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LONDON, Feb 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A range of developing countries have emerged as leaders in a global race to switch to sustainable energy by 2030, by boosting their policies to help improve people's access to reliable, affordable and clean power, the World Bank said on Wednesday.
But richer developed countries must do far more to promote energy efficiency or global warming will continue longer with serious consequences, a leading energy group said.
Some 40 percent of 111 countries surveyed by the World Bank had strong policies to improve people's access to reliable and affordable energy, make industries and homes more energy efficient, and increase countries' use of renewable energy, the bank said.
They include China, India, Vietnam, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Turkey, which have emerged as leaders alongside developed countries.
"We are in a race against time to reach our 2030 energy goals and to get there we will need a lot of investment and a lot of money – both private and public," said Riccardo Puliti, senior director and head of energy and extractives at the World Bank.
The energy goals are enshrined in a set of international sustainable development goals (SDGs) agreed in 2015 to curb poverty and end hunger.
Giving people access to power creates jobs, improves healthcare and education, and makes communities safer to live in, Puliti said.
The energy goals also underpin the 2015 Paris climate change agreement to keep global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by reducing emissions.
However, many countries are lagging in the area of improving energy efficiency, according to the survey.
"Energy efficiency should come first. It's the most obvious, cheapest, easiest, fastest way to get onto a pathway for SDG 7 success but also on a pathway for implementation of the Paris Agreement," said Rachel Kyte, head of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll), and special representative of the U.N. secretary-general.
Richer countries, in particular, need to do more, she said.
"The developed world has a responsibility to get its act together quickly because the people who are going to need more time are some of the developing countries," Kyte told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The longer we take, the warmer everything is going to get ... the more economic losses we're going to suffer and the more lives are going to be lost," she added.
The World Bank's survey - Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy (RISE) - was produced as part of efforts by SEforALL, a global energy partnership, to ensure universal access to modern energy, improve energy efficiency and promote renewable power.
Africa is the least electrified continent in the world, with some 600 million people living without power, yet some 40 percent of African countries surveyed do not have strong policies to address this situation, the World Bank said.
Some exceptions include Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa.
"The good news now is there is a generation of African leaders in some countries that have understood that ... their economies will not grow unless they have got reliable, affordable modern power," Kyte said.
And cheaper technology, the discovery of large amounts of natural gas - a relatively clean fossil fuel - in the continent means "renewable energy in the mix offers them a way forward that just wasn't there before," she added. (Reporting by Alex Whiting @Alexwhi, Editing by Laurie Goering.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)