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World lagging on clean energy goals

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17th-May-2017       
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Stephen Leahy  :
It may be the 21st century but more than three billion people still use fire for cooking and heating. Of those, one billion people have no access to electricity despite a global effort launched at the 2011 Vienna Energy Forum to bring electricity to everyone on the planet.
"We are not on track to meet our goal of universal access by 2030, which is also the Sustainable Development Goal for energy," said Rachel Kyte, CEO for Sustainable Energy for All and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General.
"Indoor air pollution has a bigger health impact than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined."- Vivien Foster
"We must all go further, faster - together," Kyte told more than 1500 delegates and government ministers at the 2017 version of the biannual Vienna Energy Forum this week, organized by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
Kyte reminded everyone that the 2015 Sustainable Development Goal for energy (SDG 7) was a unanimous promise to bring decarbonized, decentralized energy to everyone and that this would transform the world bringing "clean air, new jobs, warm schools, clean buses, pumped water and better yields of nutritious food".
Moreover, to prevent catastrophic climate change the world committed to net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 under the 2015 Paris Agreement, she said. "Why are we not moving more quickly?"
At the current pace in 2030 there will still be one person in ten without electricity, according to the Global Tracking Framework 2017 report. Most of those people will be in Africa.
In Chad, Niger, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo only one person in ten currently has access and this is falling as populations increase, said Elisa Portale , an energy economist at the World Bank who presented the report's findings.
Although renewable energy like solar and wind gets a great deal of press and attention, the world is failing to meet the SDG target of decarbonizing 36 percent the global energy system and will only get to 21 percent by 2030. Currently it is about 18 percent since renewables include hydropower and biomass. A few countries managed to increase their renewable share by 1 percent per year but some others like Canada and Brazil are actually going backwards, she said.
Decarbonizing electricity is going much faster than decarbonizing energy for heating and for transportation, which is seen to be more challenging.
Improvements in energy efficiency are also far behind. Investment in energy efficiency needs to increase by a factor of 3 to 6 from the current 250 billion dollars a year in order to reach the 2030 objective, the report concluded.
The biggest failure the Global Tracking Framework revealed was that the current number of people still using traditional, solid fuels to cook increased slightly since 2011 to 3.04 billion.
Those fuels are responsible for deadly levels of indoor air pollution that shorten the lives of tens of millions and kill four million, mainly children, every year according to the World Health Organization.
This seems to be a low priority and by 2030 only 72 percent of the world will be using clean cooking fuels, said Portale. In other words, 2.5 billion people - mostly in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa - will still be burning wood, charcoal or dung to cook their foods.
Clean cooking is not a priority for most governments although Indonesia is doing quite well, said Vivien Foster, Global Lead for Energy Economics, Markets & Institutions, The World Bank. "Indoor air pollution has a bigger health impact than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined," Foster told IPS.
One reason clean cooking is a low priority is that men are largely the decisions makers in governments and at the household level and they often are not involved in cooking. Environmental health issues generally get far less attention from governments she said. "Sadly, it's often mobile phones before toilets," Foster said.
However, the situation in India is dramatically different.
Green energy - decarbonized, decentralized energy - is no longer expensive or difficult. It is also the most suitable form of energy for developing nations because both access and benefits can come very quickly, said Piyush Goyal, India's Minister of Energy.
Access to clean liquid propane gas (LPG) for cooking has increased 33 percent in the last three years, which is about 190 million homes. In the last year alone 20 million of the poorest of the poor received LPG for free, Goyal told IPS.
Although millions have no connection to electricity, Goyal said it was his personal belief this will no longer be the case by 2019, three years before India's 2022 target.
"Prime Minister Modi is completely committed to universal access," he said. "He grew up poor. He knows what it is like to not have electrical power."
India is adding 160 gigawatt (GW) of wind and solar by 2022 and it may beat that target too as the cost of solar and wind are well below coal, the country's main source of energy. The US currently has just over 100 (GW) in total. One GW can power 100 million LED lightbulbs used in homes.
On the energy efficiency front, India is also closing in on a target of replacing all of its lighting with LEDs, saving tens of millions in energy costs and reducing CO2 emissions by as much as 80 million tonnes annually.
"We are doing this even if no one else is. We have a big role to play in the fight against climate change," Goyal said.
(Stephen Leahy is the lead international science and environment correspondent at IPS, where he writes about climate change, energy, water, biodiversity, development and native peoples).

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