A leap forward for the global energy transition but long way before it is fair and fast enough

Outcomes and insights from the High-Level Dialogue on Energy

September 24, 2021

UNDP’s Energy Compact pledges to work with partners to provide access to clean and affordable energy to 500 million additional people, focusing on the most vulnerable communities.

UNDP South Sudan/Louis Fourmentin

Our need for action on energy has never been clearer. We are failing to move fast enough to reduce fossil fuel emissions. We’re failing the 759 million people still without any access to electricity - energy poverty that holds back development - and we’re failing the nearly one third of the global population who are still without access to clean cooking.

The UN Secretary-General convened this week’s High-level Dialogue on Energy to dramatically accelerate energy action towards achieving access to affordable, reliable, sustainable energy for all (SDG7) and to put the world on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.    

This first United Nations summit-level meeting on energy in 40 years presented a unique opportunity for Heads of State, Government, UN System and multi-stakeholder representatives to discuss and commit to transformative action.

What happened?

The two major outcomes so far of the HLDE are the Energy Compacts - over 150 Energy Compacts were submitted by the date of the summit - and The Global Roadmap, which is a set of comprehensive recommendations to achieve clean energy access for all by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The global roadmap is based on the recommendations of the five multi-stakeholders Technical Working Groups and informed by the Ministerial Thematic Forums. It is a first-of-its kind global collaboration on energy, offering concrete actions and timelines needed through 2030 to meet the targets for clean, affordable energy for all and progress towards net-zero emissions by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

The over 150 commitments include US$400 billion from private sector and governments to support both the energy transition and energy access. The new commitments also aim to contribute to large increases in the installed capacity of renewable energy around the world - leading to hundreds of new renewable energy facilities and the creation of millions of new green jobs.

These commitments were bolstered by new announcements from US President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping. President Biden committed to doubling the amount of climate finance previously committed taking US climate finance commitments to $11.4 billion by 2024. And President Xi’s promise that: “China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad” joins Japan and Korea’s commitments to end overseas coal finance by end of 2021, a significant endorsement of a low-carbon future.

These are bold, encouraging commitments that also provide an important signal for policy action, corporate action, and investment decision-making. They are tangible outcomes from which to build forward.

Four key takeaways

1. A diversity of compacts with some outstanding ambition:

More than 150 Energy Compacts have been submitted by national and local governments, businesses, foundations and international, civil society and youth organizations from every continent, reflecting actions and financial commitments through 2030. Thirty-five were from UN Member States and 40 private sector companies to date. Momentum and ambition are coming at different speeds, and some compacts set very high bars, such as the UAE.

2. Financing and investment have been committed for both agendas:

Clean energy funding saw commitments for access and transition from public, private sector, and partnerships including by foundations and industry associations. On energy access, national governments committed to provide electricity to over 166 million people worldwide; private companies pledged to reach just over 200 million people; and several foundations and business associations promised to pursue partnerships to reach hundreds of millions of additional people. Nigeria's flagship commitment is to electrify 25 million people across 5 million homes by 2023 using solar technologies.

3. Potential huge boost to renewable energy worldwide:

National governments committed to install an additional 698 gigawatts (GW) of clean energy from solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and renewables-based hydrogen, and businesses pledged to install an additional 823 GW, all by 2030. India alone has committed to increase renewable energy installed capacity to 450 GW by 2030. Several partnerships and industry associations promised to mobilize an additional 3500 GW of renewables by 2030. To put this into context, just 10 gigawatts could power every home in New York City for approximately a year.

4. Although we are well short of our goals, conversation and momentum has shifted in the right direction:

We are still well short of meeting our 2030 and 2050 goals today, but the conversation has expanded from appeals for action to planning and solutions. The urgency of addressing energy access has risen to the top of the energy agenda, as the UN Secretary-General noted: “We have a double imperative to end energy poverty and to limit climate change.  And we have an answer that will fulfil both imperatives. Affordable, renewable and sustainable energy for all.”

What next and looking towards COP26:

Many compacts included new, ambitious fossil fuel emission reduction commitments. The compacts have given all participants – not just governments - another mechanism to develop ambitious emission reduction plans, alongside countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), raising the bar just as we look ahead to COP26. And, through the greater granularity required by the compacts it has allowed countries to lay out how they could operationalize the renewable energy commitments of their NDCs.

UNDP’s own Energy Compact pledges to mobilize partners within the United Nations system, Member States, private sector and civil society to provide access to clean and affordable energy to 500 million additional people, focusing on the world’s most vulnerable communities. Many of the new commitments this week can contribute to these goals, and through low and zero emissions methods. Our team at UNDP now need to convert this ambition to outcomes that will change peoples’ lives, matching financial support with technical and implementational capacity and directing it to where it is most needed.

Additional compacts are expected to be registered in the months ahead, and those compacts registered now will grow iteratively to match the increasing ambition needed between now and 2030.

The progress this week is just the beginning. While our call for commitments continues, helping countries to de-risk investments, build capacity and crowd in partnerships to support those left furthest behind by energy poverty or most vulnerable to climate change will be our new orders of business this Monday morning.

We know we must and can do much more. And to achieve SDG7 and net zero emissions, we must continue to act relentlessly in pursuit of these goals.

We welcome you to join us at the front of the energy revolution as we roll up our sleeves for the next phase of work. See you on Monday!


The High-Level Dialogue on Energy, on 24 September 2021, is the first global gathering on energy since the UN Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy in 1981. It aims to catalyse innovative solutions, investments and partnerships in support of the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner is both the co-Chair of UN Energy and of the High-Level Dialogue on Energy. As co-lead of the Dialogue’s Working Group on Energy Access, UNDP is also spearheading efforts to accelerate global action for sustainable energy for all. Find out more on UNDP’s High-Level Dialogue on Energy Resources Hub.

For details on Energy Compact commitments, summaries and complete text of all Energy Compacts registered, see the Energy Compacts registry.

Note: Numbers provided are solely based on Compact submissions.

We have a double imperative to end energy poverty and to limit climate change. And we have an answer that will fulfil both imperatives. Affordable, renewable and sustainable energy for all.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres