675 million people still didn’t have access to electricity in 2021

A new report from the UN on Sustainable Development Goals progress shows the world is 'off track.'
Factory emitting pollution at sunset
The UN's latest report paints a grim picture of progress towards sustainability goals. Deposit Photos

In 2015, the United Nations announced a series of interdependent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) meant to provide a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” In the years since, the UN and various partner organizations have released periodic progress reports that assess global movement towards these benchmarks. The latest annual recap, published on Tuesday, focuses on SDG 7’s aim at providing “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy” to the world, alongside universal access to clean cooking and electricity, doubling historic levels of efficiency improvements, and increasing renewable energy usage by the end of the decade.

The UN’s 2023 assessment of efforts so far? Not great.

According to the Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report, the world’s current pace is simply not en route to achieving “any of the 2030 targets.” Although the commission acknowledges some regions’ improvements in various areas such as renewable energy availability, the number of people globally lacking electricity access is likely to have actually increased for the first time in decades due to the ongoing energy crisis exacerbated by the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. The report also explains the most pressing factors styming progress towards SDG 7 include the uncertain global economic outlook, high inflation, currency fluctuations, the growing number of countries dealing with debt distress, and supply chain issues.

[Related: 1 in 5 people are likely to live in dangerously hot climates by 2100.]

At humanity’s current trajectory, nearly 2 billion people will still lack clean cooking facilities in 2030, with another 660 million without reliable electricity access. The report’s summary notes that, according to the World Health Organization, over 3 million people die every year due to illnesses stemming from polluting technologies and fuel that increase exposure to toxic household air pollution.

“We must protect the next generation by acting now,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, said in a statement. “Investing in clean and renewable solutions to support universal energy access is how we can make real change.” “Clean cooking technologies in homes and reliable electricity in healthcare facilities can play a crucial role in protecting the health of our most vulnerable populations,” Ghebreyesus added.

[Related: Extreme weather and energy insecurity can compound health risks.]

There is at least one bright spot in the discouraging report, however. According to the UN Statistics Division, even accounting for recent electrification slowdowns, the number of people lacking electricity has halved over the past ten years—down to 675 million in 2021 versus around 1.1 billion in 2010.

“Nonetheless, additional efforts and measures must urgently be put in place to ensure that the poorest and hardest-to-reach people are not left behind,” explained Stefan Schweinfest of the UN’s Statistics Division in the UN’s statement. “To reach universal access by 2030, the development community must scale up clean energy investments and policy support.”