* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The tipping points of the energy transition have arrived, and new partnerships and cash can drive swift action
Liu Zhenmin is United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs; Achim Steiner is UNDP Administrator and UN-Energy Co-chair and Damilola Ogunbiyi is Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and UN-Energy Co-chair.
The industrial revolution took 100 years. The digital revolution, two decades. The next global revolution, the energy revolution, has already begun. But how fairly and how fast it happens is the biggest challenge of our time.
The energy sector, dominated by fossil fuels, accounts for 73% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. An energy transition to more renewable and efficient energy is urgently needed to slash the emissions that are rapidly warming our planet.
Global temperatures are already 1.2oC above pre-industrial levels and are causing more frequent and more extreme weather events. Close to a thousand cities will face regular, severe heatwaves in under 30 years' time.
Climate-linked extreme weather increases the frequency and severity of devastating flooding, droughts and wildfires, leading to population displacement, loss of livelihoods, and lives.
This global energy transformation can – and must – include achieving universal access to energy, which will open up incredible new opportunities and help end deep inequalities.
It’s almost unbelievable that 759 million people in the world still lack access to electricity and all the opportunities it brings. And It’s simply unacceptable that 2.6 billion people lack access to clean fuels and technology for cooking, lighting or heating their homes.
Clean energy solutions have the potential to deliver universal energy access in a way that is safe and powers economic development for everyone, from clean cooking innovations and solar-powered water pumps, to new business models for off-grid electrification and renewable energy batteries.
It enables access to vital services such as affordable broadband, the central nervous system of the modern economy, creating new employment opportunities, reducing poverty and improving livelihoods.
It transforms lives, especially in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa where half of secondary schools and 60% of health facilities have no power. It reduces the toll of close to 4 million deaths every year due to toxic fumes from stoves or open fires.
As governments start to define a pathway out of the COVID-19 crisis, we must ensure that all countries have the chance to be part of an energy transition that puts the world on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and meet the Paris Agreement targets – significantly improving the wellbeing of all people and planet.
This will not be an easy task. To ensure a just transition, we must assist communities to adapt to a green economy through social protection and new skills, ensuring all who need to be are equipped to take advantage of the 30 million new green jobs expected by 2030.
The United Nations is also offering a powerful level of support to ensure developing countries play a full part in a global green, fair recovery.
For instance, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Climate Promise is supporting 118 countries to enhance their climate pledges. A major part of this support is helping countries to implement a just transition to clean, renewable energy which will boost economies and create new jobs and livelihoods.
The tipping points of the energy transition are already here. The cost of renewables continues to plunge. Public opinion backing decarbonization continues to soar. Financial institutions and the private sector are starting to abandon fossil fuels.
And a series of ground-breaking legal rulings and decisions this month mark a turning point in the financial and legal consequences awaiting fossil fuel companies and any other businesses that do not act fast to take accountability for their role in preventing a climate catastrophe.
To step-change and support accelerating momentum for this transition, the United Nations Secretary-General is convening the first High-Level Dialogue on Energy in 40 years in September 2021. The landmark event will offer a global stage for countries to attract new investments and forge new partnerships to drive forward the energy revolution.
In the lead-up to it, the United Nations is calling for quantifiable plans from governments, companies, and organizations to advance sustainable energy for all. Known as ‘Energy Compacts’, these can be plans from countries to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, plans from cities to become greener, or plans from companies to decarbonize their activities.
We urge governments, businesses, and civil society to be at the forefront of this energy revolution by committing to an Energy Compact. Together, we can build a global green economy that leaves no-one behind. Join us.