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Are we really on track to achieve SDG 7 in North and Central Asia?

iStockphoto/Pavel Talashov

North and Central Asia is on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7: affordable and clean energy, based on aggregated data for the whole subregion. However, general statistics may conceal the challenges faced by different countries in the subregion. Seasonal energy shortages and outages are still common occurrences. Hydrocarbons remain the main source for energy production and consumption, making up 91 per cent of the energy mix of the subregion. Obsolete power infrastructure and unsustainable energy production and consumption patterns give rise to high energy intensity. There is clearly room for improvement. Countries in the subregion need to step up efforts to implement their energy transition strategies.

SDG target 7.1: Universal access to energy services

Access to electricity is one of the best performing indicators in the subregion. The power network inherited from the Soviet era contributed to a high degree of electrification in North and Central Asian countries. However, this infrastructure – often dating back to the 1970s - is under-maintained and outdated, causing energy losses in the transmission and distribution process. An unstable energy supply is a key concern as seasonal energy shortages and power outages occur from time to time. This is especially apparent during winters for hydro-reliant countries like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Besides, lack of connectivity to centralized networks is prevalent in rural areas due to the high connection costs and low population density.

SDG target 7.2: Increase share of renewable energy

The renewable energy share in the subregion is regressing. The countries’ energy mix is not very diverse as they rely primarily on conventional energy sources. Discounting the share of hydropower, renewable energy only accounts for 1 per cent of the energy production in North and Central Asia. This small share is mainly attributed to economic and technical reasons. Considering that the cost of environmental impacts is not included in energy prices, the high subsidies for conventional energy render renewable energy less profitable. Renewable energy development is further constrained by technical issues, including the difficulty of connecting renewable energy to existing power grids, inconsistency in energy generation uncontrolled by manmade factors, as well as limited expertise in the field of renewable energy development.

SDG 7.3: Improvement in energy efficiency

North and Central Asian countries have high energy intensity. Aside from economic growth and population scale, the main causes of high energy intensity in the subregion are the countries’ energy sector-led economic structure, energy inefficiency in supply and consumption and economically unreasonable energy subsidies. The below cost-recovery tariff schemes cause budgets to be insufficient to meet infrastructure upgrade needs. And although high consumer energy subsidies are intended to make energy affordable for end-users, it also encourages overconsumption and strains supply.

Equitable and sustainable achievement of Goal 7 is needed

The development of the energy landscape has always been a priority in North and Central Asia. Going forward, development plans for the energy sector should align with and incorporate sustainable development principles.

Countries in the subregion should consider alternative sources of renewable energy, given the untapped renewable energy potential of wind, solar and biomass. Installing off-grid renewable energy systems can also help tackle rural non-connectivity issues and create job opportunities in rural communities. Priority should be given to investments to develop clean energy which helps diversify the energy mix.

Investments in the energy sector should also promote technological transfer and enhance expertise in developing clean energy systems. Current renewable energy projects in the subregion which are mainly administered by foreign institutions should contribute to increasing in-country technological expertise as well. Growing investments in the renewable energy sector can also catalyze technological innovation by stimulating demand and driving technology upgrades.

Strengthened coordination for transboundary energy infrastructure and networks is also important. Given the interdependence for energy and the shared interest in transboundary energy infrastructure, it is beneficial for countries in the subregion to commit to a coordination mechanism which can serve to stabilize power supply. The history of linked energy and electricity infrastructure in North and Central Asia highlights the need for regional cooperation to achieve energy security.

Achieving sustainable energy transition needs to be a priority for North and Central Asia. Given the interlinked nature of the Sustainable Development Goals, countries need to adopt a coherent approach that supports the achievement of SDG 7 targets along with environmental commitments, social inclusion and economic growth. The expert group meeting on sustainable and clean energy in North and Central Asia starting on 9 June will discuss the key drivers and trends in implementing clean energy solutions in the subregion and examine the interlinkages of sustainable and clean energy with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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Jiayue Cheng
Consultant, Subregional Office for North and Central Asia, ESCAP
Patricia Wong
Associate Statistician
Subregional Office for North and Central Asia +7 727 338 4417 [email protected]