Achieving Universal Energy Access
Energy powers the world’s economic engine. From the perspective of jobs, security, climate change, food production or increasing incomes, access to sustainable energy for all is essential for strengthening economies, protecting ecosystems and achieving equity. Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it “the golden thread that connects economic growth, social equity, and environmental sustainability.”
Worldwide, about 1.1 billion people have no access to electricity and the development benefits it brings, and 1 billion more have access only to unreliable electricity networks. Nearly 3 billion people rely on traditional biomass (such as wood and charcoal) for cooking and heating.
This lack of modern energy services stifles income-generating activities and hampers the provision of basic services such as health care and education. In addition, smoke from polluting and inefficient cooking, lighting, and heating devices kills an estimated four million people a year and causes a range of chronic illnesses and other negative health impacts. These emissions are also important drivers of climate change and local environmental degradation.
Sustainable Energy for All, an initiative launched in 2011 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and co-led by World Bank President Jim Kim, has as one of its three goals for 2030 ensuring universal access to modern energy services. The UN General Assembly has recognized the importance of this objective on several occasions – designating 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All and then declaring 2014-2024 the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All. Sustainable energy was made Goal 7 when the General Assembly approved a new set of global goals in 2015.
In support of Sustainable Energy for All, the UN Foundation launched a global Energy Access Practitioner Network comprising 2,400 members workng in 170 countries. The Network focuses on the removal of market barriers to the effective delivery of energy services by promoting the adoption of new technologies and innovative financial and business models, as well as the identification and dissemination of best practices and advocacy for universal energy access.
Also in support of Sustainable Energy for All, the UN Foundation is collaborating with the World Health Organization and UN Women, together with other private sector and non-profit partners, to expand access to modern, sustainable energy services in health facilities, particularly clinics in rural areas that are not served by the electricity grid.
Reliable electricity is essential to powering emergency medical equipment, storing blood and vaccines, and performing basic health procedures, especially after dark. Without it, pregnant women must deliver their babies in the dark or are unable to undergo an emergency cesarean section at night. Children do not have access to life-saving vaccines or critical emergency care. Women do not have full access to vital pre- and post-natal maternal health care services. Yet many health clinics in developing countries lack any access to electricity or have it only intermittently.
Also for Sustainable Energy for All, the UN Foundation supports a public-private partnership encouraging the development and deployment of Clean Energy Mini-Grids, which seek to deliver utility-grade electricity to areas not served by the conventional power grid. Off-grid households increasingly have access to lighting and cell phone charging through small hand-held devices or solar home systems, but additional power capacity is needed to support economically productive uses in business and agriculture. Mini-grids are designed to fill that gap.
The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an initiative hosted by the UN Foundation in support of Sustainable Energy for All, is a public-private partnership that seeks to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and protect the environment by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. The Alliance has a goal of enabling an additional 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020. In its first six years, the Alliance has helped spur the adoption of more than 53 million clean and/or efficient cookstoves and fuels, putting it on pace to reach its 2020 goal.
Noting that the health threat of air pollution globally continues to increase, Executive Director Radha Muthiah said, "Clean cooking is increasingly recognized as critical to addressing a broad range of global goals, from saving lives to mitigating climate change.”
When the Alliance launched in 2010, it had the support of 19 founding partners. Now it has more than 1,600. The global community has taken a clear stand in support of the clean cooking sector, and implementing countries have likewise made clear their steadfast determination to tackle the issue of household air pollution in a way that yields tangible results.