Summary report, 23 September 2022

EnergyNow SDG7 Action Forum

One year after the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy brought together leaders from around the world to focus on ways to accelerate energy access and the energy transition, leaders from the UN, national governments, and civil society gathered for the EnergyNow SDG7 Action Forum to discuss challenges and opportunities during the past year and to take stock of progress on the over 185 voluntary Energy Compact commitments, worth over USD 600 billion, that were announced during the Dialogue in September 2021.

Eight roundtables took place during the virtual event, focused on the global context, accelerating SDG 7 action, and partnerships for action. Speakers underscored the importance of energy quality and access, energy efficiency, decentralized energy, and funding in realizing a just energy transition. One speaker highlighted that one coal-fired power plant needs to be replaced each day to achieve global objectives. Speakers also addressed challenges due to the energy sector being one of the least diverse in terms of gender parity even though women and girls are impacted the most in terms of access to energy and clean cooking fuels.

Among other solutions, speakers highlighted the roles of enabling policies, investments, and environmental standards. Speakers complimented youth participants and encouraged them to continue to bring energy to the discussion on solutions. Participants also highlighted the need for champions and to learn from implementation efforts. Takeaways highlighted at the end of the roundtables included the need to: be optimistic and motivate each other to get back on track; harness the power of innovation; promote inclusivity; and consider the needs for behavioral change to prepare for future energy crises.

During a closing session, the Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) Secretariat briefed participants on the findings of the Energy Compacts Annual Report 2022, including that, one year after the Compacts were launched, 51% have reported progress. Closing speakers also emphasized the importance of convening such discussions annually to share lessons, remain accountable, and stay engaged in action.

The EnergyNow SDG7 Action Forum took place on 23 September 2022 on the sidelines of the opening of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). It was organized by UN-Energy, a consortium of nearly thirty UN agencies and international organizations who collaborate on various aspects of energy, with the aim of catalyzing achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 (affordable and clean energy) by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

A Brief History of the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy

UNGA resolution 74/225 invited the UN Secretary-General, with the support of relevant UN system entities, to convene a high-level dialogue in 2021 to promote implementation of the energy-related goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – which include SDG 7 on affordable and clean energy for all, among others – in support of implementation of the UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All (2014-2024).

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) served as the Secretariat for the Dialogue and continues to serve as the UN-Energy Secretariat. The UN-Energy Co-Chairs – Achim Steiner, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, and Damilola Ogunbiyi, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Chief Executive Officer of SEforALL – served as Dialogue Co-Chairs.

To prepare a substantive outcome for the High-level Dialogue, a series of technical consultations was convened to develop recommendations in five areas: energy access; energy transition; enabling the SDGs through inclusive, just energy transitions; innovation, technology, and data; and finance and investment. A ministerial forum on each theme held in June 2021 provided government endorsement for the recommendations as the basis for an action-oriented SDG 7 roadmap to 2030 in support of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

On 24 September 2021, the Dialogue convened with the participation of 130 Heads of State and Government and global multi-stakeholder leaders. This event was the first summit-level UN event on energy in 40 years. An outcome summary from the UN Secretary-General drew on the preparatory process and offered a four-page global road map to achieving SDG 7. Another outcome from the Dialogue was a set of approximately 200 voluntary commitments from Member States and other stakeholders in the form of “Energy Compacts.” These compacts identify key outcomes, milestones, and implementation timelines, with clear tracking frameworks towards 2030.

Report of the EnergyNow SDG7 Action Forum

Welcoming participants, Damilola Ogunbiyi, UN-Energy Co-Chair and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, said the event would discuss progress achieved through the Energy Compacts that were launched as a result of the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy. Noting the impacts of multiple crises, she stressed the need to ensure renewable energy and low carbon pathways are the policies of choice in all countries. She explained that the Energy Compacts have led to a marketplace for matchmaking and accelerated action and monitoring.

Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General, UN DESA, said floods, droughts, and wildfires are evidence the world is on track towards a climate disaster, while the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine are causing an interlinked food and energy crisis. He called for “doubling down” on SDG 7 action to get SDG implementation back on track, including closing the energy access gap by 2030 and achieving net zero energy emissions by 2050.

Speaking for UN-Energy Co-Chair Achim Steiner, Haoliang Xu, UNDP, said the current energy system is the leading cause of the climate crisis that will affect the most vulnerable people the hardest. Stressing that energy is the enabling condition for millions of people to achieve the SDGs, he called for more aggressive timelines to ensure the 2030 objectives for access to clean energy and clean cooking solutions can be met. He announced the UN-Energy Highlights report, which outlines the work of UN-Energy members, highlighting the historic opportunity to make decisions that will affect the wellbeing of generations to come. 

The Global Context

Rescuing the SDGs: Perspectives from the Ground on Just Energy Transitions in Times of Triple Crisis: Zitouni Ould-Dada, Deputy Director, Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), moderated the discussion. He invited perspectives on how the triple crisis of energy, food, and finance are affecting efforts towards a just energy transition, whether the 1.5°C goal can be achieved, and how to ensure we are on the right path.

Damilola Ogunbiyi, UN-Energy Co-Chair, underscored the importance of energy quality and access, energy efficiency, decentralized energy, and funding in realizing a just energy transition. Emphasizing the role of energy in enabling prosperity, food security, gender equality, and poverty alleviation, she urged institutional change that would “put urgency into everything we do” and treat climate change as a climate crisis.

Jiahua Pan, Director, Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said while crises exist, we also have hope, opportunities, and multiple-win solutions to achieve a zero-carbon energy transformation. He said renewables, such as solar PV and wind, are cheaper than coal both on the production and consumption side, more secure, cleaner, and create new jobs. Pan called for scaling up their use and amplifying opportunities offered by technological innovation, including in renewables storage. To accelerate these efforts and “overcome the inertia” in the fossil fuels sector, he identified the need for enabling policies, investments, and environmental standards.

Jitsai Santaputra, Youth Energy Activist, Lead Analyst at The Lantau Group, and ASEAN Observer to Y20 Indonesia, highlighted governments’ role in enabling market deregulation to support the private sector in its decarbonization efforts. She called for engaging perspectives of youth and minorities in a meaningful way and for intergenerational cooperation in providing youth with opportunities to learn how to become future leaders in combating climate change. Santaputra stressed the need for “turning words into action” as fast as possible as 2030 “is not far away,” and many SDGs are not on track.

Among key takeaways, Ould-Dada highlighted the need to: be optimistic and motivate each other to get back on track; harness the power of innovation; and promote inclusivity.

Accelerating Climate Action: Jump-starting the Renewables Revolution: Moderator Hongpeng Liu, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), invited panelists to reflect on experiences, and critical actions.

Hans Olav Ibrekk, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway, outlined challenges including the need to replace one coal-fired power plant per day, renew electricity networks, and build energy storage. He called for: political commitment towards multiple energy transitions; tripling energy investment; speedier permitting; and access to technologies and resources through stable global supply chains.

Eric Garcetti, Mayor, City of Los Angeles, US, outlined net zero commitments by the 40 largest cities and more than 1000 smaller communities, noting local leaders are showing the way on complex energy issues. He described how Los Angeles transitioned from 2% renewable energy in 2001 to 63% carbon-free energy supply in 2022, noting the importance of long-term planning and forward-looking codes and regulations.

Rana Adib, Executive Director, REN21, said an energy revolution means also transforming our economies and societies. She highlighted barriers including slow policy implementation and permitting and a perception that investments in climate action compete with energy security, even though renewable energy increases energy sovereignty. She urged putting clean energy at the heart of all industrial policy and strategy and highlighted the need to address unstable supply chains and the skills gap.

