On the 24th of September 2021, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, convened the High-Level Dialogue on Energy (HLDE) to accelerate progress towards achieving access to clean and affordable energy for all (SDG7) and the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit temperature increase to well below 2°C compared to the pre-industrial level by the end of the current century. This event kicked off the UN General Assembly’s 76th session and marked the first high-level meeting in 40 years to tackle energy issues.
Forty-three Heads of State and Government and over 100 other high-level leaders from governments, UN entities, other intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, and civil society participated in the HLDE, announcing over 150 commitments, called “Energy Compacts”, and a set of comprehensive recommendations, the Global Roadmap to achieve SDG7 targets by 2030 and net-zero emission by 2050.
Currently 776 million people still lack access to electricity and energy production is still responsible for 75% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The climate-driven flooding, droughts, tropical cyclones and wildfires events across the world in 2021 enabled a better recognition of the need for an “energy revolution” in favour of decarbonization and renewables and sustainable energy.
Collectively, the Energy Compacts sum up to USD 400 billion in new financial commitments to increase capacity of renewable energy, improve access to electricity and enhance energy efficiency. National governments committed to provide reliable electricity to over 166 million people, while private companies pledged to reach an additional 200 million people.
New initiatives were announced such as the “No New Coal” coalition with countries like Denmark, France, Germany and UK committing to immediately stop issuing new permits for unabated coal-fired power generation projects and cease new construction of unabated coal-fires power generation projects as of the end of 2021. Google in partnership with a group of energy buyers and suppliers announced to transform global electricity grids to “absolute zero” or full decarbonization. The 24/7 Carbon Free Energy (CFE) coalition aims to meet the electricity demand with carbon-free electricity generation every hour of every day, everywhere.
Both national governments and businesses pledged a huge boost for renewable energy worldwide as well as efficiency measures. A total of 5000 GW of additional installation of clean energy from solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and green hydrogen was committed by 2030.
Global Roadmap to 2030
The HLDE also presented a global roadmap of actions and timeline to meet the SDG7 targets and the Paris Agreement goal. The roadmap is structured around five overarching themes, each of which was supported by a multi-stakeholder Technical Working Group (TWG):
- Energy Access
- Innovation, technology and data
- Energy Transition
- Enabling SDGs through inclusive, just energy transition
- Finance and Investment
The TWGs produced the Thematic Reports containing substantive recommendations and key milestones towards achieving SDG7 targets by 2030 and net-zero emission by 2050.
The TWGs’ work fed into the Ministerial Thematic Forums held in June 2021, which were intended to provide insights on priority issues under the five themes and inputs into the Dialogue itself. The forums brought together about 1500 leaders and experts from Governments, businesses, civil society and youth organizations to deliberate on key priority actions and outcomes to build forward.
Energy is central to both achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Achieving SDG 7 will catalyze action to combat climate change and attain the other SDGs on poverty eradication, gender equality, mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, food security, health, education, sustainable cities and communities, clean water and sanitation, jobs, innovation, transport, and refugees and other situations of displacement.
Accelerate action and raise ambition. Without urgent action, the world will fall short of achieving SDG 7, and consequently other SDGs. We are not on a trajectory to achieve any of the SDG 7 targets by 2030 and we are lagging behind on reaching the Paris goals. Urgent action is needed to accelerate progress towards achieving universal access to clean and modern energy services by 2030 and to transition towards low-carbon and climate-resilient energy systems that are compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Closing the energy access gap. Energy policy, planning, financing and innovation must be aligned with achieving both universal access to electricity and clean cooking by 2030. This includes providing access to electricity for the 760 million people worldwide who lack it, and ensuring clean cooking solutions for the 2.6 billion people still relying on harmful fuels.
Rapidly transitioning to clean energy pathways. Ramping up clean energy technology deployment and phasing out harmful sources/devices must be an integral component of energy sector planning in the next decade. This includes rapid scaling up of available energy transition solutions to reach 8,000 GW of renewable energy by 2030, and to increase the annual rate of energy efficiency from 0.8 per cent to 3.0 per cent. It also entails abandoning all coal plants in the pipeline and reducing coal power capacity by 50 per cent by 2030.
Leaving no one behind, strengthening inclusion, interlinkages and synergies. Integration of socio-economic outcomes in the energy sector is critical to ensuring no one is left behind. This includes integration of principles of equity and equality in energy-sector policy, planning and financing vis-à-vis the energy needs of the most vulnerable communities, including women and children, youth and indigenous peoples. It also includes creating green energy jobs and mainstreaming energy-sector policies and strategies into economic, industrial, labour, educational and social strategies to ensure just energy transitions.
Mobilizing adequate and well-directed finance. This includes tripling clean energy investment globally by 2030, and accelerating access to finance particularly in the least developing countries. It also entails reforms to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and support market-based energy transitions. Equally important is creating enabling policy and regulatory frameworks to leverage private sector investment towards SDG 7 targets.
Harnessing innovation, technology and data. This includes expanding the supply of energy innovation that addresses key gaps and increasing demand for clean and sustainable energy technologies and innovation through market-oriented policies, harmonized international standards and carbon pricing mechanisms. This also addresses the digital divide, investing in quality data and improving the collection, management and applications of data and data systems.
All stakeholders have a role to play and must step up action. Member States and other stakeholders need to drive the global energy transformation forward by forming transformational partnerships. UN entities, international organizations and multilateral development banks, as well as businesses, civil society, science, cities and regional governments and other stakeholders, must step up and strengthen their efforts to support the implementation of SDG 7 and other SDGs.
Strengthening synergies with other key global processes is critical. The High-Level Dialogue on Energy can inspire actions in support of SDG 7. Other intergovernmental platforms should also be leveraged to support the achievement of SDG 7, including the Global Sustainable Transport Conference, the UN Ocean Conference, the Biodiversity Summit, the Food Systems Summit, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties, and the Assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency. The UN Decade on Sustainable Energy for All 2014-2024 should also be leveraged to spur global momentum.
The United Nations via UN-Energy has an important role in ensuring a successful outcome at the Dialogue and follow-up and delivery of results beyond the Dialogue towards 2030. UN-Energy must be strengthened to enhance coordination and coherence among UN entities and other partners in their efforts towards reaching SDG 7 by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. UN-Energy must also ensure that the key priority areas and action recommendations of the global roadmap are translated into specific, strategic, bold and time-bound plans of action towards a clear set of milestones to be achieved by 2025, 2030 and 2050.
The energy compacts provided to all participants – not just governments – another mechanism to develop ambitious emission reduction plans, alongside countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). As we look ahead to COP26, in less than a month, the compacts will guide countries in operationalizing the renewable energy commitments of their NDCs and to convert the ambitions into outcomes that will change peoples’ lives.
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.
We must and can do much more, and we must continue to push for the energy revolution as we prepare for a fully decarbonized energy system for all.
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Roberta Boscolo is leading the Climate and Energy workstream at the World Meteorological Organization, managing a multi-million global portfolio. She has more than 20 years’ experience in developing knowledge platforms and good practices to support climate-related risk management and carbon footprint reduction. She also served many years at the World Climate Research Programme as a science officer.