Global Sustainable Development

By Michael Tobias

Any chance of countries worldwide achieving the 2030 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set has been critically jeopardized by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the deadly coronavirus hit, efforts to reach SDG 7, the seventh goal of SDG, had fallen short of the scale required and an urgent need to step-up global efforts to meet targets had been identified. Now it seems that COVID-19 has disrupted expected outcomes so badly that success is likely just a pipe dream.

The most recent report by the 2030 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) custodian agencies shows that while the world is slowly advancing towards Goal 7 (SDG 7), we are unlikely to achieve these goals by 2030. This means, simply, that there will not be universal access to reliable, modern, affordable, and sustainable energy within the next 10 years.  

While it isn’t possible to fully assess the impact of COVID-19 on SDG 7 yet, there is no argument that this global crisis has disrupted lives, supply chains, societies, and economies at every possible level. The only way global SDG 7 targets could ever become reality by 2030 would require hugely intensified efforts and trillions of US dollars spent in the energy sector alone. 

However, in response to the dire and unexpected outcomes of the horrific pandemic that has lead to global calamity, the SDG 7 custodian agencies have urged policymakers and the international community to continue actively working towards affordable, sustainable, reliable, and modern energy for everyone on earth. 

Michael Tobias

Tracking SDG 7 2020

A joint report of five custodian agencies, The World Bank, the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), and the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report 2020, released recently, assesses progress in the global mission to ensure every person on earth has access to modern energy that is sustainable, reliable, and affordable. 

The data and analyses presented in the report were compiled last year (2019) before the coronavirus was detected, and in response to these, the custodian agencies warned that unless efforts to reach the targets set were stepped up urgently, the 2030 global Sustainable Development (SDG) 7 goals would not be met within the next decade to 2030.   

Additionally, they warn that even greater efforts are going to be required in the world post-COVID-19. 

Data in the report relates to:

  • Universal access to electricity, clean fuels, and technologies for cooking
  • Renewable energy
  • Energy efficiency
  • International public finance

While there has been some success in these critical areas, we clearly have a long way to go in the next 10 years to meet any of the targets set. 


1. Universal access to modern energy services improved between 2010, when there were 1.2 billion people without access to electricity, and 2018, when this figure had dropped to 789 million. By comparison, there is not much change in terms of the people worldwide who don’t have access to clean cooking solutions. In 2010, the figure was 3 billion, and eight years later, 2.8 billion. In some countries, this falls behind the population growth figures. 



2. Renewable energy represented 16.3% of total energy consumption in 2010 and slightly more – 17.3% – in 2017 when the most recent data was compiled by the custodian agencies. While the SDG 7 targets aim to increase access to renewable energy substantially, there needs to be considerably more movement to achieve the given targets. Solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind energy are key drivers of renewable energy, but even these are shown to be lagging way behind potential levels. 



3. Energy efficiency has slowed down. The energy intensity level of primary energy, which indicates how much energy is needed to produce one unit of economic output, dropped from 5.9 megajoules per US dollar (MJ/USD) in 2010 to 5.0 MJ/USD in 2017. This small improvement is not in line with the SDG 7 targets and will require an improvement rate of at least 3% per year to 2030 if there is to be any chance of achieving the SDG 7 goals that relate to energy efficiency. 



4. International public finance


The international financial flows available to support clean energy in developing countries more than doubled from US$10.1 billion in 2010 to US$21.4 billion in 2017. However, the report states that only an estimated 12% of this money reached the least-developed countries in 2017, and it is these countries that need it the most to achieve the SDG 7 targets. 

Cooking over a makeshift wood fire. Billions of people globally don’t have access to clean cooking methods

Indoor Air Quality

Although not directly singled out in data analysis contained in the SDG 7 report, air pollution from cooking with fossil fuels and sub-standard devices is a major issue and a problem that needs to be tackled worldwide. Even though global access to clean cooking fuels and technologies has improved substantially over the past few decades, if the trend continues without improving significantly, according to IEA 2019 figures, only about 70% of the population worldwide will have access to clean cooking fuels by 2030. 

Furthermore, it isn’t only household environments that are affected. Household air pollution from cooking and heating affects climate change and wood fuel used globally for cooking and heating is unsustainable. 

WHO estimates that 7 million people worldwide die every year as a result of air pollution, 2.8 million as a result of indoor air pollution. Furthermore, a large percentage (as high as 80%) of those living in cities where air pollution is monitored, are constantly exposed to a poor quality of air quality that exceeds the guideline limits set by WHO for both indoor and outdoor air. 

With or without the SDG 7 goals, the quality of air, particularly in buildings, is a factor that needs urgent attention during the ongoing pandemic. Because the virus is airborne, the circulation of good quality air is vital to prevent buildings, including health and hospital facilities, becoming high-risk areas for coronavirus infection. Optimizing ventilation systems and improving air purification will help to minimize the risks of airborne transmission. 

If buildings have been closed during the pandemic, it is essential for professional heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) engineers to carry out deep inspections that involve an indoor air quality assessment. These should not be avoided.


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