Joyce Lee, Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), said while wind energy is competitive, it needs to align with energy efficiency and storage for energy systems transformation. She highlighted “start-stop” cycles due to incoherent policies and permitting as key barriers. She noted a “massive global pipeline” could be mobilized through faster permitting, which would also create jobs, increase energy independence, and achieve climate goals. She called for a shift in procurement mindsets from lowest cost to highest value for money.

Panelists also discussed how to ensure a fair energy transition. Ibrekk stressed national leadership and inclusion of affected workers. Garcetti suggested “sober calculations” on energy transition benefits to convince sceptics. Adib highlighted the need to be smart about where to invest, noting current fossil fuel subsidies are higher than the estimated cost of a global energy transition. Lee focused on the need for behavioral change to prepare for future energy crises.

Global Leadership Perspectives: Kitty van der Heijden, Vice Minister for International Development, the Netherlands, discussed the importance of affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy solutions for poverty alleviation, especially regarding clean cooking solutions. She emphasized that the world is not yet acting decisively enough, but that 1.5°C of warming should remain our target and can still be met through immediate action. She highlighted the Netherlands’ ambition of improving renewable energy access for at least 100 million people by 2030 through demand-side subsidies at scale and USD 100 million for climate investment funds.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary, ESCAP, highlighted that the region is responsible for half of global energy consumption. She emphasized the region is not on track to reach its energy targets and that 1.3 billion people currently lack access to clean cooking fuels. She highlighted the need to match long horizon planning with adequate short- and medium-term actions and that ESCAP has supported 15 national and subnational    SDG 7 roadmaps to date.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), affirmed the IAEA’s commitment to support countries through their transition to clean energy through their Energy Compacts. He stated that nuclear energy is currently the world’s second largest source of low-carbon energy. He highlighted the IAEA’s goal of helping countries to safely use nuclear power together with renewables to create affordable, reliable, and resilient energy to achieve SDG 7 and net zero targets.

Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), emphasized the importance of this event, stating we must convert our energy systems away from dependence on fossil fuels. He spoke about the variety of other available means to create energy, including solar, wind, hydro, and small-scale nuclear reactors. He highlighted the WMO’s early warning services as a helpful tool to optimize these products. He concluded by reiterating that the many people who currently lack reliable energy must be provided with energy using fossil-free methods.

Francesco La Camera, Director General, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), highlighted IRENA’s important partnerships supporting linkages with other SDGs beyond the immediate energy field. He spoke about IRENA’s socioeconomic and just transition work as being a significant motivator to continue to build on these partnerships. He highlighted the organization’s 10 Energy Compacts, which cover cross-cutting issues such as the food-energy nexus. He also called attention to the Energy Transition Accelerator Financing (ETAF) Platform, which aims to accelerate the transition to renewable energy in developing countries.

Mounir Tabet, Deputy Executive Secretary, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), reaffirmed ESCWA’s commitment to achieving the milestones identified in the Global Roadmap for Accelerated SDG7 Action in Support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. He highlighted the importance of energy security and energy independence globally, including in the Arab region, although some of the countries are energy producers. He emphasized ESCWA’s work building the capacities of member states to upscale energy in rural areas, including through practical toolkits on financing instruments. He also stated that ESCWA is focused on empowering women and youth throughout the energy transition.

A Conversation with Women Change-Makers for a Just, Inclusive Energy Transition: Moderator Bahareh Seyedi, Senior Sustainable Development Officer, UN DESA, set the scene by highlighting two main issues in the gender and energy space: the energy sector is one of the least diverse in terms of gender parity; and women and girls are impacted the most in terms of access to energy and clean cooking fuels.

Irene Giner-Reichl, Co-Founder and Senior Advisor, Global Women’s Network for the Energy Transition, and President, Global Forum on Sustainable Energy, described the Network’s efforts in supporting women engaged in sustainable energy by providing knowledge transfer and advocating to make the energy sector more inclusive and diverse to shepherd in a truly just energy transition. She highlighted the multiple benefits of engaging women, including better economic and social outcomes, and outlined the role of the Gender and Energy Compact in empowering women to accelerate a just and inclusive energy transition.

