The 2020 edition of Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report monitors and assesses attainments in the global quest for universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy by 2030. The latest available data and select energy scenarios are set forth in this year’s report, which finds that although the world continues to advance toward SDG 7, its efforts fall well short of the scale required to reach the goal by 2030.

The data and analyses presented in these pages were prepared before the covid-19 pandemic and must be viewed in the light of this unprecedented crisis. Like most grave crises, the covid-19 pandemic shows how an unforeseen global calamity can disrupt trends and policies of long standing, with outcomes both expected and unpredictable, dire and surprising. With its widespread impact on societies and economies at all levels, including plummeting oil prices, disrupted supply chains, and the limited ability of many households and businesses to pay for electricity services, the pandemic is certain to affect the energy transition and progress toward SDG 7. At the same time, the crisis is pointing to the urgent need for access to reliable, affordable, sustainable, and modern energy—for hospitals and health facilities to treat patients, for schools to prepare children for the digital economy, for communities to pump clean water, and for people to gain access to information. The full impact of the covid-19 pandemic on energy access, energy efficiency, renewable energy deployment, and the full energy transition remains to be seen.

In response to the pandemic, countries around the world will have to take exceptional measures to bring the health emergency under control, limit its human toll, and avoid deep recession. Under such circumstances, countries have an opportunity to consider options for economic stimulus that not only respond to the immediate crisis, but also ensure longer-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability. At the heart of such objectives is access to modern energy, with its immense potential to spur the achievement also of other Sustainable Development Goals and global climate objectives. The SDG 7 custodian agencies—the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank, and the World Health Organization (WHO)—therefore urge the international community and policy-makers to safeguard the gains already attained for SDG 7 and not lose sight of the need to continue action on affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.

According to the custodian agencies, the latest data on progress toward SDG 7, before the onset of the pandemic, demonstrated that stepped-up efforts toward all targets were urgently required if SDG 7 was to be met within the coming decade. Even greater efforts will be needed to meet the SDG 7 targets in a post covid-19 world.

Universal access. SDG target 7.1 is universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy services; with 7.1.1 focusing on access to electricity and 7.1.2 focusing on access to clean cooking solutions. Recent years have seen rapid growth in access to electricity after an accelerated deployment of affordable electrification options, including on- and off-grid solutions. As a result, the global population lacking access to electricity dropped to 789 million in 2018, from 1.2 billion in 2010 (Figure ES.1). By contrast, the global population without access to clean cooking solutions remained largely unchanged during the same period, standing at close to 3 billion. The rate of increase in access to clean cooking has even decelerated since 2012, falling behind population growth in some countries. Increased efforts are needed to ensure universal access to both electricity and clean cooking, consistent with SDG target 7.1.

Renewable energy. Target 7.2 aims to increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. That share continued to increase in 2017 (+ 0.1 percentage points), although at a slower pace than the year before (+ 0.2 percentage points), reaching 17.3 percent of total final energy consumption (TFEC) in 2017, up from 17.2 percent in 2016 and 16.3 percent in 2010. Solar PV and wind are key drivers behind the fast-growing share of renewables in the generation of electricity. But renewables’ share in the heating and transportation sectors lags far behind its potential. An acceleration of renewables in all sectors will be needed to achieve target 7.2.

Energy efficiency. SDG target 7.3 is to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030, over the trend observed between 1990 and 2010, which was 1.3 percent. Global primary energy intensity, defined as total primary energy supply per unit of GDP, reached 5.0 megajoules per USD dollar in 2017, equivalent to a 1.7 percent rate of improvement from 2016—the lowest since 2010. Preliminary estimates for 2018 (1.3 percent) and 2019 (2 percent) suggest that the improvement rate would reach approximately 2.1 percent between 2010-2019 which is lower than the required 2.6 percent annual target rate for the years between 2010 and 2030. Consequently, achieving the goal will require an energy intensity improvement rate of at least 3 percent per year from now through to 2030—a challenging proposition.

International public finance. Finally, target 7.A is to promote access to technology and investments in clean energy, with 7.A.1 focusing on international public financial flows to developing countries in support of clean and renewable energy. Total flows reached USD 21.4 billion in 2017, double the level of 2010. Although this is a promising increase, only 12 percent of financial flows in 2017 reached the least-developed countries, which are the furthest from achieving the various SDG 7 targets. Increased efforts are needed to make sure finance reaches the countries most in need.

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In addition to reviewing progress toward SDG 7 targets, this report identifies best practices, policies, and measures to accelerate progress while supporting the achievement of other SDGs. The chapters that follow include boxes that identify the linkages between SDG 7 and other SDGs. The report also describes the results of global modeling exercises conducted by IEA and IRENA to determine whether current—which is to say, pre-covid-19—policy ambitions are sufficient to meet the SDG 7 targets and, if they are not, what additional actions are needed for success. The final chapter of the report contains an overview of indicators and suggests ways to further improve the underlying data and the tracking of advances.