Sustainable Energy ‘Golden Thread’ Linking 2030 Agenda with Pledge to Leave No One Behind, Especially Rural Women, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Side Event

Following are UN Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the SE4ALL side event Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 — Leaving No One Behind, in New York today:

I am pleased to be with you today to discuss the immensely important topic of “Moving SDG 7 forward”.  The 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development] declares that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions is the greatest global challenge.  

Access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all is critical to meet this objective.  It is also essential for addressing climate change, which is indispensable for sustainable development.  Put simply, sustainable energy is the golden thread that links most of the SDGs and the pledge to leave no one behind.

Access to cleaner energy benefits people’s health — especially women and girls — by reducing risks from indoor and outdoor air pollution and by enabling access to clean water and refrigeration.  And modern energy services for all means improved medical facilities, especially in rural areas, enabling the safe storage of medicines and vaccines.

Access to modern energy services can also enhance the quality of education.  Globally, over 291 million children attend primary schools without any electricity.  This means they have no electric lights, no refrigerators, no fans, no computers, no printers.

Of course, this energy must be sustainable.  Accelerating progress on SDG 7 also means accelerating renewable energy and energy efficiency to combat climate change.  Two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy sector.  All these interlinkages show how important SDG 7 is for the achievement of all the SDGs and the Paris Agreement [on climate change].

However, we are not moving fast enough.  As seen in the latest SDGs Progress Report, we are making gains in energy efficiency, but not at the pace needed to double energy productivity by 2030.  On renewable energy, we are seeing rapid progress in the power sector, but far less in transportation, industry and heating.

Energy access is a similar story.  Globally, some 1 billion people still lack access to electricity.  The numbers on access to clean cooking are even more sobering.  In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 860 million people lack access to clean cooking fuels and technologies.  That’s 275 million more people than in 2010.

The consequences are devastating.  According to new data from the World Health Organization (WHO), some 4 million people die every year because of indoor air pollution. 

And it bears repeating that the hardest hit are women and girls in rural areas living without modern energy services.  In poor households, women and girls are largely responsible for collection of fuel for cooking and heating and for manually processing grains and other foods.  Fuel collection can take up as much as six hours each day.  Women and girls are disproportionately affected by long-term health problems caused by household air pollution and carrying heavy fuel loads.

I have just returned from leading a joint mission of the United Nations and African Union, together with Sweden, to South Sudan, Niger and Chad where these impacts were clear.  In South Sudan, women in protection of civilian sites were at greater risk of being attacked and raped when they travelled outside the camps, and increasingly for longer distances, to access water and wood.  In Chad and Niger, lack of access to electricity is stark.  In Niger, only 5 per cent of the rural population has access and less than 2 per cent of the population has the possibility of clean cooking solutions.  We saw the impacts of these numbers when visiting with women in Bol region in Chad and Maradi in Niger, who are taking up new roles — whether as fisherwomen or farmers — to feed their families, but where electricity could mean more hours available for income generating activities, better health services, and study time for children’s advancement.

Increased access to clean, affordable and modern energy is the key to changing these statistics.  It can reduce unpaid domestic work and enable women’s economic empowerment.  And the means are there.  We heard from our Special Representative on Energy for All, who joined my mission, how 70 per cent of the world’s electricity needs could be provided by solar power in the Sahel alone.

The challenges are daunting, but there are many reasons for optimism.  Many countries are making progress across all measures of access, efficiency and renewable energy.  The question is not “what to do?”, but what are Kenya, or Bangladesh or Chile doing that we can learn from and replicate.

Let us look at the lessons that can be learned.  The most successful countries have robust policy frameworks with investment climates that attract both domestic and international investment.  They set clear targets for themselves, and these are championed from the very top of Government.  Many of those whose progress leads the way have shifted to more integrated planning.  They are addressing the SDGs as well as their energy and climate needs through their Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement.

However, too few countries are focused on the vast improvement in energy efficiency that is both needed and possible.  This is not just a priority for the industrialized world, but for all countries whose cities of the future are not yet built.

For SDG 7 and the Paris Agreement to be achieved, we need to intensify our efforts.  Moving forward, we have a number of opportunities.  The first in-depth review of SDG 7 at this year’s High-Level Political Forum [on Sustainable Development] provides a critical occasion for taking stock and for catalysing ambitious action.

The Voluntary National Reviews of the 2030 Agenda provide relevant insights.  Nationally Determined Contributions can harness clean energy solutions to drive progress towards the Paris Agreement.  And, in September next year, the Secretary-General will convene a Climate Change Summit in New York to galvanize climate action and enhance ambition.  Affordable and clean energy will play a key role.

Here at the United Nations, we will continue to strengthen our efforts to support Member States in support of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.  And Sustainable Energy for All will continue to provide a critical platform for all stakeholders to come together to engage, learn and, most importantly, act.

SDG 7 is within reach, but only if we all take immediate action to scale up our efforts.  I count on you all to pave the way for more leadership and innovative action.  We have no time to lose.  I wish you a productive meeting.

For information media. Not an official record.