This week, I represented SNV at the Global SDG7 Conference in Bangkok where hundreds of representatives from governments, UN agencies, civil society and private sector came together to discuss progress and challenges in achieving energy access for all. Twenty-seven policy briefs were produced in the run-up to this conference. But will all this writing and talking lead to the necessary action?
This conference is one step in the review process of Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7), which aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. In July this year, during the UN High-Level Political Forum in New York, high level politicians will meet to discuss progress made on the sustainable development goals this year with specific attention to SDG7. In a ministerial declaration, countries will then hopefully commit to increasing their efforts in terms of providing energy to all - leaving no one behind.
The special attention for energy access is both timely and necessary. The SDGs pledge to leave no one behind, but that is exactly where the problem lies: money mainly flows to large, on-grid energy production, and the energy does not reach the poorest communities in remote, rural areas in developing countries. Also, financial commitments for clean cooking are still extremely low and insufficient .
SNV joined forces with the governments of The Netherlands, Germany, Kenya, and Nepal, private companies Selco and Schneider Electric, and NGOs Hivos and Energia, in organising a side event on ‘Energy sector transformation: decentralized renewable energy for universal energy access’. This session emphasised the importance of expanding decentralised supply of renewable energy and an inclusive approach involving local stakeholders to achieve universal energy access and answer the needs of the poorest.
In this and other sessions at the conference, myself and other experts underscored that countries need to take a more integrated approach to energy planning at national level. This process should not only look at the needs and benefits of energy use at a household level, but also at current and future productive use, taking into account longer term impacts such as job creation, growing demand and development of local markets. We should keep in mind that energy is an enabler in economic development and in reaching other SDG goals, such as health, climate, and poverty.
Rolf Traeger, from the UN agency on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) presented the main conclusions of their recent report The Least Developed Countries Report 2017 - Transformational energy access . He pointed out that low electricity access in Least Developed Countries (LDC’s) has very serious consequences: the economic impact of power outages in LDCs is estimated at up to 6% of GDP. “To solve these issues, countries need to adopt a system-wide approach, a holistic vision for the energy sector both on the supply and demand side as well as productive use of energy, in order to attract investors,” said Mr. Traeger.
So Integrated Energy Planning - looking multiple aspects is key, and those energy plans need to be developed in a continuous dialogue with all relevant stakeholders. An open and transparent dialogue involving government, private sector, financiers, and civil society is the best way to get all issues on the table and find broadly supported solutions. Civil society organisations (CSOs) have an important role to play in this process; they can not only suggest solutions answering to the needs of the communities using the energy, but they can also help to ensure that agreed solutions are understood and accepted by communities benefitting and/or impacted.
I had the honour to moderate a side event organised by the ACCESS Coalition illustrating the added value of civil society engagement in energy planning. In this panel, Paul Mbuthi a representative of the Kenya government shared Kenya experience with a bottom-up approach involving communities and CSOs, which led to more efficient decision-making and better outcomes. The panel unanimously agreed that energy solutions can only be sustainable when they are based on a thorough understanding of the needs of the people, and when all stakeholders take ownership and have early involvement in the process.
This need for joint efforts was also pointed out by Carmen Hagenaars, representing the Foreign ministry of The Netherlands in the Ministerial plenary session: “We can only achieve the SDG7 goals if we work jointly. The Dutch, Kenya and Nepal governments have joint private sector and civil society in the Brooklyn coalition to speed up decentralised renewable energy through a multi -stakeholder approach.”
The SDG7 review process is certainly useful to increase the sense of urgency and raise the need for increased and joint efforts to put energy access on the policy agenda. But now it is crucial to ensure that all these discussions and policy briefs will lead to concrete actions, firstly ensuring that the finance available for energy access increases and does actually reach the poorest communities and those who are difficult to reach.