Reliable access to energy is a fundamental part of daily life for billions of people around the world; however, today there are still almost one billion people who lack access to functioning electricity, half of whom can be found in sub-Saharan Africa alone. While increasing energy access is in and of itself an important issue, increasing the proportion of electricity generated from renewable energy sources is a growing concern in the face of climate change. Rapidly declining costs of renewable energy in the past decade have resulted in wind and solar becoming cost competitive with fossil fuels in many regions across the globe. In seeking to expand energy access, it is essential that we consider the future and the impact that energy generation has on the planet. The United Nations has shown its commitment to this mission by establishing “Affordable and Clean Energy” as the seventh of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in 2015.
The 2016 Paris Agreement marked transitioning to renewable energy as a crucial step towards meeting the Paris climate goals, as reliance on fossil fuels has widely been recognized as one of the largest contributing factors to climate change. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has itself been a major proponent of energy solutions that integrate climate and development benefits, establishing an approach that focuses on zero-carbon, risk-informed, sustainable development in order to achieve climate targets and reduce disaster risk. The UNDP acknowledges both on and off-grid renewable solutions as key to expanding renewable energy penetration, encouraging governments to transform their renewable energy markets by strengthening investment in new technologies. Well-established energy systems promote success across all sectors, including business, medicine, communication, and education.
While the developed world has been the main culprit of greenhouse gas emissions, the effects of climate change are felt globally, and often it is the poorest populations who are least able to adapt their lifestyles. Therefore, renewable energy is an issue to be carefully considered by both developed countries with existing energy infrastructure and developing countries looking to expand energy access and reliability within their borders. A shift toward renewable generation also comes with significant impacts upon nations who rely on fossil fuel exports as their primary source of revenue, necessitating strategic planning to restructure entire economies. In discussing its clean energy goal, the UN states that energy is “central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity the world faces today” including jobs, security, food production, and raising income. Expanding renewable generation presents a key opportunity to transforms the lives and future of both our people and our planet.