This blog was written by Vanesa Castan Broto, describing two new papers published in Nature Energy.

If you can read this, you’re not affected,” says Vincent Moller, from SPARC (Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres, India). He is speaking of the reality of millions of urban dwellers for whom electricity is not available at the flick of a switch (Without Power: Mumbai’s Pavement Dwellers). Energy relates to questions of justice both because it underpins the wellbeing of people and because the unsustainable consumption of energy in richer countries impacts the lives of everyone. Two new papers published in Nature Energy explore this theme, focusing on the interdependence of energy goals with other aspects of sustainable development.

The first paper, ‘A research agenda for a people-centred approach to energy access in the urbanizing global south,’ explores the need for a research agenda on energy access that recognises the particularities living in the urbanisation age. According to the 2017 Global Tracking Framework, a multi-institutional group that tracks progress towards the SDG7, progress towards the goals of electrification and access to clean fuels is too slow. Roughly 1 in 8 people in the world did not have access to electricity in 2014. The figures are even worse for access to clean fuels: over 3 in 8 people lacked access in 2014. Most of the energy-poor people live in South Asia, South East Asia and Africa, areas which are also urbanising rapidly.

Research has traditionally assumed that urbanisation leads automatically to access to electricity and cleaner fuels. This paper suggests that such assumption overlooks critical nuances in achieving energy access. There are still 800 million people living in informal settlements in urban areas, and many of them lack access to electricity and clean fuels. Urbanisation takes multiple forms, with many people living in peri-urban or suburban areas lacking access to centralised networks. Even in areas where there is an electricity network, people may lack access if they cannot afford a connection to electricity or if they lack the tenure conditions that enable them to access the network. Renewable energy technologies and biomass solutions offer new opportunities to think energy access in urban areas, beyond a narrow emphasis on extending the electricity network.

The second paper, ‘Mapping synergies and trade-offs between energy and the Sustainable Development Goals,’ examined the interactions between SDG 7, and its targets, with other SDGs and targets. The paper shows how multiple goals such as access to food, clean water, sanitation, education, technology, and healthcare depend on access to affordable and clean energy. Energy, in particular, is central to achieving SDG11, the goal of achieving sustainable, inclusive, resilient and safe cities. Professor Yacob Mulugetta, a co-author of this study, argues that: “by exploring these interdependencies, this paper argues that the transition to a clean energy future cannot be separated from the important goal of building a fairer and more just society.”

The papers include research and insights from a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, called ‘Mapping Urban Energy Landscapes,’ led by Professor Castán Broto from the Sheffield Urban Institute. For further information contact: v.castanbroto@sheffield.ac.uk