By Patrick Edema
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the deep inequalities in Uganda in terms of access to clean, modern, affordable and sustainable energy.
Electricity has been a vital underpinning of the response to the public health emergency however, millions of people in the country still lack basic access to it with the majority in rural and semi-urban areas.
Even before today’s unprecedented crisis, Uganda has not been on track to meet key sustainable energy goals. Now, it's likely to become even harder to achieve.
This means as a country, we must redouble our efforts to bring affordable, reliable and cleaner energy to all especially in rural areas, where the need is greatest in order to build a more prosperous and resilient economy.
Access to reliable energy is a lifeline, especially in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. It is essential not only for preventing and addressing the pandemic but also for accelerating the recovery and building back better by securing a more sustainable and resilient future for all.
Renewable energy is key to achieving SDG 7 and building a resilient, equitable and sustainable economy in a post-COVID-19 world. Now more than ever is the time for bold national cooperation to bridge the energy access gap and place sustainable energy at the heart of economic stimulus and recovery measures.
Despite an increase in the number of people with access to electricity of 21.6%, under policies that are in place to increase access to clean renewable energy still lack sufficient implementation and enforcement which is an obstacle to achieve the universal energy access for all by 2030.
According to the Energy Tracking Report by International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), significant progress had been made on various aspects of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 prior to the start of the COVID-19 crisis.
This includes a notable reduction in the number of people worldwide lacking access to electricity, strong uptake of renewable energy for electricity generation, and improvements in energy efficiency. Despite these advances, global efforts remain insufficient to reach the key targets of SDG 7 by 2030.
Other important elements of the SDG goal also continue to be off track. More than 90% of the people remain without clean cooking in the country. Largely stagnant progress since lead to millions of deaths each year from breathing cooking smoke.
The share of renewable energy in the country’s energy mix is only inching up gradually, despite the rapid growth of solar power in electricity generation. An acceleration of renewables across all sectors is required to move closer to reaching the SDG 7 target, with advances in heating and transport currently lagging far behind their potential.
However, aaccelerating the pace of progress in all regions and sectors will require stronger political commitment, long-term energy planning, increased public and private financing, and adequate policy and fiscal incentives to spur faster deployment of new technologies An increased emphasis on “leaving no one behind” is required, given the large proportion of the population without access in remote, rural, poorer and vulnerable communities.
Therefore, in this time of a global health crisis, protecting the health of 47 million people without clean cooking solutions is more critical than ever. Government, foundations, donors, and the private sector need to combine their efforts to accelerate the transition to clean and sustainable fuels and technologies to protect the health of the most vulnerable population.
And as to the current situation, the COVID-19 pandemic can either widen the sustainable energy access gaps or accelerate the path towards achieving SDG 7 in Uganda, which will, however, depend on priorities of national economic stimulus packages.
Patrick Edema, Environmental Engineer at African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)