● The world’s transition to secure, affordable and sustainable energy has stagnated, with little or no progress achieved in the past five years
● Across 115 economies, more people than ever before now have access to energy. However, this is offset by reduced affordability and almost no progress in making energy systems environmentally sustainable
● The World Economic Forum’s Fostering Effective Energy Transition report calls for urgent action on the part of policy-makers and business to safeguard energy development for future generations
● Explore the full report, infographics and more here
Geneva, Switzerland, 25 March 2019 – 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.
All opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Economic Forum Blog is an independent and neutral platform dedicated to generating debate around the key topics that shape global, regional and industry agendas.