Climate Security and SDG 7 on Affordable and Clean Energy

It is impossible to talk about climate security without mentioning energy. Energy use contributes to 73 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, and interventions in the energy sector have been the foremost strategy in the fight against climate change for decades.

The SDG 7 sets five broad goals encompassing energy access, renewable energy development, energy efficiency, international cooperation, and infrastructural expansion and technology expansion, by 2030. Overall, the global community has made considerable improvement over the years. The rate of electricity access has grown from 83 per-cent in 2010 to 91 percent in 2020, thereby reducing the number of those without electricity from 1.2 billion to 733 million. The use of renewable sources for electricity generation increased from 19.7 per-cent in 2010 to 26.2 percent in 2019, and the rate of carbon emission rise has slowed from 3 percent per year in the 2000s to about 0.5 per-cent per year in the past decade.

Challenges to Progress

While the progress demonstrates that the measures introduced in the energy sector have yielded positive results, it unfortunately still falls far short of what is required to cap a 1.5°C rise in global average temperatures by 2100. This observation was already made prior to the double crises of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, and much has been said to exhort countries to tighten their emission reduction targets by 2030 and 2050. In what appears to be a promising development, no country seems to relax their climate mitigation commitments despite the double crises. On the contrary, more countries are pledging net-zero emissions by around mid-century.

In reality, however, the soaring fuel prices and the increase in demand for oil and coal as alternatives to gas, which got exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, have pushed energy security concerns to the fore. The electrification growth rate dropped to 0.5 percent points between 2018 and 2020 compared to 0.8 percent points between 2020 and 2018. Additionally, about 75 million people who have just obtained access to electricity may no longer able to afford it, and around 100 million people may re-join the estimated 2.4 billion people who still use polluting cooking fuels.

The progress in Goal 7 will very much dependent on the global energy markets. Emerging technologies such as battery storage systems, hydrogen, and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), among others, can be a game-changer affecting the supply and demand of different energy sources. However, with the flow of clean energy financing to developing countries shrinking by 42 percent and by 24 percent in 2018 and 2019 respectively, it is hard to estimate how much of these technologies can be made available in developing countries in the near future.

With only seven years left before the conclusion of the SDGs and the 2030 climate reduction targets, the competing priorities that the world governments are currently wrestling with certainly cast doubts over their fates. Regardless of the eventual outcomes, in view of climate security, consistent efforts by all relevant stakeholders to reduce carbon emissions and ensure universal energy access must not cease.

Renewable Energy Solutions

Considering renewable energy’s lower volatility compared to fossil fuels, low-carbon energy transition is indeed offering a long-term energy security solution. But for undetermined time depending on the economic and geopolitical dynamics, countries are likely going to focus on short-term solutions to ensure energy provisions for their populations. This means that depending on their domestic circumstances, some countries may use this as a momentum to accelerate renewable energy expansion, or begin nuclear power projects, or hold on to fossil fuels for longer than expected.