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For instance, investments in off-grid solar companies in sub- Saharan Africa and other countries went up tenfold, to more than US$200 million between 2013 and 2016 (Bloomberg New Energy Finance 2017), although it should be stressed that this rapid growth still represents a small percentage of the investments that will be needed to make an impact on the regional energy marketplace.


Scalable solar-powered off-grid electrification solutions are important for sustainable development in many developing regions and represent a critical element in the case of the sub-Saharan Africa region (International Renewable Energy Agency [IRENA] 2013). Access to energy represents a critical economic, social and environmental issue in both industrialized and developing countries because energy access is linked to a wide range of economic and environmental benefits (IRENA 2016). Yet sub-Saharan Africa as a region consumes just 145 terawatt-hours of electricity a year – or one incandescent light bulb per person used three hours a day (Lucas 2015) – making it the most energy-poor region in the world (Park 2016).


There is substantial potential for the unit costs of resource- efficient and low-carbon technologies to continue to fall as these new technologies are developed and deployed, and as engineers learn how to connect and service them cheaply. This potential is far higher for new technologies than it is for long-established, high-carbon incumbents.6


Box 2.3: Electronic waste


Electronic waste (e-waste) – which can be defined as “items of electrical and electronic equipment and their parts that have been discarded by the owner as waste without the intention of re-use” – represents one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the world (Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) Initiative 2014).


Fuelled by rapid global sales of computers and electronics, combined with shortening product life cycles, 44.7 million metric tons – the equivalent of 6.1 kg per inhabitant of e-waste were generated in 2016, while the overall e-waste stream is expected to increase to 52.2 million metric tons or 6.8 kg per inhabitant by 2021 (Baldé et al. 2017).


Some e-waste from industrialized countries is being shipped to the developing world, “where crude and inefficient techniques are often used to extract materials and components”, a trend which is posing challenges to global sustainability governance (Baldé, Wang and Kuehr 2016).


For example, price


drops in renewable energy technologies have allowed new combinations of solar, wind, and energy storage to outcompete coal and gas on cost.7


Not only does the energy sector benefit from productivity improvements associated with a transition to low-carbon, there are also important economic spillovers from low-carbon innovations. Acemoglu et al. (2012) argue that sustainable growth can be achieved by adopting temporary policy levers such as a carbon tax that can redirect innovation towards clean inputs, while Dechezleprêtre, Martin and Mohnen (2014) conclude that economic spillovers from low-carbon innovation are consistently 40 per cent greater compared with conventional technologies, while information and communication technologies (ICTs) can, in theory, vastly increase productivity and energy efficiency, while reducing material consumption throughout the lifespan of a product (a mobile phone for instance). While ICTs may one day usher in a new era in which digital technologies play a key role in accelerating global environmental governance, it is not yet clear if the energy and materials savings are greater and outweigh the cumulative sustainability impact of the ICT product lifespan from resource extraction to waste disposal (see Box 2.3 on electronic waste).


Beyond the direct social and environmental impacts of ICTs, one emerging sustainability issue is the electricity use of data centres, which in the case of the United States is estimated to be around 2 percent of the country’s total


6 The so-called sailing ship effect (whereby the introduction of steam ships induced a leap forward in efficiency and design of sailing ships) suggests that incumbent industries can respond with competitive innovation when faced with existential competition.


7 Solar photovoltaic and onshore wind technologies are competitive with gas and coal in a number of global locations, even without a carbon price. The cost of solar photovoltaic modules fell by 60 per cent in the two years to the first half of 2017, and by a factor of five in the five years post-2008 (Bloomberg NEF 2017). Energy storage prices are falling even faster than solar photovoltaic and wind prices. A recent study found that research and development investments for energy storage projects have lowered lithium ion battery costs from US$10,000/kWh in the early 1990s to a trajectory set to reach US$100/kWh on or by 2018 (Kittner, Lill, and Kammen 2017).


electricity consumption (Whitney and Kennedy 2012). With energy efficiency of computers reportedly doubling every 1.5 years (Koomey et al. 2011), the more important long-term sustainability question may be the use and application of ICTs in avoiding future energy use and lowering climate change impact.


Digital technologies such as smart meters are projected to link more than 1 billion households and 11 billion smart appliances in interconnected electricity systems by 2040. The use of digital technology innovations will enable individual homes to determine when and how much they draw electricity from the grid. They will also enable the design of environmentally friendly demand-side responses in the building, industry and transport sectors, resulting in US$270 billion of avoided new investments in new electricity infrastructure (IEA 2017a). Governments of cities ranging from Copenhagen to Addis Ababa are also investing in ICT-based smart technologies (e.g. open data stores, citizen engagement platforms) to help improve urban governance at lower financial and environmental cost (C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group 2015).


2.6.3 Food-agricultural technology


A number of global food-agricultural trends – population growth and increasing global affluence, among others – will require increased agricultural productivity (by as much as 60- 120 per cent on 2005 levels), in direct conflict with the wider SDGs (Ort et al. 2015).


Moreover, there is a wide range of perspectives in terms of what the yield gap is likely to be - the difference between how much a crop could yield per hectare with enough water and nutrients, and how much is currently being harvested (White 2015) - and over what technology options are available to address it. Total agricultural production is projected to increase by 60 per cent by 2050 compared with 2005 (Alexandratos and Bruinsma 2012), due to an increase in global population and in the number of people from the developing world who can afford to eat more and better food. The emerging question confronting the international community is likely to be: will the global food supply be adequate to meet global food demand,


2


Drivers of Environmental Change


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