The challenge of scaling-up energy access in least developed countries


May 31st, 2019

As shown in the latest UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) tracking report published last week, we are making some progress towards the goal of universal energy access by 2030. The number of people without access to electricity is now down to 840 million (compared to 1.2 billion in 2010). However, progress has been patchy, with sub-Saharan Africa mostly left behind. Furthermore, there are still around 3 billion people without access to clean cooking. Unless progress speeds up, we are therefore set to miss the 2030 goal.
Most people with an energy access deficit live in what the UN terms ‘least developed countries (LDCs)’ and a conference organised by the UN Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) took place in Beijing this week to discuss how energy access can be scaled up in these countries. China may seem a strange place for such a conference considering the fast pace of development in the country over recent decades. However, its Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organisation co-organised the conference and has big plans for bringing electricity to all through renewables.

Practical Action worked with its partner Hivos to host a session on inclusive energy finance to reach the last mile, ensuring no one is left behind. A particular problem for LDC’s is the provision of energy access to rural and remote areas, where people are also generally extremely poor. Off-grid solutions provide plenty of scope but access to finance remains difficult, especially for mini-grids and clean cooking solutions. In our session, we had contributions from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Clean Cooking Alliance and the Dutch government, elaborating on funding and business opportunities. We also heard that much of this funding fails to reach those who need it most. Niru Shrestha, a woman energy entrepreneur, talked about the challenges she has faced to raise funding for her improved cookstoves business in Nepal; while James Cavula, a journalist from Malawi, talked about the struggle many people in Malawi have to access even the most basic energy services.
Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to scaling up energy access in least developed countries. The conference concluded that there clearly is a need for increased multilateral funding for LDCs, as well as assistance to LDC governments for energy investment planning, project preparation and regulatory reform. This message will be taken to the forthcoming UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit.
Practical Action’s energy work mostly focuses on LDCs and we will continue to play our role, working with governments, industry, communities and other stakeholders to provide sustainable energy solutions.

 Myself and Niru Shrestha from Nepal

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