The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals aim to improve livelihoods and maintain functioning ecosystems, and include the provision of electricity and the prevention of desertification. We show that the pursuit of those two goals can lead to developments that put critical ecosystem functions at risk. Vultures are scavengers that provide sanitary ecosystem services, but their populations across Africa are declining due to poisoning, electrocution, and collision with power infrastructure. The extent to which the pursuit of sustainable development threatens vultures in Africa is unclear. We surveyed 227 km of powerlines in Ethiopia, which revealed bird mortality (0.15 vulture carcasses / km) at power infrastructure constructed under a National Electrification Programme to provide universal electricity access by 2025. We also interviewed 190 local pastoralists in 10 areas about livelihood challenges, which revealed that the bush Prosopis juliflora, which was originally introduced to prevent desertification but then invaded north-eastern Ethiopia, increased livestock predation and motivated the use of poison to control predators. Actions to increase universal access to electricity and to reduce desertification therefore have undesired side-effects that increase vulture mortality through electrocution and poisoning. To avoid negatively affecting local vulture populations and the services they provide, we urge governments to use infrastructure designs that minimise the risk of electrocution and assist pastoralists to protect their livestock and reduce the risk of poisoning to vultures and other wildlife.