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Source: Small Island Developing States

24 May 2019: The High-Level Dialogue on the Implementation of the UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All assessed progress five years in, with speakers highlighting the need to prioritize clean cooking, address vulnerable populations, and redouble efforts.

In 2012, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted resolution 67/215, by which it declared the UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All 2014-2024, underscoring the importance of energy issues for sustainable development. The mid-term review took place from 23-24 May 2019, and provided an opportunity for energy policymakers and other relevant stakeholders to discuss the implementation of the Decade, assess progress and identify challenges and solutions. Participants also addressed the linkages between SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), the other SDGs, and the Paris Agreement on climate change, in advance of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, to be held in New York, US, on 23 September 2019.

Minoru Takada, Sustainable Energy Team Leader, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), opened the High-Level Dialogue, and observed that the celebration of the Decade’s mid-point comes at a timely moment as the UN Secretary-General is organizing the Climate Action Summit, and Heads of State will review all of the SDGs during the High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF) under UNGA auspices during back-to-back events in September.

During a roundtable session, Sheila Oparaocha, Co-facilitator, SDG 7 Technical Advisory Group (SDG 7-TAG), and Executive Director, ENERGIA, observed that progress on SDG 7 has been “largely uneven” and advocated for:

  • making clean cooking a political priority;
  • scaling up investments in decentralized energy solutions;
  • encouraging women to participate in the energy sector;
  • mobilizing funds for female entrepreneurship; and
  • ensuring gender mainstreaming in policy and budgeting through disaggregated data.

The tyranny of averages masks both the great success stories, which do exist, and the gaps that remain.

Other roundtable speakers highlighted issues including:

  • the money needed for energy transition is available but is in the wrong places, and capital needs to be moved appropriately;
  • sustainable energy access for schools needs to be ensured;
  • women are “heavily underrepresented” in the energy sector, and the decentralized energy sector provides a huge opportunity to increase women’s participation;
  • 5% of humanitarian agencies’ budgets, amounting to USD 1.2 billion, is spent on diesel, but work is currently underway to enable the transition to sustainable energy;
  • the public needs to be educated on the health risks associated with unclean cooking so that they can put pressure on their governments to make the needed regulatory changes; and
  • people need to be educated about the energy transition and provided with alternatives to make the transition, and cultural aspects of energy transition should also be considered.

During a high-level plenary, Luis Alfonso de Alba, Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit, noted that concrete proposals for the Summit are currently being prepared, with the Secretary-General supporting ambitious initiatives such as stopping investment in coal. Achim Steiner, Administrator, UN Development Programme (UNDP), and Co-chair of UN-Energy, said the “tyranny of averages” masks both the great success stories, which do exist, and the gaps that remain. Rachel Kyte, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, Co-chair of UN-Energy, and CEO of SEforAll, identified five important takeaways from the SDG 7 Tracking Report 2019:

  • incremental progress in implementation;
  • progress on efficiency but not at the pace we need;
  • the slowing pace of progress in renewable energy;
  • the “stubborn and shameful” number of people who still do not have access to clean cooking; and
  • the African continent, which might be left behind when it comes to the SDGs.

Speakers also highlighted that: burning biomass for cooking results in indoor air pollution that contributes to approximately four million premature deaths yearly; the 20 least electrified countries are least developed countries (LDCs); potential benefits from the global energy transition will contribute to greater peace and security by fostering more inclusive, climate-resilient, and sustainable societies; and the global capital market is much larger than what is needed for SDG implementation, making it possible to achieve the SDGs, however 93% of global capital is flowing in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, and only 7% in developing countries.

The need for better SDG 7 data and support for vulnerable countries and communities was also discussed. Links with the G20 Summit and the Tokyo International Conference on Africa’s Development (TICAD) were highlighted as opportunities to increase momentum for energy transition and curbing climate change. In addition, speakers discussed the need to convince decision makers that “this is a crisis,” engage high-emitting sectors, and find incentives for politicians to focus on clean cooking.

Two reports were launched during the Dialogue: ‘Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report’ and ‘The SDG 7 Policy Briefs 2019.’ Launching the Tracking SDG 7 report, Rohit Khanna, World Bank, said that, at the current electrification rate, universal access by 2030 is “actually conceivable.” He added, however, that due to uneven progress between countries and regions, efforts need to be ramped up to actually reach the 100% energy access target. Hans Olav Ibrekk, Norway, launched the SDG 7 Policy Briefs, and highlighted the need for a considerable increase in financing levels for energy transition. He said such financing should be directed where it is needed the most, such as to LDCs and small island developing States (SIDS), which are the groups of countries most left behind.

The High-Level Dialogue took place at UN Headquarters in New York, US. The event was organized by DESA in collaboration with the Office of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) President, the co-facilitators of the Group of Friends of Sustainable Energy, and members of UN-Energy and the SDG 7-TAG. [IISD RS Coverage of the High-Level Dialogue]

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