Ensuring an Energy Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) delivers for poor people and the planet

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Collecting water from a solar-based purification system supplied by
CAFOD. Chila Union, Mongla District, Bangladesh.

In late February, discussions over the post-2015 development agenda reached a milestone. The co-Chairs of the Open Working Group (OWG), the body tasked with preparing a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposal for consideration by the UN General Assembly in September 2014, issued a “Focus Areas Document”.

This document provided the first formal glimpse of the content of the next global framework to eradicate poverty and deliver sustainable development. While it mentioned dozens of development issues crucial to the success of the post-2015 agenda, many areas key remain incomplete or absent.

CAFOD has been advocating along with other groups for climate change action to be integrated across the new post-2015  framework. Unless we do this, we will not eradicate extreme poverty– as is highlighted by new reports by ODI and by Oxfam and as CAFOD Ambassador Ben Price saw when he visited Uganda recently.


The reality is we have no choice, as every country faces the fact that climate change – and its impact on the weather – is no longer a distant prediction, but a daily reality. And for the poorest people on the planet, the need to change is not just a matter of saving money, but saving lives. Ben Price, CAFOD Ambassador.

Energy is crucial to this fight: the energy sector globally is responsible for 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause dangerous climate change, so we must “green” it, while also ensuring everyone has access to reliable, safe and affordable energy.

As discussed previously, CAFOD with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is developing an approach to designing energy services for people living in poverty which we will start piloting this year with partners in different regions. The approach focuses on identifying the real energy needs and wants of the end-users in relation to their broader development needs. It also puts a strong emphasis on understanding their specific social-cultural context – critical to delivering energy services successfully.

With IIED and Practical Action and representing the combined voice of our three organisations, this CAFOD post looks specifically at the energy in the context of the SDGs and the recent OWG Focus Areas Document.

Energy is essential to all SDGs: concrete, outcome-based targets are required for success

As the co-Chairs’ and other UN papers on energy and the SDGs acknowledge, energy is not a standalone issue but underpins efforts to achieve many other development goals. Because of this interconnectedness, we recommend an across-the-board approach to energy within the post-2015 framework, with specific targets, rather than top-down and siloed goals. Concrete, outcome-based targets will facilitate discussions on how they can be achieved and which actors and activities, across different sectors, must be involved.

If, however, the goals retain the sector-focused structure of the MDGs and SDG discussions thus far, we support a standalone Energy Goal based on the 3 targets outlined in the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative. However, more concrete indicators are needed under the three top-line targets to ensure rapid, ambitious, meaningful and measurable improvements in energy access, clean energy uptake, and progress on energy efficiency.

On access, the SE4All Global Tracking Framework’s tier 3 indicators should be the minimum acceptable standard to qualify as having “access to modern energy services.” Tier 3 tracks outcome-oriented factors such as quality of service – for example having electricity available for a minimum of eight hours a day.It also holistically addresses a range of poor people’s energy needs through a basic but respectable package of wider energy and cooking services.

Further indicators are also needed to ensure progress on interconnected development needs in the areas of health, education etc. – often referred to as “nexus” issues.

Delivering benefits from energy requires decentralised and “bottom-up” approaches

Energy poverty and the range of energy nexus issues within post-2015 cannot be meaningfully addressed without increased support for deployment of decentralized (off-grid) energy provision. It is not feasible, affordable nor desirable in many cases to connect  rural populations to grids that are slow to deploy, prohibitively expensive, often unreliable, provide minimal long-term employment, and are mostly dependent on fossil fuels.

However, high costs, low returns and perceived high risks make investment in decentralised energy access in low-income countries unattractive to mainstream private investors. A target for universal energy access by 2030 will only have 15 year time frame for success, so it is crucial that the post-2015 process incentivizes a combination of public-private partnerships, social enterprise initiatives and public sector-financed aid or social support s to deliver energy to the poorest.

This means deploying a combination of start-up grants, risk guarantees and capacity building to support enterprises delivering decentralised energy access – along with recognising that the very poorest are often not reached by the private sector alone.

Private sector finance alone cannot deliver universal access: a public sector role is critical

The post-2015 process must acknowledge the key role of public finance and innovative public partnerships with the private sector and civil society in delivering solutions that work for the energy poor.

High costs, low returns and perceived high risks make investment in decentralised energy access in low-income markets unattractive to mainstream private investors. Energy service delivery to the poorest needs to be a combination of public-private partnerships, social enterprise initiatives and public-sector financed aid or social support.

Increasingly, social enterprises and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are employing innovative finance mechanisms, including voluntary carbon finance markets, crowdfunding and investment from angel investors. Such initiatives utilize a combination of public and private finance and deploy a combination of start-up grants, risk guarantees, and capacity building to deliver the necessary support to SMEs.

Government incentives might include tax breaks, reduction of import duties, and public procurement programmes, while social protection schemes can be essential  for meeting the needs of the very poorest, including in post-conflict situations.

Tackling the gendered dimension of energy poverty is essential

Women and girls suffer the brunt of health problems and early mortality related to dirty cooking and heating fuels, a health issue of global significance. An approach recognizing the structural nature of gender inequalities is therefore essential to promote transformative change.

Concrete indicators related to  gender budgeting into energy planning, increasing collection and analysis of disaggregated data on energy and gender, and incorporating gender into energy governance would support such a transformative approach.

Access to modern energy services can also play a crucial role in women’s economic empowerment. The post-2015 development agenda should incentivize investments in women’s access to energy services for enterprise development as well as strengthen women entrepreneurs’ capacities to engage in energy value chains.

Poverty eradication depends on environmental sustainability

Global energy systems are responsible for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions and must be transformed within the lifespan of the post-2015 framework. Targets on renewable energy and energy efficiency can support the shift to low/zero emissions development but, alone, are insufficient responses to climate change.

Action to cut emissions and support poor people to adapt to existing impacts must be “mainstreamed” through the post-2015 framework by “climate-proofing” targets and indicators, and also by cutting fiscal incentives for the production of fossil fuels.

Targets on renewable and efficiency must incentivize adequate action by 2030. This means upping the current SE4ALL 2030 targets. As WWF stated into its input to the OWG in January 2014, this means aiming for an annual global rate of improvement in energy intensity (energy/unit GDP) of at least 4.5% and for at least 45% of all primary energy use and energy infrastructure to be renewable. These targets must also integrate adequate social and environmental safeguards, ensuring the poorest have energy solutions appropriate for their needs.

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