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UN Sustainable Development Goals - Goal 7

21 June 2018


 

In September 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development". Known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 169 targets which make up the 17 goals provide a framework for countries to guide their path towards a more sustainable future. Ethical Screening is investigating how companies can contribute to The Goals. This blogpost focuses on Goal 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy.

What is Goal 7?

Goal 7 focuses on energy, particularly improving access to energy services and the sustainability of them. The goal's targets include:

  • 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 and increase international co-operation in order promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology; and
  • upgrade infrastructure for providing energy services, especially in small island countries.

The UN states that 85.3% of the world's population had access to electricity in 2014 and that this number had only increased by 0.3% from 2012. Therefore, just over 1 billion people, most of whom live in rural areas, do not have access to electricity. Access to electricity is seen as essential to improving access to healthcare, increasing the quality of life and helping ensure everyone has the chance to develop their potential.

The lack of access to affordable and clean energy in rural areas is a concern, a particular focus being Sub-Saharan Africa where 65% of people, roughly 500 million, live without electricity. Since 2010 most improvement in energy access has been seen in cities, with 80% of those gaining access living in urban areas. Due to population growth, the number of people relying on polluting fuels and technologies for cooking has actually increased since 2010, to an estimated 3 billion people.

How can companies contribute to the goal?

The most obvious contribution from companies comes from the energy sector, particularly those that produce fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil, and that generate power. Companies need to move away from the most polluting energy sources such as coal and invest in renewable energy such as wind, hydroelectric, solar photovoltaic and solar thermal. Some of the 'traditional' major oil companies are taking steps in this direction, for example, commitments from Equinor to increase investment in renewables to 15-20% of total investment by 2030. However, the overall commitment to a renewables transition remains very limited in the Oil & Gas sector. Orsted is an example of a company that has recently moved away from upstream oil & gas, to focus on more renewable energy generation. SSE has over 3.3 GW of renewable generation capacity (including hydroelectric), some 31% of its total, and has invested £3.2 billion in renewable energy since 2010.

Renewable energy companies can also continue to innovate in order to make their technology more efficient. For instance, First Solar produces panels that have approximately half the carbon footprint of competitors.

Fossil fuels can be associated with large scale projects, often far from population centres where energy is most needed. In contrast, small scale energy projects such as community wind farms and roof-top solar panels provide people with renewable energy at the point of need and there are fewer inefficiencies associated with transmission networks.

Energy companies operating in developing countries could also do more to ensure remote communities are connected to either the national grid or to a standalone network. This could also involve training local people on how to maintain systems in order to boost work skills and future-proof access to energy. With some investment, these companies can reach disconnected communities, especially in rural areas, and in the long term gain new customers.

Aside from energy companies, other businesses can also make a contribution towards Goal 7. Many companies have begun to generate their own power on-site by renewable means such as solar panels. For instance, the Heineken brewery in Massafra, Italy, has solar panels which produce 3.3 MW of energy. Apple sources 100% of energy needs from renewables in 23 countries, including installation of 485MW of wind and solar in China. This not only cuts costs for businesses but reduces greenhouse gas emissions as well. There have been large drops in the cost of installing solar panels in recent years as demand for the technology increases.

Companies can also contribute to reaching Goal 7 by making products which stimulate the demand for more sustainable energy. Johnson Controls produces batteries for hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles and is also the world's largest recycler of vehicle batteries.

Why is Goal 7 important?

Improving access to affordable energy will clearly change people's lives in a positive way, for example with links to Goal 2 (No Poverty), Goal 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing) and Goal 10 (Reduced Inequalities). It is also clearly linked to efforts to mitigate Climate Change (Goal 13).

Access to electricity in rural economies will also have economic benefits such as increasing the number of jobs related to technology, and appliances, being used in the home. It also enables people to do higher skill jobs such as working online if there is also computer access. Greater access to clean energy will reduce the need for households to use polluting tools such as kerosene lamps for lighting or making indoor fires for cooking, making a direct improvement in health - emissions from biomass due to indoor cooking are linked to millions of premature deaths worldwide.

Conclusion

There are major opportunities for sustainability focused businesses and their investors to ensure that Goal 7 is reached. The achievement of Goal 7 will also depend action taken at the national and international level by governments to encourage, and where necessary, legislate towards ensuring the creation of smaller scale and cleaner energy systems, and a move away from fossil fuels.

Pete MacLeod - Researcher

21/06/2018


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