Asma Rouabhia, Middle East and North Africa Regional Manager, Girl Up, UN Foundation, shared her experiences growing up in rural Tunisia, including challenges with energy access and a lack of educational opportunities for girls. She described her efforts encouraging girls from the Middle East and North Africa  region to “believe in themselves” and develop solutions at the community level. Rouabhia urged governments to prioritize engaging and empowering girls, women, and youth to ensure they are at the center of sustainable development efforts. She also called on women in positions of authority to empower, mentor, and advocate for those less privileged.

Accelerating SDG 7 Action

Powering the World: Universal Access to Electricity: Moderator Chibulu Luo, UNDP, asked panelists to discuss how progress towards access to clean electricity and clean cooking solutions for all can be accelerated.

Sohel Ahmed, Managing Director, Grameen Shakti, noted these are multifaceted problems that require consideration of socio-economic factors, such as income generation, to develop integrated solutions that can succeed in the long run.

Kristina Skierka, CEO, Power for All, highlighted the need to ensure companies providing decentralized energy solutions can grow sustainably, including through skills training, enabling policies, and tackling structural inequalities in energy markets.

Noting two-thirds of people without access to electricity live in least developed countries (LDCs), Shifaana Thowfeequ, UN Office of the High Representative for LDCs, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States (UNOHRLLS), stressed reducing hurdles in accessing finance and technology and the need for catalytic investments to achieve a doubling of electrification rates.

On success stories, Skierka highlighted the impact of focusing on productive uses of electricity in Uganda and a communication campaign in Sierra Leone. Ahmed described the impact of grid connection in combination with feed in tariffs on scaling. Thowfeequ added that countries must reorient policies away from fossil fuels.

On the link between electrification and a just transition, Skierka underlined the need to avoid displacing workers. She also noted some university departments related to petrochemical work have closed due to lack of student interest. Ahmed described how different energy access models must be combined to meet the needs of rural, semi-urban, and urban environments. Thowfeequ highlighted a strong commitment to renewable energies, especially in countries where population growth is outpacing electrification, noting non-renewable energies are still growing faster than renewable energies in LDCs.

Panelists closed with a discussion on which partnerships are the most transformative, highlighting partnerships with governments, utilities, and media, as well as international partnerships for finance.

Clean Cooking: Action Long Overdue: Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health and Environment, WHO, moderated the discussion on how to make the goal of one billion more people gaining access to clean cooking solutions by 2025 a reality.

Kandeh Yumkella, Member of Parliament, Sierra Leone, CEO of The Energy Nexus Network (TENN), and former UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, described clean cooking as “an orphan issue” at the intersection of health, gender, environment, and climate. He highlighted the need for: technical expertise at the country level; more women’s voices; country and regional data on fatalities; getting utilities onboard to promote electric cooking; fourth generation mini-grid design to include clean cooking solutions; and champions at the head-of-agency level, with convening power. Yumkella invited ministers to attend the Clean Cooking Forum 2022 in Accra, Ghana, from 11-13 October.

Donee Alexander, Chief Science and Learning Officer, Clean Cooking Alliance, underscored the need to focus support on key governments and provide them with specialists, access to funding, and opportunities to advance clean cooking solutions, including delivery units. She said LPG must be included in the messaging around self-determination and just transition as “the best transitional fuel right now.”

Noting COVID-19 deaths are few compared to the four million annual deaths due to lack of access to clean cooking, Magi Matinga, Gender and Energy Expert, ENERGIA, made a health, development, and ethical case for promoting clean cooking solutions. With impacts affecting primarily women and children, she stressed that access to clean cooking will help close gender gaps and free women to engage in social and economic activities. Matinga called for institutional change to invest in women as key drivers of change who can help build a resilient energy market.

Paul Mbuthi, Senior Deputy Director, Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, Kenya, highlighted work on a clean cooking strategy, electric cooking, and ethanol, but stressed not enough is being done. Mbuthi outlined roles for governments to provide an enabling policy and regulatory environment and for the private sector and other stakeholders to implement solutions. He underscored the need to focus on the affordability, availability, and appropriateness of local solutions, and to accelerate progress globally, particularly on access to finance, “or the 2030 target will not be met.”

