Energy governance: Four ways to succeed

October 25, 2022

Access to energy impacts all aspects of our lives, including health, income, education and food. A just energy transition is critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Photo: UNDP Cambodia/Manuth Buth

Far away from the news headlines, 770 million people across the globe cannot turn on a light switch and get power in their house. They cannot get a light to go on when the sun sets, or a fan to start despite unbearable heat, or oven to work when making a meal. Not just after a flood, or an earthquake, or a storm, or during times of conflict, but every single day. This is their daily reality. This impacts their lives, their incomes, their education, their food, their health and every single aspect of their lives. They are deprived of something basic: access to energy. If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed by world leaders in 2015, with a rapidly approaching deadline, this needs to change. But how?

A just energy transition is the answer. It means putting people and communities at the centre of our transition. It underpins both climate adaptation and climate mitigation. The transition must take place in the broader context of sustainable human development – in a way that it truly leaves no one behind, brings people out of poverty, reduces social inequalities, supports human rights, and serves the wider public interest, rather than promote the interests of specific groups. 

Recognizing the centrality of energy to climate goals, as part of their nationally determined contributions, countries have pledged to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts. And UNDP has pledged to work with countries to ensure progress by scaling up action on climate change.

The commitment to Leave No One Behind, is not just a slogan. It requires increasing energy access to those who are furthest behind, hardest to reach and living in crisis situations. In this context, UNDP and its partners have pledged to provide clean and affordable energy for 500 million more people by 2025. It also requires improving energy efficiency, as well as accelerating the energy transition by capitalizing on clean energy technologies, innovating business models and developing new strategies for private sector investments.

There is no silver bullet. To achieve their challenging energy goals, countries will require governance institutions, frameworks, policies, programmes and processes to work together to support this transition. UNDP is committed to supporting countries to strengthen their energy governance and is recommending four actionable priorities:  

  • Inclusive and effective institutions, which are the essential foundation of achieving energy priorities of the 21st century. Institutions need to be responsive, accountable, trustworthy and transparent, and able to act in a more coordinated way across the whole of government to address intersecting challenges or opportunities in society. Strengthening the capacities and capabilities of institutions is needed to ensure that they are playing their part in the most efficient and effective manner.     
  • A legal and regulatory framework which creates a conducive enabling environment to promote renewable energy, encourage private investments, support new clean energy innovations and foster innovative business models for the energy sector. Legal frameworks also need clearly defined enforcement mechanisms with clear responsibilities and obligations of all stakeholders to ensure the protection of people from new risks, such as cyber related risks.
  • Civic engagement and empowerment is a must to ensure a successful energy transition from a whole-of-society perspective. Protecting and enhancing civic space, by empowering citizens and communities to participate in problem diagnosis and co-create energy solutions is critical, including via creating platforms that enhance innovation. The voices of women, youth, indigenous people, persons with disabilities and others who are often excluded from public policymaking, yet most impacted, must be incorporated into energy decision-making processes.  
  • Appropriate oversight, including through national parliaments and their committees, and independent agencies, ombudspersons, human rights commissions, anticorruption agencies, investigation and judiciary bodies, and consumer commissions which play an important role in the energy governance of 21st century by ensuring compliance with fundamental rights and standards.


Infographic on energy governance principles


Although the field of energy governance is relatively new, evidence from our governance work for people and planet in more than 130 countries across all regions over decades has shown us that success will depend on four approaches and emphases

  • Inclusive and integrated delivery which supports gender equality, through identifying who is being left behind and integrating energy programming and policy support, connecting with other areas such as health, education, poverty, inequality and employment. This will also require strengthened gender disaggregated and gender sensitive data.
  • Multi-level approaches which recognize the importance of the local level governance ecosystems which are required to stimulate local energy actions by supporting local stakeholders to participate, innovate and co-create locally suited energy solutions.
  • Digitally enabled programming which brings enormous power to improve processes and outcomes. It can catalyse our actions by improved system thinking, increased data usage, bringing innovation in delivery, creating new collaborations, encouraging joint advocacy, and enhancing knowledge sharing.
  • A flexible and adaptive approach to governance programming which supports progress in a complex and uncertain time. It keeps implementation and delivery at the centre and uses collective intelligence to anticipate, prevent, respond to and recover from risks and challenges. 

Consistent application of these four approaches across the four focus areas will enhance and multiply our impact in the years to come.

UNDP has always taken an integrated approach to deliver to our people. For example, in Nepal, UNDP has empowered women and other disadvantaged groups through electricity access. In Zimbabwe, installation of solar panels at health facilities has helped healthcare workers to reduce complications during and following pregnancy and childbirth. In Paraguay, citizens of the capital city have been involved in urban planning decisions to make it a green city.

This proposed framework will further help UNDP to bring its core capabilities to bear and work with our partners, drawing on their expertise and resources to scale up sustainable energy delivery and expand its reach. It will help us think systemically, identify gaps and support the governance systems which will address the complexities of the energy system and its interlinkages with other pressing issues, and facilitate the just energy transitions that the world needs.