Global temperatures are increasing, sea levels are on the rise, there are more frequent and intense climate change-induced catastrophes, and a large population of the world still, unfortunately, heavily relies on fossil fuels that contribute to this very crisis.
According to statistics gathered by the UN Economic and Social Council, around 3 billion people depend on traditional sources of energy like coal and charcoal for their daily necessities like cooking food; around 940 million people live without electricity; 4 million deaths are caused by illnesses connected to fossil fuel pollution. This dependence is caused by a lack of access to clean, affordable, and reliable energy. Energy is an important part of billions of daily lives around the world: services can keep functioning, we’re able to stay communicated to the world, get from one place to another, and some of us have the privilege to sit from the comfort of our homes and work — and all of these cannot be thought of without energy. As is common knowledge by this point, the dependence of human development on energy is inevitable, but rather, how to maximize human development benefits at lower levels of energy use is important, according to this report on Energizing Human Development by the UNDP.
Fossil fuels have negative impacts not only on our environments and healths but also on the economy at large. Reversing the changes induced by the usage of fossil fuels means transitioning towards renewable sources of energy. The Sustainable Developmental Goal (SDG) 7 — Clean and Accessible Energy — was created keeping exactly this in mind, calling for a universal, accessible, and affordable access to clean energy. With a target to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”, SDG 7 has interlinkages with other SDGs — for example, ensuring access to modern energy services can help with reducing poverty (SDG 1), access to health care (SDG 3), access to education (SDG 4), to mention a few — and hence, progress here also reflects across other SDGs.
There are challenges associated with an ambitious plan like this, such as extending electricity grids in remote or inaccessible areas and offsetting the high costs of investments, and not to forget, the failure of programs in the past. There are also technological, socio-economic, and political barriers in place. While there has been progress on this front, we’re still not on track to meet all the goals. There’s so much that needs to be done and most of it can be achieved by awareness, collaborations, and investments. Also of importance is the need for international cooperation between countries — to make sure that developing or poor countries don’t get left behind, developed countries should assist them.
Stakeholders at all levels have an imperative responsibility in distributing and guaranteeing access to energy, whether it is through investing in renewable and clean energy technology and resources or even lobbying for policies that will help decarbonize the current energy systems. There’s also a lack of awareness about the opportunities that low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels (think hydrogen) can bring to different nations and communities. One crucial problem associated with the accessibility and distribution of clean energy technology is the costs. The good news is that the price of clean and renewable energy is expected to fall.
As for clean energy sources, we have solar power, wind power, hydropower, geothermal energy, biofuels, and biomass. Some promising clean energy innovations are the TPX-Power Project which aims to recover energy from waste heat, the HERMES Project that aims to explore the concept of cold-fusion, the MetaVEH Project that aims to develop lead-free electromechanical energy harvesting systems, the LICROX Project that aims to produce solar fuel via chemical energy storage. Watch out for green hydrogen: many EU states are increasingly investing in it. Green hydrogen — produced from renewable electricity-powered — proves to be a great alternative for fossil fuels, especially in energy-intensive industries.
Cities account for around 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Rapid urbanization and growing urban populations (and their demands) have driven the growth of majorly unsustainable buildings across the globe. 30% of the 70% greenhouse gas generated by cities are generated by these buildings. The need for sustainable, affordable, and energy-efficient buildings is more than ever, and keeping SDG 7 in mind, buildings and cities need to be redesigned: this existing design complex is not only insufficient for the current environmental needs but is also even less or so for the future.
A collaborative project I worked on, Homestead Green, seeks to create an energy-efficient skyscraper for both residential and commercial uses with a low carbon footprint on the environment, featuring all modern conveniences that enhance the wellbeing of occupants while merging nature and technology to promote a green lifestyle. Homestead Green’s approach is based on both augmenting existing buildings through an innovative greywater recycling system as well as constructing new innovative buildings. You can read more about it here: https://www.fastcompany.com/90209043/6-teens-designed-this-wacky-green-building-of-the-future
With the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 crisis, a 6% decrease was seen in carbon emissions. While this gets to say how our consumption and behavior play an important role when it comes to decreasing emissions, care must also be taken to understand that this reduction only tells one part of the story: it masks the uncertainties and upheavals experienced by many across the globe. What can you do to help achieve SDG 7, you ask? I believe that small individual changes amount up to something significant on a large scale, but that said, and newsflash — big corporations are mostly responsible for the energy crisis we’re facing today. Here’s a checklist for corporations and governments to ensure that they contribute fairly towards improving energy equity and accessibility: Youthtopia YOUNITE – SDG 7 Checklist
Here is a list of things you can do: 1) lobby for better energy policies in your communities 2) change to clean energy technologies (like solar) or a clean-energy provider if you have the ability to 3) hold corporations and governments accountable 4) raise awareness about the ongoing energy crisis 5) our favorite old 3R’s with a twist: reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose 5) lower your carbon footprint 6) eliminate single-use plastics (did you know their production consumes a LOT of energy?) 7) use public transport whenever possible 8) make your consumption more ethical
With all of these, we could exponentially reduce emissions and transform the global energy system into one that is not only sustainable and resilient but one that is accessible and equitable. We need to understand that the goal of decarbonizing and ensuring the transition to a clean future is a collective responsibility, and such a transition needs to be accelerated.
Some sources I recommend you to check out:
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: a movie about a 13-year old boy who gets thrown out of school for not being able to afford the fees and then learns about energy production to build a windmill for his village
Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL): an organization that’s working for faster action towards achieving the SDGs
Storms of My Grandchildren – The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe: a book by James Hansen, a leading Climate Scientist and Professor
The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World: a study by MIT