After a decade of progress, the global energy transition has plateaued amid the global energy crisis and geopolitical volatilities, according to a new World Economic Forum report, Fostering Effective Energy Transition 2023. The report suggests that while there has been broad progress on clean, sustainable energy, there are emerging challenges to the equity of the transition – just, affordable access to energy and sustained economic development – due to countries shifting their focus to energy security.
The 13th edition of the report, published in collaboration with Accenture, draws on insights from the Energy Transition Index (ETI). This year, the ETI used an updated framework reflecting emerging shifts in the global energy landscape to benchmark 120 countries in two areas: the performance of their energy systems in the dimensions of equity, energy security and environmental sustainability; and the readiness of the enabling environment for energy transition. This edition also evaluated countries’ “transition momentum” for the first time to highlight the urgency of consistent progress on timely and effective transition.
Enabled by increasing volumes of clean energy investments, improving regulatory frameworks, technological innovations and urgency to address the climate crisis, some long-term trends of global energy transition are positive. Over the past decade, 95% of countries have improved their total ETI score, with improvements more pronounced for countries that consume a large amount of energy, including China, India, Republic of Korea and Indonesia.
Broadly speaking, however, ETI scores have plateaued in the past three years. This speed of transition is not sufficient to meet the Paris Agreement targets in an inclusive and secure way. The geopolitical and macroeconomic volatilities that prompted the recent global energy crisis shifted countries’ focus to maintaining secure and stable energy supply at the expense of universal affordability and challenge progress observed in the past decade.
Indeed, ETI scores declined for approximately 50% of the countries in the past year, which disproportionately impacted vulnerable consumers, small businesses and developing economies. Moreover, the growth rate of energy access has slowed and, at the current pace, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of affordable, reliable and sustainable energy access for all by 2030 will likely be missed.
“The recent turbulence in energy markets has exposed how interconnected energy prices are with macroeconomic and social stability. This can, and has, put developing countries at risk of losing their momentum gained before the energy crisis on access to affordable, sustainable energy,” said Roberto Bocca, Head of Energy, Materials and Infrastructure, World Economic Forum. “It further demonstrates the importance of balancing improvements in energy security, sustainability and equity – at the same time – to enable an effective energy transition.”
When it comes to progress on energy transition, the gap between advanced economies and emerging and developing countries in Asia, Central and Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa has gradually narrowed over the past decade. As advanced economies and large emerging economies such as China and India push the boundaries of energy transition, propelled by ambitious industrial policy packages, progress in clean electrification, technology-intensive solutions for the decarbonization of heavy industries and advanced nuclear, there is a risk of that gap widening again. Multilateral collaboration is more important than ever to ensure an equitable, inclusive energy transition across the world, in which emerging economies are active participants rather than late entrants.
“Over the past decade, significant strides have been made but not at the pace required to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” said Stephanie Jamison, Senior Managing Director and Global Resources Industry Practice lead, Accenture. “The focus must shift to helping more populous, developing nations make faster progress, which, while committed to decarbonization, lack the financial and technological capability to fully develop their renewable energy resources. Through greater collaboration and support we can enable a more equitable and sustainable future.”
Muqsit Ashraf, Senior Managing Director and Global Strategy Lead, Accenture, added: “The window of opportunity for reaching net-zero targets is closing and countries must move urgently to cleaner energy systems. Leveraging technology – both physical and digital, including data and AI – will be essential. By pushing the boundaries of disruptive technologies, like generative AI, countries and companies can realize what was previously thought impossible and simultaneously bolster not just sustainability but also better enable energy security and affordability.”
Spotlights on progress from ETI 2023
Sweden (1), Denmark (2) and Norway (3) lead the ETI 2023 rankings and have been the top three countries each year for the past decade. Despite their diverse energy system structures, they share common attributes, such as high levels of political commitment and stable regulatory frameworks, investments in research and development, increased renewable energy deployment and carbon pricing schemes to incentivize investments in low-carbon solutions.
France (7) is the only G20 country in the top 10, followed closely by Germany (11), the US (12), and the UK (13). Strong performance by the world’s largest economies, supported by the rapid development of renewable energy infrastructure and rising levels of investments in clean energy, is a signal of progress on the energy transition. Exposure to gas price volatilities is a risk factor to the inclusiveness of the energy transition, as demonstrated by the recent energy crisis and its fiscal and monetary implications, especially for European countries.
Brazil (14) and China (17) are the major emerging economies to appear in the top 20. Due to abundant hydroelectricity capacity and leadership in biofuels, Brazil scored high on energy security and environmental sustainability, accounting for 7% of renewable energy production worldwide. China leads on renewable energy investments and capacity development, supported by mature domestic supply chains, and in the incubation of industries such as electric vehicles and energy storage.
The long-term goals of the energy transition require sustained momentum in the wake of the current near-term volatilities. India (67) and Singapore (70) are the only major economies showing true momentum by advancing sustainability, energy security and equity in a balanced way. For example, despite continued economic growth, India has successfully reduced the energy intensity of its economy and the carbon intensity of its energy mix, while achieving universal energy access and effectively managing affordability of electricity.
Looking at each facet of energy system performance, fuel-exporting nations – Oman (90), Canada (19), Saudi Arabia (57) and Qatar (59) – scored among the highest in equity and inclusiveness, providing affordable energy for households and industries and leveraging the energy sector to empower economic growth. Notably, the US, Sweden, and Israel (28) also score high on this dimension, largely due to cost-reflective energy prices and leadership on trade in low-carbon technology products.
Advanced economies – the US, Australia (24) and Estonia (10) – scored highest in energy security, measuring the resilience and reliability of supply. A highly diversified energy mix, low dependence on fuel imports and limited interruptions in energy supply were contributing factors. Notably, they were closely followed by an emerging economy, Malaysia (35).
The report revealed that many countries – amounting to over 90% of global emissions – are prioritizing sustainability, focusing on policies and programmes that promote energy conservation, renewable technologies and innovation in energy storage and grid modernization. Latin America led the way, with low levels of carbon intensity in energy supply, low per capita emissions and a high share of clean energy in final demand. Paraguay (34), Costa Rica (25) and Uruguay (23) in particular reaped the advantages of their abundant hydroelectric potential.
“The response to the global energy crisis has opened new opportunities for countries to reduce the energy intensity of their economic growth and increase the resilience of energy systems,” said Espen Mehlum, Head of Energy Transition intelligence and Regional Acceleration, World Economic Forum. “Together with the continued pressure to transform energy systems to respond to the urgent need to address climate change, it provides strong foundations to further accelerate the global energy transition.”