Why we must accelerate the energy revolution at COP26

Posted November 1, 2021

Expanding access to clean energy is critical to achieving nearly all of the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 3 on good health and well-being.

UNDP Zimbabwe

As the United Nations Climate Conference COP26 opens, I want to focus on hope and on the urgency of action. COP26 comes at a time when at all levels, all partners – from private sector to governments – from across the world are coming together to create an unstoppable momentum for clean energy.

Since the historic Paris Agreement, we have seen a shift in the global conversation about climate change, now recognized as ‘code red for humanity’. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a remarkable focus on the climate crisis for recovering with energy-efficient practices embedded in new ways of travel, work, consumption and production. This is a huge achievement— an unprecedented moment in human history.

The climate crisis defines our era. The devastating flooding, heatwaves, wildfires seen across the world this past year is a stark illustration of that. Young people are acutely aware of the seriousness of the situation: the G20 People's Climate Vote, recently published by UNDP and the University of Oxford found that 70 percent of young people in G20 countries believe that we are in a global climate emergency.

The political, economic, financial and business cases for clean energy have never been stronger. We are on the cusp of a historic energy revolution that will re-shape how we power our societies and economies. Our collective window for action is closing fast, and progress isn’t quick enough.  

So how can we successfully transition to cleaner energy sources and move away from the climate crisis? Here are my four reasons for hope, for countries to seize the moment to accelerate the energy revolution.

1. It’s increasingly acknowledged that the energy transition is an economic opportunity

We must address head-on the misconception that the energy transition is a costly burden. Renewable energy is now a competitive alternative to fossil fuels, especially coal. Solar can now provide some of the cheapest electricity in history. Wind power generation is on a similar trajectory, with prices falling by around 50 percent over the last decade. Financial markets are seizing the opportunity: in 2020 for the first time clean energy companies raised more money than fossil fuel companies through public offerings.

This energy revolution will create jobs – up to 60 million jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency by 2030; improve global health outcomes by lowering air pollution; unlock opportunities, especially for women through access to clean cooking and for young people through improved access to education and the internet across the world.

2. COP26 comes after two years of unprecedented clean energy commitments

From the €800 billion Green Deal package in Europe; the US commitment to double its climate finance contribution to developing countries; India’s pledge to increase renewable energy installed capacity to 450 GW by 2030; to the US$400 billion committed to clean energy access and the energy transition by governments and the private sector as part of the High-Level Dialogue on Energy -these commitments, and many others, are nothing short of revolutionary.

In 2020 for the first time clean energy companies raised more money than fossil fuel companies through public offerings.

UNDP Slingshot

3. Reforming fossil fuel subsidies is not only a critical first step to reduce carbon emissions; it can also be instrumental to reduce global inequalities.

There are now 60 carbon pricing initiatives being implemented in the world, according to the World Bank. However, this is far from enough. The current carbon market covers only 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the majority of emissions are priced at less than $10 per tonne of CO2. This price must increase at least tenfold this decade to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.

UNDP’s research and latest campaign Don’t Choose Extinction shows that reforming fossil fuel subsidies is not only a critical first step to reduce carbon emissions; it can also be instrumental to reduce global inequalities. Governments spend on average $423 billion a year on fossil fuel subsidies. But these mainly benefit the wealthy. Repurposing these subsidies could pay for COVID-19 vaccinations for every person in the world; and it is three times the amount required to eradicate global poverty. UNDP stands ready to help countries reform fossil fuel subsidies in a way that is socially just and economically fair, progressive and not poverty-increasing.

4. There is renewed focus on clean energy to drive both the climate and development agendas. Let’s keep building on this momentum.  

Energy access is central to development. It enables the achievement of nearly every other Sustainable Development Goal, from quality education and healthcare to poverty alleviation and gender equality. Clean energy technologies such as home solar systems or solar battery minigrids provide new opportunities to bring clean, reliable, affordable electricity to the 759 million people currently without it. As part of the High-Level Dialogue on Energy, national governments committed to provide reliable electricity to over 166 million people worldwide; and private companies pledged to reach just over 200 million people. And UNDP is committed to mobilizing the entire UN system, as well as member states, private sector, civil society and financial institutions to bring clean, affordable energy to 500 million people by 2025, focusing on the furthest behind.

During COP26 and after, we will continue to work relentlessly to help countries seize the immense opportunity of the energy transition to tackle the climate crisis and build a better future for all.  Nothing less will do, and people will accept nothing less.
 

Editor’s note: If you found this article useful, check out UNDP’s advocacy initiative Dear World Leaders. Record a message, and we will share it with decisionmakers at COP26.

The political, economic, financial and business cases for clean energy have never been stronger.