The First Fuel: Doubling Energy Efficiency: Radia Sedaoui, Chief Energy Section, Sustainable Development Policies Division, ESCWA, moderated this discussion.

Kevin Lane, Lead Energy Efficiency Analyst, International Energy Agency, said energy efficiency projects should be undertaken ahead of other measures since such projects are cost effective and we know what they are. He highlighted that governments have three main policy tools to drive action – regulations, information, incentives – and said a key challenge to address is how to encourage retrofits in large buildings as they require complex finance models. He noted grid-interactive efficient buildings offer an exciting opportunity for improved efficiency and stressed the importance of digitalization and fostering capacity and political will to implement the right policies.

Caroline Golin, Global Head, Energy Market Development and Policy, Google, reported that Google has used a machine learning approach to optimize the way it cools its data centers, which has resulted in a reduction in energy consumption by 30%. She stressed the need for granular data on the grid, such as carbon heatmaps and information on specific times during which energy consumption should be reduced. She added that their Energy Compact is focused on this topic. She explained that data driven solutions need data driven market signals to incentivize change.

Romanas Savickas, Copenhagen Centre on Energy Efficiency, discussed the need to bring together the world finance community and the initiatives that are delivering energy efficiency. He said national governments can provide warranties or otherwise make investments less risky to incentivize action. He noted that, possibilities exist to increase energy efficiency related to coal-based power generation, his organization is not supporting coal-related projects.

Oleg Dzioubinski, Regional Advisor on Energy, UN Economic Commission for Europe, said projects must be presented as bankable proposals, which requires capacity building for those preparing the proposals as well as for the financial community. He noted the rising price of energy means individuals are more incentivized to take action at the household level. He discussed a high-performance building initiative that is looking into the building environment including its transportation options. He noted the importance of looking at the building industry’s value chain and ensuring everything that comes into a building is efficient and has been produced efficiently. 

Phasing Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies: Moderator Minoru Takada, Team Leader, Energy, UN DESA, set the stage by highlighting that USD 700 billion in existing fossil fuel subsidies are identified by the IEA, while the environmental impact is equal to several trillion dollars. He reminded the audience of the many commitments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, beginning with a declaration from the G20 in 2009 all the way to the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 26) in Glasgow in 2021.

Doris Edem Agbevivi, Energy Analyst, Energy Commission, Ghana, spoke of the difficulties in phasing out fossil fuels when their production is tied to a country’s GDP and growth. She highlighted that when alternatives become more economically viable, reducing emissions while maintaining profits will be possible, but that Ghana is using gas as a fuel source due to its abundance. She explained alternatives, such as solar, have significant costs and remain economically unviable for the broader population. She said budgeting and political will are required to reform subsidies and suggested shifting subsidies to renewables as an option.

Morgan Bazilian, Director of the Payne Institute, University of Colorado, highlighted key factors that must go into energy subsidy reform: meaningful communication and compensation to manage the reform; approaching fossil fuel subsidy reform as an opportunity to strengthen social protections; considering effective redistribution of reform revenues; smoothing measures to manage the transition; and taking the wider system into account when carrying out subsidy reform. He said making subsidy reform decisions that are devoid of politics is difficult and emphasized the importance of communication and ensuring benefits reach those with lower incomes.

Defne Gencer, Senior Energy Specialist, Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), World Bank, emphasized the opportunity costs when governments forgo fossil fuel tax revenue. She reminded the audience that public understanding of what can be achieved through subsidy reform is insufficient, and issues such as genuine need, broader political economic contexts, and vested interests remain barriers to reforms. She said monitoring public debt risks is necessary as governments reverse subsidy reform measures in response to the energy crisis. She insisted that measures to keep fuels affordable must be transparent, timebound, and budgeted for since energy subsidy reform is a marathon, not a sprint.

