Energy and Sustainable Development

The United Nations Decade of Sustainable Energy for All


Energy and Sustainable Development

Energy is inextricably linked to most global challenges. Access to energy sources has been a major driver of development in industrialized countries and emerging economies. Energy helps to eradicate poverty, increase food production, provide clean water, improve public health, enhance education, address climate change, create economic opportunity and empower young people and women. Although there was no specific Millennium Development Goal relating to energy, it is widely recognized as a prerequisite to the achievement of the Goals and sustainable development, as emphasized by numerous international debates, including the World Summit on Sustainable Development , the High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development , and the thematic debate of the General Assembly on “Water, Sanitation and Sustainable Energy in the Post-2015 Development Agenda”.


Nevertheless, 1.3 billion people, or nearly one in five globally, continue to lack electricity. Twice as many still rely on wood, charcoal, animal or crop waste or other solid fuels to cook their food and heat their homes. The “energy-poor” suffer the health consequences of inefficient combustion of solid fuels in inadequately ventilated buildings, which kills around four million people a year, most of them women and children, as well as the economic consequences of insufficient power for productive income-generating activities and for other basic services, such as health and education. In particular, women and girls in the developing world are disproportionately affected in that regard.


Where modern energy services are plentiful, there are different challenges. Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from fossil fuels are contributing to changes in the Earth’s climate, to the detriment of those who depend on the planet’s natural systems for survival. Climate change threatens food and water security for hundreds of millions of people, undermining the most essential foundations of local, national and global stability. Competition for scarce resources is increasing, exacerbating old conflicts and creating new ones. As lands degrade, forests are felled and sea levels rise, the movement of people who have been driven from their homes by environmental change may reshape the human geography of the planet.


The transition to sustainable energy systems provides perhaps one of the largest global economic opportunities of the twenty-first century, which is particularly important at a time when countries are looking to improve economic performance and create sustainable jobs and employment opportunities. Despite tremendous progress, barriers still exist to promoting sustainable energy solutions, especially given the need for a dramatic change in the pace and scale of how this issue is addressed on the ground. Action is needed in areas such as finance, technology development, policy and regulatory innovation and improved business models and governance structures.