Data for 2012 to 2014 showed progress in providing clean, modern energy to the poor was losing the race against population growth, especially in rural areas, the World Bank and the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a tracking report.
“If we are to make access to clean, affordable and reliable energy a reality, we’re going to have to drive the rate of progress up, and that is going to require political leadership,” said Rachel Kyte, chief executive of Sustainable Energy for All, an initiative of the UN secretary-general.
This week governments, business, development agencies and others will meet in New York to work out how to reach three international goals by 2030: universal access to modern energy services, doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and doubling the share of renewables in the global energy mix.
Reaching those targets is fundamental to achieving other global goals to end poverty and boost healthcare and education, as well as keeping global temperature rise below limits set in the Paris climate change accord, Kyte said.
“Every day we delay or every day we don’t deliver, it becomes more painful and expensive and we risk losing people and leaving people behind,” she told journalists by telephone.
But the three organisations behind the report said some countries - even among the poorest - are making rapid progress.
For example, Kenya, Malawi, Sudan, Uganda and Zambia increased electrification by two to three percentage points per year, while Rwanda topped that and Afghanistan and Cambodia made use of off-grid solar energy to expand access even faster.
Paul Simons, the IEA’s deputy executive director, said home systems and mini-grids powered by renewable energy offer “tremendous opportunities to provide electricity to communities in rural areas, and this could help us close the gap”.
Yet with 1.06 billion people without electric power in 2014, only a slight improvement from 2012, the report highlighted the urgent need to power growing communities in rural Africa.
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In Africa, excluding the north, only 37 percent of people have electricity, compared with a global rate of 85 percent. Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo saw their rates fall.
Projections show the three energy targets - which were folded into a new set of global goals agreed in 2015 - will not be met, even taking into account new commitments under the Paris climate deal and technology trends like plunging costs for solar photovoltaic equipment, the report warned.
Particularly worrying was the number of people who use traditional, solid fuels like charcoal and dung to cook ticking up to just over 3 billion, experts said.
Vivien Foster, head energy economist with the World Bank Group, said clean cooking was the “Cinderella” of energy initiatives, despite causing some 4 million premature deaths per year due to inhalation of carbon monoxide and soot.
“Policymakers don’t take it seriously,” she said, as it is less appealing than electrification, which is seen as a clear sign of a modernising economy.
But the report showed some of the largest energy-consuming countries - Australia, China, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and Britain - cut their energy intensity.