Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report, 2021

About this report

Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report monitors global, regional and country progress on the three targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7: access to energy and clean cooking, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. It identifies priorities for action and best practices that have proven successful in helping policy makers and development partners understand what is needed to overcome challenges.

The report is produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO). The 2021 edition was chaired by the UNSD.
Key highlights

Access to electricity

Since 2010, more than a billion people have gained access to electricity. As a result, 90 percent of the planet’s population was connected in 2019. Yet 759 million people still live without electricity, with about half of them living in fragile and conflict-affected settings.

Despite accelerated progress in recent years, the SDG target of universal access by 2030 appears unlikely to be met, leaving an estimated 660 million without electricity, especially if the COVID-19 pandemic seriously disrupts electrification efforts. Regional disparities continue to persist, and the access deficit is particularly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for three-quarters of the global deficit. Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Asia and Southeastern Asia are approaching universal access, with more than 98 percent of their population having electricity access, whereas in Sub-Saharan Africa less than half of the population has access.

Among the 20 countries with the largest access deficits, Bangladesh, Kenya, and Uganda showed the greatest improvement since 2010, thanks to annual electrification growth rates in excess of 3 percentage points, driven largely by an integrated approach that combined grid, mini grid and on-grid solar electrification.

Clean cooking

The share of the global population without access to clean cooking fuels and technologies was 66 percent in 2019, leaving almost three billion people or one-third of the global population without access. Since 2010, the global access rate to clean cooking solutions grew annually by 1 percent, with gains mostly attributed to progress in the regions of Central and Southern Asia and Eastern and Southeastern Asia. 

In stark contrast, progress in clean cooking access in Sub-Saharan Africa was slower than population growth, with some countries showing little or no improvements in the clean cooking access rate. For the first time, in 2019, more people without access to clean fuels and technologies reside in Sub-Saharan Africa than in any other region. Close to 900 million people or around 85 percent of the population in the region lack clean cooking access, accounting for 35 percent of the global access deficit.

Current trends suggest that unless rapid action is taken to scale up clean cooking, the world will fall short of the universal access target for clean cooking by almost 30 percent, achieving only 72 percent of the population in 2030. Of the top 20 countries with greatest number of people lacking access to clean fuel and technologies for cooking, 10 are located in Sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, Madagascar, Ghana, Niger), 6 are in Eastern Asia and South-eastern Asia (China, Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Viet Nam, Democratic Republic of Korea) and 4 are in Central Asia and Southern Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan).

During the period 2010-2019, the top 5 most populous low- and middle-income countries (China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, and Pakistan) increased their combined access rate by 2 percent where progress in all other LMIC, remained unchanged or stagnant over the same period. To ensure no one is left behind, the political commitment, and financial incentives must be prioritized in all access-deficit countries to achieve the universal target of SDG 7.


The COVID-19 crisis resulted in an estimated 7 percent year-on-year expansion of renewable electricity generation, supported by long-term contracts, low marginal costs, priority access to grids, and installation of new renewable capacity. In contrast, renewable energy share for transport and heat declined in 2020.

Renewable electricity accounts for almost half of global modern renewable energy consumption and three-quarters of its year-on-year increase, with hydropower being the largest renewable source of electricity globally and for each region. Heat, which is the largest energy end use worldwide, had only a 1.2 percent absolute increase when it came to renewable sources. Coal, gas and oil still meet three-quarters of global heat demand, making it heavily fossil-fuel dependent. The sector needs greater ambition and stronger policy support.

Transport has the lowest renewable energy penetration of all sectors, with only 3.4 percent in 2018 being supplied by renewables. While Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest share of renewable sources in its energy supply, it is not modern - 85 percent is traditional uses of biomass. Latin America and the Caribbean have the largest share of modern renewable energy uses, thanks to hydropower for electricity, bioenergy for industrial processes and biofuels for transport. 

Energy efficiency

Global primary energy intensity - an important indicator of how heavily the world's economic activity uses energy – improved by 1.1 percent in 2018. This was the lowest average annual rate of improvement since 2010. The annual improvement until 2030 will now need to average 3 percent if we are to meet the SDG 7 goal. Emerging economies in Central, Southern, Eastern and South-eastern Asia saw a rapid increase in economic activity, but the rise in energy supply was mitigated by significant improvements in energy efficiency, resulting in robust, continuous improvements in energy intensity.

Between 2010 and 2018, energy intensity in South-eastern Asia grew 3.1 percent. The lowest rates of energy intensity improvement occurred in Western Asia, Northern Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean (0.8 percent) and Sub-Saharan Africa (1.4 percent). Using different metrics to measure intensity in individual sectors, the rate of improvement in energy intensity slowed compared with the period 1990–2010 in all sectors except for transportation, where fuel efficiency standards drove energy intensity improvements. 

International Financial Flows

International public financial flows to developing countries in support of clean energy amounted to $14 billion in 2018, a 35 percent decrease from an all-time high of $21.9 billion the year before. Nevertheless, the overall trend in public financial flows has been positive over the past decade, increasing threefold during the period 2010–18 when viewed as a five-year moving average. 

This trend, however, masks some important distributional discrepancies, with financial commitments concentrated in a few countries and thus failing to reach many of those most in need of international support. The 46 least developed countries (LDCs) received a mere 20 percent of public financial flows over the period 2010–18 and a total of $2.8 billion in 2018—the same level as in 2017 but lower than in 2016 and 2015.

International financial flows need to be further scaled up and increasingly target those countries falling furthest behind in reaching SDG 7. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dramatically increased investors’ risk perception and shifted public funding priorities in developing countries, international public financial flows are more critical than ever to leverage the investment levels needed to reach SDG 7.