Often cited as the missing Millennium Development Goal, energy poverty has rapidly moved up the global aid agenda since U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon — flanked by development leaders — unveiled his vision of “sustainable energy for all by 2030” two and a half years ago. According to the International Energy Agency, more than 1.3 billion people around the world lack access to electricity — a major barrier to the achievement of the MDGs in 2015.
In May 2013, the highly anticipated report from Ban’s high-level panel of eminent persons recommended sustainable energy as one of 12 universal goals for a post-2015 development framework. Weeks later, U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled the $7 billion Power Africa initiative — his marquee second-term development initiative — just as the World Bank was launching an aggressive new lending strategy for its multibillion-dollar energy portfolio.
“Energy is fundamental for every area of development — from creating jobs and boosting growth to improving health care and enabling people to cook safely,” Andris Piebalgs said recently. Piebalgs is the commissioner for development at the European Union, another major donor that has elevated energy assistance in its portfolio.
For years now, energy poverty advocates have made the same case and urged foreign aid donors to scale up and prioritize energy investments, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where seven out of 10 people live without access to power. While official development assistance for energy has increased markedly over the past decade, energy still accounts for only a modest portion of ODA — 8 percent in 2012.