Energy and the MDGs

From energypedia


The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) seek to halve poverty by 2015. The UN Millennium Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly in September 2000. The eight MDGs include: eradicate extreme poverty & hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; develop a global partnership for development.[1]

Energy and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

Although none of the eight Millennium Development Goals specifically address energy, access to sustainable and clean energy contributes directly to achieving all Millennium Development Goals.

Its importance was acknowledged in later documents i.e. in 2005 as follows: “Improved energy services – including modern cooking fuels, access to electricity, and motive power – are necessary for meeting almost all the Goals. (…) The UN Millennium Project proposes that countries adopt the following specific target … by 2015: Reduce the number of people without effective access to modern cooking fuels by 50% and make improved cook stoves widely available. Provide access to electricity to all schools, health faclites, and other key community facilities. Ensure access to motive power in each community. Provide access to electricity and modern energy services for all urban and peri-urban poor."[2]

During the UN High Level Plenary Meeting in September 2010, a follow-up resolution to the outcome of the Millennium Summit was adopted. In this outcome document, several issues relating to energy access, security, clean and renewable energy, etc. are set forth, emphasising the importance of energy for sustainable development. (See mainly §46, §77 for energy related aspects of the MDGs).[3]

1.4 billion people don't have access to electricity. Some three billion people rely on traditional use of firewood, charcoal, agricultural residues or coal for cooking.[4] The challenge lies in finding ways to reconcile this necessity and demand for energy with its impact on the natural resource base in order to ensure that sustainable development goals are realized.
The MDGs, a critical set of objectives to achieving sustainability, cannot be met without major improvement in the quality and quantity of energy services in developing countries.
Increasing access to modern energy services requires integrated development of enabling policy frameworks, development of local capacities, investment in infrastructure, development and/or adaptation of technologies and provision of knowledge-based advisory services.

The emerging concurrence on the role of energy in sustainable development consists of three key points:

  • Energy services are an essential input to economic development and social progress, notably to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The table below summarises the linkages between energy and the multiple aspects of development.
  • Provision of energy services to poor populations in many developing countries under current economic conditions is not attractive to market actors. Priming markets through development and support for businesses is necessary to deliver improved quantity and quality of energy services.
  • Governments and public authorities must act dynamically to create the conditions that will allow greatly expanded access to energy services. Public action in all forms - investment, regulatory action, ODA is absolutely necessary.

Sustainable, affordable energy services are essential to attain all of the MDGs, in particular poverty reduction, improved health, gender equality and sustainable management of natural resources[5].

Importance of Energy to achieve the Millennium Development Goals[6]

Millennium Development Goal
Role of energy
1) Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day
  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
  • Use of commercial fuels and improved cook stoves can increase agricultural productivity and food security. 95% of all food requires cooking in order to be eaten.
  • Without access to energy services, people must spend a great deal of time or a substantial part of their income and physical energy on basic subsistence activities rather than on earning money. Any improvement in the quality of the energy and the efficiency of the services, directly and structurally contributes to poverty eradication by saving money and increasing available time for other (economic) activities.
  • At the local and national levels, a reliable energy supply is essential to industrial activities, transportation, commerce, micro-enterprises and agriculture outputs and thus to economic stability and growth, jobs and improved living standards.
2) Achieve universal primary education
  • Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling
  • Electric lighting increases the number of studying hours, while electricity supply in schools enables the use of educational media and communications including ICT.
  • Motive power and energy services can boost the productivity of adult labour to substitute for child labour: many children, especially girls, do not attend primary schools in order to carry wood and water to meet family subsistence needs.
  • Finally access to energy helps attract teachers to remote communities by improving rural living standards.
3) Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015
  • Motive power frees women and girls from hours of physical work such as food grinding and threshing. Modern cooking fuels save them from spending hours carrying large loads of fuel woods. This, and electric lighting, increases time and energy available for studying and reading and the possibilities to develop productive activities.
  • Public lighting adds to security and availability of radio and TV increases the access to gender related information.
4) Reduce child mortality
  • Reduce by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate
  • Lack of energy correlates closely with inadequate health care. Modern fuels and electricity help reduce malnutrition-related mortality by boosting food production and household incomes. They also help reduce waterborne diseases by powering equipment for pumping, boiling and treating of water. Using modern biomass fuels and improved stoves reduces harmful indoor air smoke and the risk of respiratory disease. Access to modern energy is critical for keeping food and water.
  • Energy is a key component of a functioning health care system. It enables clinics to refrigerate vaccines, operate and sterilize medical equipment.
  • Energy allows the use of modern tools of mass communication such as TVs and radios needed to fight the spread of preventable diseases.
  • Access to electricity helps attract and retain health and social workers.
5) Improve maternal health
  • Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio
6) Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS
  • Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases
7) Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources
  • Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation
  • By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers
  • Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are major contributors of urban air pollution, acidification of land and water, and the unpredictable effects of climate change. The use of fuelwood and charcoal can be unsustainable when it leads to land degradation from fuelwood gathering and to indoor air pollution from biomass combustion. Further effects might be local particulates, acid rain and global warming. Environmental damage can be mitigated by increasing energy efficiency, introducing modern technologies for energy production and use, substituting cleaner fuels for polluting fuels, and introducing renewable energy.
8) Develop a global partnership for development
  • The World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) called for partnerships between public entities, development agencies, civil society and the private sector to support sustainable development, including the delivery of affordable reliable and environmentally sustainable energy services.

Further Information


  3. UN Assembly outcome document A/RES/65/1 (2010/10/19): htttp://
  4. UNDP Fast Facts: Universal Energy Access (2022):
  5. GTZ (2007): Eastern Africa Resource Base: GTZ Online Regional Energy Resource Base: Regional and Country Specific Energy Resource Database: I - Energy Technology
  6. Energising Development (EnDev) -