Harnessing the Power of Technology, Data, and Innovation: Alois Mhlanga, Chief, Climate Technology and Innovation Division, UN Industrial Development Organization, moderated the session.

Roberta Boscolo, Scientific Officer, WMO, highlighted that climate data and innovative services are essential for defining pathways for emission reductions and access to energy for all. She said the availability of weather and climate data is a precondition for energy-smart planning. She highlighted the need to include the effects of climate change in scenarios and added that the WMO works to improve forecasting skills. She added that renewable energy resources in Africa are plentiful and said, if we could support this transition, we could end energy poverty.

Raffaella Bellanca, Senior Energy Advisor, World Food Programme (WFP), stressed that technology, innovation, and data are the right ingredients to make progress in the energy space. She discussed a project on clean cooking in schools and said information is key to unleash transformative change.

Wei Huang, Director of Division of Energy Planning, Information and Knowledge Management, Department of Nuclear Energy, IAEA, highlighted that addressing energy, economic, social, and environmental concerns in policies is a complicated process and discussed IAEA tools to assist with evaluations in the energy planning process. He stressed the importance of collaboration and cooperation and noted UN-Energy brings together the resources of UN agencies working on energy issues.

A Conversation with Next-Gen Energy Leaders Accelerating Transition to a Sustainable Energy Future: Moderator Ariel Alexovich, Sustainable Development Officer, UN DESA, encouraged panelists to focus on four questions: what are young people demanding from leadership on SDG 7; how are young people getting involved in the energy transition; what are some practical pieces of advice for connecting innovators to finance; and what keeps leaders motivated in their work on clean energy.

David Arinze, Global Focal Point, SDG 7 Youth Constituency, highlighted youth’s demands for urgency on the SDGs and the overarching impacts of climate change. He spoke about the youth constituency’s sustainable energy hub and how young people are incredible sources of solutions despite a lack of matching financial support from governments and other actors. He noted the crucial need to provide support for innovators at all stages of project development, such as through mentorship, since it “takes a village to achieve results.” He concluded by emphasizing the tangible, far-reaching impacts of energy access on livelihoods as a motivator for his work.

Manal Benani, Youth Strategy Advisor, Africa-Europe Foundation, and Youth Climate Advocate, expressed disappointment over a lack of political will to support young people hustling to advance the energy transition. She called on governments to support their youth with sustainable flows of knowledge and technology, as well as capacity building to achieve SDG 7. She said her work is motivated by the fact that we only have one earth, and taking care of it by transitioning to cleaner energy is important.

Partnerships for Action

Growing Momentum and Mobilising Partnerships for Action Towards COP 27, SDG 7 Review at the HLPF, the SDG Summit and Beyond: Minoru Takada, Team Leader, Energy, UN DESA, moderated the session.

Frank van der Vleuten, Coordinating Policy Officer for Climate Finance and Energy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands, highlighted that the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy provided a roadmap and common agenda for moving forward, which is the type of guidance and broad commitment needed. He added that he thought the political capital from the Dialogue allowed new agreements to be struck at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference. On next steps, he emphasized the need to: continuously redesign targets and ask if our goals are ambitious enough; create more champions and leaders; and learn from each other. He said negotiations are well-placed on issues we have figured out, but we need other processes to collaborate on topics that are visionary. He said discussions like this Forum should take place every year. 

Kanika Chawla, Programme Manager, SEforALL, reported on the results of the Energy Compacts Annual Progress Report 2022. She noted that, out of 185 Compacts, 51% reported progress during the first year. She also said six million people were reported to have better energy access and added the report indicates that green energy is not only affordable, but that it supports an energy-secure future. Chawla recalled the statements from youth, stressing the need to act on the commitments that have been made. 

Takada highlighted the importance of this discussion and its identification of challenges as well as tangible actions and solutions. He encouraged participants to remain engaged and closed the EnergyNow SDG7 Action Forum at 4:50 pm EST.

Further information