Sustainable energy progress losing pace

The World Bank has warned the pace of policies to drive the switch to sustainable energy use are slowing.

In a new report the organisation said while nearly every country in the world saw advancements in sustainable energy policy between 2017 and 2019, globally policy progress overall is slower than in the past, particularly around renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The report, RISE – Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy – 2020, measured policy progress in 138 countries on renewable energy, energy efficiency, electricity access, and access to clean cooking – the four target areas of Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7), which calls for achieving access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.

“We must continue to push forward on the progress made before the pandemic hit. The prospect of a post-pandemic recovery and low carbon growth presents policy makers with opportunities to accelerate adoption of sustainable energy policies, and to quicken the pace toward achieving universal access to energy,” said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Infrastructure. “Recovery plans are also opportunities to set longer-term strategies and to align energy policies with SDG7 targets over the next decade.”

According to the report, policy progress from 2017 to 2019 accelerated for access to electricity and clean cooking. Among countries with the highest electricity access deficits, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania made the most progress in adopting policies. Policies for mini grids and stand-alone power systems showed the most increase in adoption, reflecting the growing role of distributed energy for electricity access relative to the grid. Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania also advanced in policy on consumer affordability and utility transparency.

Renewable energy policies are converging among higher-, middle-, and lower-income countries, after a decade of rapid advancement across the board, added the report. Among the countries covered by RISE, only 37 percent had a national renewable energy target in 2010. By 2019, 99 percent of the world’s countries had either established a comprehensive legal framework for renewable energy or begun to do so.

One third of countries worldwide had advanced policy frameworks for renewable energy, putting them in the report’s “green zone”, while 44 percent remained in the “yellow zone”, suggesting room for improvement. While 2017-2019 saw the overall renewable energy gap close between lower-income and higher-income countries, another gap widened:  while almost every country adopted policies for renewable energy for electricity, only a third of countries have a clear target or plan for the use of renewable energy in heating and cooling, and only half for renewables in the transport sector.

By 2019, nearly 70 percent of RISE countries had enacted energy efficiency plans. While OECD countries have the most advanced energy efficiency policy frameworks, the fastest improving regions were sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, led by Chad and Ecuador, respectively. The heating and cooling sector saw the highest energy efficiency policy scores globally, with approximately 75 percent of surveyed countries having adopted minimum HVAC energy performance standards and labelling measures. Yet improvement is still needed across the income spectrum; for example, some Persian Gulf countries have high income levels but lag in their uptake of efficiency measures.

“The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need for policies and regulations that mitigate the risk of global shocks while also boosting investments in resilient energy systems and encouraging behavioural changes,” said the report. “At the same time, improving sustainable energy policy supports higher employment, particularly around energy efficiency and distributed electrification.”

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