With conversations around climate change and climate action becoming increasingly important in today's society, I have decided to take an in-depth look at the United Nations' self-described goal to "ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all".
What exactly is this goal?
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) decided upon seventeen key areas that each come together on a global scale, with the intention to have a united progression towards a better future. This is not the work of science fiction, although at a first glance it may feel like steps towards a utopia you might find in a graphic novel or film. Instead, all United Nations Member States have agreed upon real-world areas in which they can strive to improve upon, in order to achieve a healthier, greener, and more sustainable future for the planet. The seventh of these goals is titled 'Affordable and Clean Energy'. This goal has the purpose of improving the state of global energy production, usage, and access by the year 2030. This goal alone has five targets the UN has agreed to meet:
Ensure universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services. (7.1)
Increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. (7.2)
Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency. (7.3)
Enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology =, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology. (7.a)
Expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States, and land-locked developing countries, in accordance with their respective programmes of support. (7.b)
There is a worldwide opportunity to clean up the way we source energy, and provide improved access to it, in under a decade. In our lifetime we could see global energy efficiency rates double and live in a world that nurtures the technological infrastructure of modern and clean energy, in both developing and developed countries.
What are the statistics?
It's all fine and well having these intentions set out for us, but action is crucial for seeing the outcome desired by so many people across the world. So, what are some of the statistics given by the UN in relation to their progressive energy pledge?
As of March 2022, the UN website states that global access to electricity in 2010 was at 83%, leaving 1.22 billion people without electricity. By 2019 the estimates looked a little brighter, with 90% of the population having access to electricity and 579 million estimated to still live without. Given the current progression on efforts to provide energy to those who still need it, the UN has predicted that even by 2030 there might be around 660 million people worldwide who still may not get access to any form of energy. So, in short, while beneficial efforts have made progress in providing people with accessibility, there is still a long way to go, should United Nations States wish to be on their intended track.
Financial flows to developing countries for clean and renewable energy efforts were at a total of $14 billion in the year 2018.
2019 saw 66% of the world's population accessing clean energy to cook, most of the increase between 2010 and 2019 was seen in countries such as China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Brazil.
If you have an interest in learning all of the details around renewable energy, the UN's Paris Agreement, or anything related to this topic, I highly suggest browsing the Greenpeace website.
What types of energy are deemed 'good'?
With so many numbers flying around, it can be confusing to wrap our heads around which energy forms are deemed 'good' and 'bad' in this context. We all know by now that fossil fuels are generally very damaging to the environment, therefore it is safe to assume they are mostly to be phased out. This is primarily because non-renewable energy is extremely damaging to the environment, as we all know. Not only because the act of taking something finite and destroying it in order to generate energy is damaging, but because the process itself creates harmful emissions, contributing to the ever-growing climate crisis we find ourselves in. In quite a large way at that. Not only this, but the term 'fossil fuel' has become increasingly ironic in recent history, as technological advances have introduced a huge plethora of cleaner, more accessible, and renewable forms of energy. These are largely deemed the 'good' option, largely for those reasons.
A popular example of the kind of energy production the United Nations' Member States to strive towards would be solar, perhaps much like Spain's PS20 Solar Power Plant.
It's all for the future.
These agreements founded by the United Nations are a step in the right direction towards a better future for everyone. You may be asking what you can do to help. I recommend always looking to contribute what you can, as anything from volunteering to donating items to a charity shop goes a long way. If you have loose change and there is a pot at the checkout, consider putting it in, if your government is acting in a way that goes against these SDGs, protest if you feel inclined to. A little or a lot goes a long way, even if you don't notice. One day, our children and our children's children may be able to look back comfortably, and see many of our current means of energy production as little more than a relic of the past, and a piece of human history.