles produced by kerosene lamps contribute as much warming to the atmosphere in two weeks as 700 kilograms of carbon dioxide circulating in the atmosphere for 100 years.
The solutions are available and affordable – all we must do is act.
Rising energy use need not parallel faster growth – as the figure shows. Between 1990 and 2006, increased energy efficiency in manufacturing by 16 member countries of the International Energy Agency resulted in 14-15 per cent reduction of energy use per unit of output and reduced CO2 emissions, saving at least $180 billion.
But we must pick up the pace. Globally, we must double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency in buildings, industry and transport and double the share of renewables in the energy supply.
Although new infrastructure require an up-front investment, the long-term financial, not to mention environmental and social, payoffs are substantial. Adopting cost-effective standards for a wider range of technologies could, by 2030, reduce global projected electricity consumption by buildings and industry by 14 per cent, avoiding roughly 1,300 mid-size power plants.
It is crucial that technologies and innovations be widely shared. Low- and middle-income countries have the chance to leapfrog the old model of development and choose more sustainable growth. But they face two significant constraints: technology and finance. Cleaner and more efficient technologies are often patented by private corporations. Finance is also a problem: the benefits of more efficient technologies come from future savings, while the costs are concentrated at the beginning. If developed countries take the lead in applying these technologies, costs will fall and the technologies will become more accessible to developing countries.
To overcome these constraints, governments can use a mix of taxes, subsidies, regulations and partnerships to encourage clean-energy innovation. Partnering countries can use open-innovation forums to accelerate the development of clean-energy technologies and rapidly bring them to scale. These open-source forums should be linked to real public-works projects that can offer financing, and the chance for rapid adoption and broad deployment.
We must also reduce waste by ensuring proper pricing. About 1.9 trillion dollars, or 2.5% of the world’s total GDP, is spent every year to subsidise fossil fuel industries and protect low prices. If subsidies are reduced, these revenues could be redirected to other pressing priorities. Elimination could reduce as much as 10 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.