Insights into the UNSDGs: access to clean energy and electricity is still a challenge under UNSDG-7

The United Nations fresh water
Prof. Douglas BOATENG

Access to affordable, reliable, clean energy is crucial for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Ensuring universal access to this form of energy by 2030 can bring about many benefits, such as generating fresh economic opportunities and employment, empowering women, children, and youth, enhancing education and healthcare, promoting more sustainable, fair, and inclusive communities, and boosting protection from and resilience to climate change.

Limited access to electricity worldwide is a pressing concern affecting more than ONE BILLION individuals. Particularly alarming is that the UN has recently reported that 16 African nations are among the most severely affected. They say that THREE BILLION people lack access to clean cooking fuels, putting their health at significant risk.

According to the latest United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Report (2022), “huge disparities in access to modern sustainable energy persist, leaving the most vulnerable even further behind.” The World Bank’s April 2023 Africa Pulse Report highlights that in 2022, 600 million people in Africa, or 43percent of the continent, lacked access to electricity.”


This goal is focused on ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy. Targets for this goal include: By 2030 –

  • ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services
  • increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
  • double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
  • enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology
  • 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

Reversal of progress a concern

Over the past few years, electrification progress has seen a noticeable deceleration. Specifically, between 2018 and 2020, the electricity access rate only saw an average increase of 0.5 percentage points per year. Comparatively, from 2010 to 2018, the electricity access rate saw an annual rise of 0.8 percentage points. This slowdown “may have significant implications for communities and individuals who lack access to electricity and rely on it for essential daily tasks and livelihoods”. The UN warns.

The UN further reported that in 2020, over 77percent of the global population without adequate access to electricity lived in rural sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, “because of economic pressures imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 90 million people connected to electricity in Africa and developing countries in Asia could not afford an extended bundle of services in 2020.”

Clean cooking technology is a must

There are significant challenges with clean cooking fuels and technology. According to the UN, in 2020, over 2.4billion people continued to use inefficient and polluting cooking systems despite the urgent need for clean cooking fuels and technologies. Most of those without access were in Asia, but the lowest proportion of the population with access was in 19 African LDCs.

An alarming number of nearly 4 million individuals tragically lose their lives prematurely yearly because of the devastating consequences of household air pollution caused by inefficient cooking practices. This preventable issue highlights the urgent need for immediate action and intervention to address this public health crisis.

Various purposeful research studies by UNESCO and the UN prove that using clean cooking solutions can significantly reduce health hazards related to indoor air pollution. This not only aids in achieving a sustainable and healthy recovery but also fosters economic growth in low- and middle-income nations. Their studies highlight the significance of adopting these measures to mitigate the negative impact of household air pollution and promote a healthy and prosperous society.

Financing a major challenge

According to the UN, financial support from international public sources to developing countries for clean energy continues to be on a downward trend. The consumption share of renewable energy only reached 17.7percent. Their findings also indicate that the financial flows in 2019 amounted to US$10.9 billion, a reduction from the previous year’s US$14.3 billion. The five-year moving average also “decreased for the first time since 2008, going from US$17.5 billion in 2014-2018 to US$16.6 billion in 2015-2019”. The report revealed.

Recently, the prices of commodities, energy, and shipping have been on the rise, which has inevitably led to an increase in the production and transportation costs of renewable energy sources like solar photovoltaic modules, wind turbines, and biofuels. This has raised concerns and created uncertainties around the development trajectory of renewable energy and its ability to meet the objectives of Goal-7.

The 2023 Africa Pulse Report released by the World Bank revealed Ghana had made commendable strides in providing electricity access, boasting a rate of 81.2percent in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. This is a significant feat, considering the challenges faced by other countries’ ongoing efforts to enhance energy access.

The report also forecasts that Ghana, Rwanda, and Kenya will attain complete energy access by 2030. Despite the notable progress, millions of individuals in other parts of Africa still lack sufficient access to energy, highlighting the need for continued efforts to bridge the energy gap and promote sustainable development.

Summary and conclusion

To achieve the global goals of sustainable energy, the UN urges an investment increase in energy infrastructure from US$400 billion to US$1.25 trillion by 2030. Priority should be given to providing reliable and affordable energy to Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia regions currently experiencing significant energy deficiencies. Such a conscious move can help improve the living conditions and economic opportunities for millions of people in these areas while reducing the overall global carbon footprint and addressing the urgent issue of climate change.

The CDP reports that energy production and supply contribute nearly 60percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, renewable energy sources only comprise 17percent of the world’s total energy consumption. To address the severe impacts of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends reaching at least 85percent renewable energy usage by 2050.

To conclude, there is a need to identify and implement cleaner, more efficient, and affordable alternatives that will positively impact the environment and the health of those residing in developing economies. One such recognized critical issue policy and world leaders must address is the use of harmful cookstoves that contribute to air pollution and health problems in developing economies. Through collaboration, the world can tackle this challenge and significantly contribute to the future of planet Earth and the well-being of its inhabitants.

>>>The writer is an international chartered director and Africa’s first-ever appointed Professor Extraordinaire for Industrialisation and Supply Chain Governance. He is the CEO of PanAvest International and the founding non-executive chairman of MY-future YOUR-Future and OUR-Future (“MYO”) and the “thought-provoking” daily NyansaKasa (words of wisdom) series. Professor Boateng is the non-executive chairperson of the Minerals Income and Investment Fund (MIIF). Previously, he was the non-executive chair of the Public Procurement Authority (PPA). For more information on Nyansakasa, visit and


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