Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes an explicit goal for energy — Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. Access to modern energy plays a major role in economic structural transformation — a critical issue both for the least developed countries (LDCs) and for the 2030 Agenda more generally.
This year’s edition of UNCTAD’s Least Developed Countries Report focuses on transformational energy access for the LDCs, where 62 per cent of people have no access to electricity, compared with 10 per cent across other developing countries. Today, the majority of people worldwide who lack access to electricity live in LDCs — a proportion that has grown steadily from less than one third in 1990.
Importantly, this year’s Report finds that “energy for all” in LDCs requires more than access to energy for basic household needs. It requires that access to energy in LDCs also serves productive capacities directly, by powering the structural transformation of LDC economies and the development of more productive, modern activities and sectors with adequate and reliable energy supplies.
Structural transformation, in turn, has a role in increasing energy access, by generating sufficient additional demand for electricity for productive uses to make viable the infrastructure investments required for universal access more broadly. Yet strengthening this energy-transformation nexus remains a massive challenge, given that installed generating capacity per person in LDCs is barely one twelfth of that even in other developing countries, and one fiftieth of that in developed countries.
The LDCs are the battleground on which the 2030 Agenda will be won or lost. The central role of access to modern energy in achieving the other SDGs means that meeting SDG 7 will be central to the success or failure of the 2030 Agenda as a whole.
It is our intention that this Report will serve as a valuable input to the deliberations of the 2018 High-level Political Forum, which will review progress on Goal 7. Greater international support and more concerted collective action towards realizing transformational energy access in the least developed countries could be key catalysts for implementing the entire 2030 Agenda.
Secretary-General of UNCTAD