Putting people at the centre of the energy revolution

Posted On July 1, 2021

“We are running far behind in the race against time to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 by 2030 and net-zero emission by 2050.”

In his opening speech for last week’s High-Level Dialogue on Energy Ministerial Forums, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stated it in no ambiguous terms; we are not on track to achieve clean energy for all by 2030.

It is unacceptable that 759 million people lack access to electricity and the opportunities and dignity it brings, and that a third of the word rely on harmful, polluting fuels to cook, light or heat their homes. It is on us to do more to address this deeply entrenched inequality. We know that energy is deeply connected with many of the other Sustainable Development Goals; climate, health, education, food, agriculture, nature. It is no exaggeration to say that those other goals cannot be achieved if we fail on Universal Access to Clean, Affordable, and Reliable Energy - Sustainable Development Goal 7.

Over 30 energy commitments

Last week, however, represented a significant step to achieving universal clean energy access. We witnessed the announcement of over 30 Energy Compacts or new commitments. The Rockefeller Foundation together with the IKEA foundation stepped forward with a US$1 billion joint investment to tackle climate change and energy poverty. India announced ambitious new renewable energy targets of 450 Gigawatts of installed capacity by 2030. Germany pledged to reach a 30 percent share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption by 2030. Denmark expects 100 percent of its electricity consumption to be from renewable energy by 2028. Together, Colombia, Chile, Dominican Republic and the Inter-American Development Bank announced a regional compact to reach at least 70 percent renewable energy by 2030, the first initiative of its kind in the region. And Google seized the mantle of the first global corporation to present its own ambitious energy compact.

The Dialogue’s Five Working Groups presented detailed recommendations for what is needed, at what scale and by when. This offers a clearly defined path forward. 

Overall, these reports and the Forums made one fundamental point clear. We need a bold, radical, system-wide shift in the way we think about energy if we are to achieve a just energy transition that truly leaves no-one behind and delivers clean energy access for all. We urgently need clean energy access for development for the communities that still lack it. We must remember what access to clean and affordable energy allows us to do and the services that it helps deliver, from cooking our food to adequate health services to helping us move around. And we need clean energy at a global scale to achieve the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement goals.

Growing momentum for a just, solutions-focused, and inclusive energy transition

I found it encouraging to hear clear calls for a social and people-centred focus, highlighting a need to support and protect the weakest, poorest and most vulnerable. There is a need for a new social contract, a need for solidarity, and an all-of-society approach to the challenges of energy access and transition.

This was complemented by calls for balanced and pragmatic approaches, not just promoting the use of renewables but embracing interventions that maximize and foster energy efficiency. I heard tangible solutions discussed to tackle the question of whether the barrier to accelerated action is the lack of financial confidence in renewable projects, or the lack of innovative financing.  I heard many calls for fossil fuel subsidy reform, for carbon pricing and other measures that more directly, and immediately, tackle the use of fossil fuels, and help phase them out.

And finally, I was heartened to hear a strong call for including all voices to think, plan, and implement energy policies. Calls for gender equity in the promise of the energy transition. Calls to give a greater voice and role to youth, the stewards and leaders of tomorrow.

UNDP has a significant role to play

We must be relentless in supporting the pace and scale of the energy transition by bringing the insights, information, tools and enabling opportunities, such as policy de-risking and blended financing to address the barriers. And we must be equally relentless in ensuring those at risk of being left behind have the support to overcome inequities. UNDP is committed to help increase access to clean and affordable energy for 500 million people, for example by scaling the Africa Mini-Grid Programme, which is supported by the Global Environment Facility and improves the financial viability of renewable energy mini-grids in 18 countries.

Unless we put a laser sharp focus on supporting those already left behind and those who will be left behind, we risk compromising the sustainability and, indeed, the fundamental success of our collective effort to transform our energy systems.

The High-Level Dialogue on Energy this September will be an early milestone on the road to the profound changes coming to our global energy systems. In his closing speech last week, UNDP Administrator and UN-Energy Co-Chair Achim Steiner called on “everyone – leaders, idealists, pragmatists, entrepreneurs, skeptics, and everyone anywhere who wants to look to the future with hope – to join us at the front of the energy revolution.” UNDP and the wider UN family stands ready to help all countries to make our joint effort in this new energy era.

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The High-Level Dialogue on Energy, in 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 catalyze 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, including daily summaries of the Ministerial Forums.