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World’s Energy Transition in Doubt as Progress on Affordability, Sustainability Stalls

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The world’s energy systems have become less affordable and are no more environmentally sustainable than they were five years ago. While access to energy has substantially improved, with less than one billion people now living without access to electricity, concerns over affordability and equity of energy transition are increasing. These are the findings of latest edition of the World Economic Forum’s Fostering Effective Energy Transition report, which was published today.

The report’s Energy Transition Index (ETI) measures economies in two ways. Firstly, each economy is assessed for its energy “system performance”. This takes into account three criteria regarded as critical for transitioning to the future, namely: security and access, environmental sustainability and economic growth and development. The latter measures economic impact to households, industry and export revenues.

Over the past five years, the measurement that has seen the most improvement has been energy access and security, followed by economic growth and development and, lastly, environmental sustainability. The average system performance score had been improving since 2014, but it stalled last year as gains in energy security and access were offset by reductions in affordability and sustainability. Continued use of coal for power generation in Asia, increasing commodity prices and slower than needed improvements in energy intensity have contributed to this year’s stagnation in performance.

The second part of the ETI measures economies’ success in putting in place the necessary conditions for transition. This “transition readiness” looks at six individual indicators: capital and investment; regulation and political commitment; institutions and governance; institutions and innovative business environment; human capital and consumer participation; and energy system structure.

Transition readiness scores vs annual emissions per country

Small economies achieved higher scores on readiness, with the UK the only G7 economy in the top 10 of this subset. With the exception of Singapore, all are in Western Europe. The major challenge facing any attempt to future-proof global energy is the lack of readiness in the world’s largest economies. For example, the 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for just 2.6% of global annual emissions.

“We need a future where energy is affordable, sustainable and accessible to all. Solid progress in bringing energy within the reach of more and more people is not enough to mask wider failures, which are already having an impact on our climate and on our societies. Urgent action is needed now to accelerate transition that works for business, consumers and our environment,” said Roberto Bocca, Head of Future of Energy and Materials, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.

However, there is some ground for optimism. While the world’s two most populous economies, China and India, score low in terms of system performance (ranking 97 and 86 respectively) they rank considerably higher when it comes to readiness (45 and 61 respectively). This suggests that, while their current outdated energy systems are not ready for transition, an enabling environment is being built to support future transition. In this respect, China ranks seventh in the world for regulation and political commitment.

The Energy Transition Index 2019

Advanced economies continue to lead the rankings table, demonstrating the maturity of their energy systems. Sweden (1) retains the top spot from last year, followed by Switzerland (2) and Norway (3). Australia (43), Canada (35), and Republic of Korea (48) are the only advanced economies with scores below the top quartile on the ETI, due to the high carbon intensity of their fuel mix, and high per capita energy consumption and carbon emissions. Affordability is emerging as a growing concern in advanced economies, as the gap between household and wholesale electricity prices increases.

Results show that energy transition in the world’s largest emitters has stalled in the past year. While the United States (27) has made progress in reducing the use of coal in power generation, it slipped in the rankings by two places reflecting concerns about the affordability of energy to households, and regulatory uncertainty on environmental sustainability

Countries in emerging and developing Asia observed significant improvements towards universal access to electricity, led by India (76), Indonesia (63) and Bangladesh (90). Malaysia (31) is the highest-ranking emerging country from this region, Vietnam (56) showed the greatest improvement in the ETI rankings since last year, while Thailand (51) improved on all three dimensions of the energy triangle as well as transition readiness. This region remains important for the future of energy transition because urbanization, industrialization and rising living standards continue to drive increases in energy demand. The Forum will support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in its progress towards energy transition, leveraging the ETI and its platform to enhance public-private collaboration.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the report emphasizes the necessity of regulatory and policy stability, as well as strong institutional frameworks to leverage the abundant natural resources in a way that enables an effective energy transition. The progress on energy access for electricity and clean cooking fuels faces challenges from the rapidly growing population in countries throughout this region. Namibia (62) is the highest-ranking country in this group, Kenya (71) and Ethiopia (95) are showing improvements. South Africa (114) and Nigeria (109), the two largest consumers in this group, continue to face challenges in the form of over-reliance on coal and the lack of enabling infrastructure, respectively.

Latin America and the Caribbean region has the highest average scores on environmental sustainability of all regions, primarily due to its significant hydroelectric capacity. However, large economies like Brazil (46) and Mexico (37) did not show improvements on the previous index, while Colombia (34) and Dominican Republic (78) moved up the rankings. Regional integration of electricity markets and infrastructure, electrification of mobility, along with increasing operational efficiency of energy infrastructure can help unlock further improvements.

There is an urgent need for swift action on energy transition. Critical measures to accelerate energy transition include decoupling economic growth from energy consumption, particularly in emerging economies, mainstreaming breakthrough technological innovations to improve efficiency and sustainability, and developing addressing equity and justice in energy transition. Given the interconnectedness of the energy system throughout economic, social, and political systems, there is greater need than ever for different stakeholder groups to seek common understanding on the vision and priorities for energy transition.

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Archipelagic Economies: Spatial Economic Development in the Pacific

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A new World Bank report on the challenges facing the Pacific region’s outer island communities identifies investment in people and livelihoods as a key for inclusive economic growth.    

Archipelagic Economies: Spatial Economic Development in the Pacific looks at the challenges Pacific governments must address to provide services and infrastructure to populations spread across hundreds of islands spanning the vast Pacific Ocean. The report puts forward a series of practical steps that countries can take to overcome these challenges in a way that supports resilient and inclusive economic growth.

“Many Pacific countries are faced with significant challenges in delivering services and connecting remote, outer island communities; with difficult decisions around resources and how to best invest often limited resources into outer island communities,” said the report’s lead author, World Bank Lead Economist for Fiscal Policy and Sustainable Growth Robert Utz.

“This report aims to provide Pacific governments, development partners and decision-makers with evidence to assess options for fostering development for the people in those outer islands, so they can make stronger contributions to the larger economic development of the whole country.”   

The report identifies six guiding economic policy principles:

1)     Policy solutions that seek to achieve equitable increases in living standards need to be grounded in an understanding of the economic implications of the Pacific region’s unique economic geography.

2)     Outer islands’ development should be assessed from a spatial perspective; one that considers interactions with the country’s main island and the region beyond.

3)     A balanced approach that combines investments in urban areas to accommodate migration from outer islands to main islands with support for outer island populations is likely to achieve better welfare and equity outcomes than an approach that neglects one side or the other.

4)     Growth-enhancing investments should be guided by clearly-identified opportunities, rather than by a desire to try to equalize economic opportunities across islands.

5)     With limited scope to close the gap in economic opportunities between outer and main islands investments to promote livelihoods and human development should be given preference.

6)     Outer islands are subject to a complex political economy of intra-island and outer island-main island relationships that need to be considered in development interventions.

“This is an important and timely study,” said Denton Rarawa, Senior Economic Advisor at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. “The current COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need to address the institutional, service delivery and capacity gaps of nations across the Pacific. As we strive for greater vaccination rates and begin to think about how we’d like to rebuild after the pandemic, I believe this report has a lot to offer the future of the Pacific, especially in our efforts to leave no one behind.”   

The Archipelagic Economies report is a companion publication to the World Bank’s Pacific Possible series, which in 2017 and 2018 looked at opportunities for economic growth in Pacific Islands Countries across key sectors including tourism, fisheries, and labour mobility. 

The World Bank works in partnership with 12 countries across the Pacific, supporting 87 projects totaling US$2.09 billion in commitments in sectors including agriculture, aviation and transport, climate resilience and adaptation, economic policy, education and employment, energy, fisheries, health, macroeconomic management, rural development, telecommunications and tourism.

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Global economic recovery continues but remains uneven

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The global economy is growing far more strongly than anticipated a year ago but the recovery remains uneven, exposing both advanced and emerging markets to a range of risks, according to the OECD’s latest Interim Economic Outlook.

The OECD says extraordinary support from governments and central banks helped avoid the worst once the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With the vaccine roll-out continuing and a gradual resumption of economic activity underway, the OECD projects strong global growth of 5.7% this year and 4.5% in 2022, little changed from its May 2021 Outlook of 5.8% and 4.4% respectively.

Countries are emerging from the crisis with different challenges, often reflecting their pre-COVID 19 strengths and weaknesses, and their policy approaches during the pandemic. Even in the countries where output or employment have recovered to their pre-pandemic levels, the recovery is incomplete, with jobs and incomes still short of the levels expected before the pandemic.

