Sustainable Development Goal for Energy

updated December 2016

The relevance of electricity to a global vision of sustainable development is self-evident. It therefore seems inconceivable that the architects of the 2000 UN framework for reducing global poverty could have ignored the subject of energy. Not one of the sixty indicators chosen to monitor progress of the Millennium Development Goals was concerned with energy poverty.

The intervening years have seen a major shift in attitudes. The former UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, personally led efforts to rectify the neglect of energy poverty in the international development agenda. His Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4ALL), established in 2011 and championed with panache by its first chief executive, Kandeh Yumkella, was successful in influencing the UN’s post-2015 development process.

One of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by the UN General Assembly in 2015 is dedicated to energy. Goal 7 sets out the ambitious aim to “ensure universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services (by 2030)”. Much as the new Goal is welcomed, the target date for universal access falls almost 100 years after the completion of rural electrification programmes in North America and Western Europe.

Measuring progress towards the new target will encounter complexity in the definition of “access” and logistical challenge in collection of data. The traditional approach, associated with current statistics for access, suggests a straightforward energy poverty line, based on the kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year available to a household.

This blunt method will almost certainly be superseded because the wording of the SDG requires energy services to be “affordable, reliable.” The World Bank has led the development of a multi-tier framework which positions energy access within a spectrum of quantitative and qualitative indicators for both electricity and cooking facilities.

Whatever the exact application of the multi-tier framework in monitoring the goal for universal access, it is likely to reflect a very low level of ambition for energy provision in the world’s poorest countries. The capacity dimension for “Tier 1” of the framework is fulfilled by a basic household solar power system, perhaps as little as 250kWh per year.

This represents little more than very basic lighting for two rooms. By comparison, the average annual household consumption in 28 European Union countries in 2014 was 3,600 kWh; in the US in 2015 the figure was 10,800 kWh. A single fridge in these countries consumes more than the Tier 1 capacity threshold.

Goal 7 supplements the vision of “energy for all” with two further aims that address sustainability concerns through global energy efficiency and the use of renewable technologies. These engage all countries in the enterprise, rich as well as poor.

To sustain and coordinate the commitments of all parties to the new Development Goal for energy, the UN has created an independent institutional structure for SE4ALL, with its secretariat based in Vienna. A powerful Advisory Board comprising senior figures from governments, multilateral banks and UN agencies is in place.

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NINEISMINE – Global Goal 7 – Energy for all – Geetigya of Indian child-advocacy group Nine is Mine relates a personal experience to the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals for energy.


On stepping down from his role as Chief Executive of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative Kandeh Yumkella sums up his lifelong belief that energy justice lies at the heart of global poverty reduction and African economic development.

more Energy For All briefings
Energy Poverty
Global Energy Divide
Electricity and Cookstove Solutions
Finance for Energy For All
The Coal Dilemma
Source material and useful links

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