World Bank must ensure new Africa energy strategy is inclusive and pro-poor

16 July 2020 | Guest comment

A solar-powered mini-grid in rural Mali. Photo: Curt Carnemark, World Bank.

Globally, the world is not on track to achieve universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030, the target for Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG 7). According to Tracking SDG 7: Progress Report 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency, there has been steady progress on the global electrification rate since 2010. Nevertheless, 789 million people across the world still lack access to electricity, with the deficit increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, even as the access rate in the region climbed from 34 per cent in 2010 to 47 per cent in 2018.

Additionally, almost 3 billion people still do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies, according to the report. It is worth noting that the number of people lacking access to clean cooking solutions has remained largely unchanged over the past two decades, owing to population growth outpacing the number of people gaining access to clean cooking solutions. This is especially the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth between 2014 and 2018 outstripped growth in access to clean fuels and cookstoves by an average of 18 million people a year. Population growth has meant that the number of people without access to clean cooking has risen from 750 million to 890 million in the region over the same period.

The World Bank can play a greater role in enabling energy access in Africa

The World Bank has taken steps to increase its investments in off-grid renewables. Particularly, support to mini-grid and off-grid programs grew to $600 million in 2018, up from roughly $200 million in previous years. However, this is still a small proportion of their overall energy budget. More targeted support is needed to reach countries with the greatest energy access deficits. For cooking energy poverty, 9 out of the 10 “High Impact Countries” (HICs) – those countries with the biggest energy access challenges – are located in Africa, as are 13 of the 20 HICs for electricity poverty. Yet, under the IDA 19 climate policy priorities agreed last year, the Bank failed to include any targets for energy access, despite IDA including a number of HICs. Recognising this omission, the World Bank is currently developing a new Africa energy strategy to be launched later this year, which will set out the Bank’s approach going forward.

There is a need for clear and inclusive stakeholder consultation to harness the views, experiences, and expertise of both energy-poor communities and experts groups to help shape the Bank’s strategy.

In the face of shrinking civil space globally (see Dispatch Springs 2020) and the recognition that more demand-side approaches are needed to rebalance the current focus on supply-side interventions, there is a need for clear and inclusive stakeholder consultation to harness the views, experiences, and expertise of both energy-poor communities and experts groups to help shape the Bank’s strategy. Civil society groups are well placed to offer insights into how more inclusive, demand-based, and integrated energy service planning and delivery can help achieve the targets of the strategy. The Alliance of Civil Society Organizations for Clean Energy Access (ACCESS Coalition), whose members have hands-on experience and research expertise in delivering energy services and products to consumers in the last mile, stand ready to take part in consultations around the new strategy.

The strategy is welcome, particularly if it recognises that energy access must go beyond the household level to support the delivery of community services. The current context of Covid-19 has highlighted both the role played by indoor air pollution in increasing susceptibility to respiratory diseases and the crucial role of energy in powering health services and building community resilience more widely. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 4 million people die annually due to premature illness caused by indoor air pollution. Response and recovery packages to the pandemic offer the opportunity to accelerate and innovate further to deliver SDG 7.

In sub-Saharan Africa, energy access is often given low political priority, and planning and service delivery approaches are usually top-down and not based on the needs of energy-poor communities. The Sustainable Energy for All initiative argues for more integrated electrification pathways, where energy access is mainstreamed into wider energy planning and service delivery and responds to the wider context of sustainable development and human needs. This requires a government commitment to support and coordinate the planning process. One tool that has operationalised this approach is the Energy Delivery Model Toolkit, currently being used for sub-national level planning working with the county government in Kenya. The Bank should embrace such inclusive planning processes as part of its new Africa energy strategy.

Delivering universal access to energy requires more targeted action to address the affordability gap for poor and vulnerable consumers – as the Bank itself recognisesAccording to the Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy (RISE), the poorest 40 per cent of households spend more than 5 per cent of their monthly household expenditure on electricity. This illustrates how unaffordable electricity is to the majority of the unserved population and requires different financing models to close the gap. This includes targeted subsidies and social protection (or “energy safety nets”). The Bank’s strategy should include provisions for such safety nets.

In short, the Bank’s new Africa energy strategy offers it an important chance to mainstream achieving SDG 7 into its energy lending on the continent, through consultation with African civil society.

For more information on the ACCESS Coalition, visit its website or its Twitter account, @ACCESSCSOs.