Large differences in vaccination rates between countries are adding to the unevenness of the recovery. Renewed outbreaks of the virus are forcing some countries to restrict activities, resulting in bottlenecks and adding to supply shortages.  

There is a marked variation in the outlook for inflation, which has risen sharply in the US and some emerging market economies but remains relatively low in many other advanced economies, particularly in the euro area.

A rapid increase in demand as economies reopen has pushed up prices in key commodities such as oil and metals as well as  food, which has a stronger effect on inflation in emerging markets. The disruption to supply chains caused by the pandemic has added to cost pressures. At the same time, shipping costs have increased sharply.

But the Interim Outlook says that these inflationary pressures should eventually fade. Consumer price inflation in the G20 countries is projected to peak towards the end of 2021 and slow throughout 2022. Wage growth remains broadly moderate and medium-term inflation expectations remain contained.

The report warns that to keep the recovery on track stronger international efforts are needed to provide low-income countries with the resources to vaccinate their populations, both for their own and global benefits.

Macroeconomic policy support is still needed as long as the outlook is uncertain and employment has not yet recovered fully, but clear guidance is called upon from policymakers to minimise risks looking forward. Central banks should communicate clearly about the likely sequencing of moves towards eventual policy normalisation and the extent to which any overshooting of inflation targets will be tolerated. The report says fiscal policies should remain flexible and avoid a premature withdrawal of support, operating within credible and transparent medium-term fiscal frameworks that provide space for stronger public infrastructure investment.

Presenting the Interim Economic Outlook alongside Chief Economist Laurence Boone, OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said: “The world is experiencing a strong recovery thanks to decisive action taken by governments and central banks at the height of the crisis. But as we have seen with vaccine distribution, progress is uneven. Ensuring the recovery is sustained and widespread requires action on a number of fronts – from effective vaccination programmes across all countries to concerted public investment strategies to build for the future.”

Ms Boone said: “Policies have been efficient in buffering the shock and ensuring a strong recovery; planning for more efficient public finances, shifted towards investment in physical and human capital is necessary and will help monetary policy to normalise smoothly once the recovery is firmly established.”

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Financing Options Key to Africa’s Transition to Sustainable Energy

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A new whitepaper outlining the key considerations in setting the course for Africa’s energy future was released today at the 2021 Sustainable Development Impact Summit. The report, “Financing the Future of Energy,” outlines Africa’s electricity landscape and financing options in context with the global drive to reduce carbon emissions.

Africa’s power sector will play a central role in the transition from fossil fuel-driven power generation to a renewable-strong energy mix. According to the whitepaper written in collaboration with Deloitte, the migration to a multi-stakeholder-oriented net-zero power grid is being driven by “the 3Ds:”

  • Decarbonization: moving from fossil fuel sources to renewables
  • Decentralization: Shifting from centrally managed generation, transmission, and distribution to decentralized systems
  • Digitalization: Leveraging digital technology to advance the transition

The report contends that new coalitions and investments with developed nations and NGOs including the World Economic Forum must coordinate and enable countries to leapfrog existing technologies and infrastructure.

“The need for digitally smarter utility platforms and sustainable development programs will guide global leaders in helping to shape equitable and inclusive recovery programs,” said Chido Munyati, Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum. “The entire continent remains vulnerable, but this whitepaper offers a view on what are viable financing options that exist today for clean energy sustainability and equitable recovery for all of Africa.

Funding will be the biggest hurdle to ensuring Africa’s sustainable transition to Renewables at scale; there are many financing solutions available,” said Mario Fernandes, Director, Africa Power Utilities and Renewables, Deloitte. “Africa’s winners will be the ones that are able to leverage what exists while creating an enabling environment for the private sector through a Renewables Energy Investment facility.”

Case studies in China and India showed that financing solutions for a clean energy transition often involve long cycles. Economic booms in these countries resulted in a significant shift in carbon emissions. Since similar economic booms are expected across Africa, the report highlights how crucial it is to anchor growth in technologies that can enable lower emissions.

While Africa’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel significantly lags behind those of other continents, it still carries a huge potential to accelerate the transition to a net-zero future. Currently, half of the continent lives without adequate access to electricity. As energy demands increase, the energy gap could be bridged through clean energy alternatives, if the financing solutions are employed now.

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