The High-level Dialogue on Energy generated close to 140 “Energy Compacts,” or voluntary commitments to actions, most of which were announced by the private sector and other stakeholders.
Such partnerships are an important piece of the puzzle, and can complement multilateral action.
Ultimately, however, state-wide coverage will still be instrumental in bringing about the level and scale of transformation required to achieve SDG 7 and the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Opening the High-level Dialogue on Energy (HLDE) last month, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reported that three-quarters of a billion people are still lacking access to electricity, energy production is still responsible for 75% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and air pollution from cooking fuels is still killing millions annually. The High-level Dialogue confirmed that to avoid dealing a fatal blow to the SDGs, ourselves, and the planet, governments would need to work in partnership with civil society, the private sector, and all levels of governance to “begin today” to decarbonize rapidly and radically.
This Policy Brief looks at state engagement on energy targets through high-level meetings in the run-up to the HLDE, outlines the nature of commitments made at the High-level Dialogue through “Energy Compacts,” and briefly touches on the implications of these outcomes for SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), climate action, and sustainable development.
G7 Summit: Industrialized Countries Pledge to Build Back Better Towards a Shared Agenda
The leaders of the Group of Seven (G7), which accounts for around 40% of global gross domestic product (GDP), met in Cornwall, UK, from 11-13 June 2021, to develop a shared agenda for global action to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic. Guided by a commitment to multilateralism, the Heads of State and Government from Canada, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US agreed to end the pandemic by driving the effort to vaccinate the world’s population, to reinvigorate the G7 economies by advancing ambitious recovery plans, and to secure future prosperity by championing freer, fairer trade within a reformed trading system. They also agreed to protect our planet by supporting a green revolution that creates jobs, cuts emissions, and seeks to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, including through a technology-driven transition to net zero by 2050.
In the Carbis Bay G7 Summit Communiqué, the G7 leaders undertake to increase energy efficiency and accelerate renewables with a view to achieve an overwhelmingly decarbonized power system in the 2030s. Internationally, they commit to align official international financing with a net-zero path by phasing out support for international carbon-intensive fossil fuel energy and by ending “new direct government support for unabated international thermal coal power generation by the end of 2021.” The leaders also reaffirm their “existing commitment to eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.”
These commitments broadly align with the countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – and long-term low-emission development strategies (LEDS) all G7 will have submitted to the UNFCCC by the Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP 26), convening from 31 October to 12 November 2021.
G20 Energy-Climate Ministerial: National Priorities Temper Ambition
Six weeks after the G7 Summit, on 23 July, the Italian G20 Presidency convened a first-ever joint energy and climate ministerial meeting in Naples, with the aim of strengthening partnership to accelerate the clean energy transition to tackle climate change and achieve SDG 7 for a prosperous and sustainable society “that leaves no one behind.”
For the first time at G20 level, the countries acknowledged the “inextricable link” between energy production, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and climate change. In a Joint G20 Energy-Climate Ministerial Communiqué, the ministers from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the EU, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Republic of Korea, Turkey, the UK, and the US recognize the importance of clean energy transitions to tackle climate change.
While the ministers acknowledge “those who already committed to achieve net zero GHG emissions or carbon neutrality by or around mid-century,” they resort to traditional UN climate negotiations compromise language to express a commitment to address climate change by strengthening the full and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement, “reflecting common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.”
To accelerate the clean energy transition, the ministers recognize the need to fully use the potential of existing clean energy solutions and to accelerate the development and deployment of zero- and low-emission technologies, which they commit to “invest further” in to enable the achievement of SDG 7 and the Paris Agreement.
Yet, according to the Italian Presidency’s Statement towards the G20 Leaders’ Summit, despite a “prolonged and tireless discussion,” the ministers were unable to reach agreement on two actions:
- to accelerate decarbonization in the next decade by setting a date to phase out unabated coal; and
- to stop international public financing of unabated coal power generation and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies within a certain date.
HLDE: Can Partnerships Deliver Where Multilateralism Might Fail?
The High-level Dialogue on Energy was the first UN General Assembly (UNGA) summit-level event on energy in 40 years. Convened by the UN Secretary-General as a virtual event on 24 September 2021, this Dialogue took place during the High-level Week to kick off the UNGA’s 76th session. The event sought to accelerate ambition towards the achievement of SDG 7 and the net-zero emissions by 2050 goal of the Paris Agreement.
According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, the Dialogue revealed “much better” recognition than even a few years ago of the global benefits of the “energy revolution” in transitioning to decarbonization and renewable and sustainable energy. Many speakers acknowledged projections about the number of new jobs and improved livelihoods to be brought by a clean energy transition, as well as the “health and survival” benefits for humans and nature.
The ENB analysis indicates that while a high-level “dialogue” to foster voluntary commitments might be seen as something less than negotiating binding commitments, like the 2017 UN Ocean Conference, it “brings an improvement on the traditional template in its recognition that governments alone cannot help us achieve SDG 7 and the Paris Agreement goals, but that partnerships are needed with civil society, the private sector and all levels of governance.”
During the High-level Dialogue, Heads of State and Government and high-level leaders from governments, UN entities, other intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, and civil society announced or reiterated close to 140 “Energy Compacts” – voluntary commitments to action. According to an overview by UN Energy, as of 21 September, 34 compacts had been announced by UN Member States, 51 by the private sector, 13 by multilateral bodies or international organizations, 13 by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), 10 by subnational governments, and 17 by other stakeholders, including civil society organizations (CSOs) and youth.
The financial commitments made in the Compacts total around USD 700 billion. As of 21 September, the financial commitments by countries amounted to around USD 7.25 billion, with the private sector committing over USD 491.5 billion and a further USD 201 billion mobilized through catalytic partnerships.
The Road Ahead
Another outcome of the HLDE is a global roadmap for concrete actions needed to ensure access to clean, affordable energy for all by 2030, in support of the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs and climate action, which the UN Secretary-General will present to the UNGA. The roadmap will be based on the recommendations of the five multi-stakeholder Technical Working Groups and informed by the Ministerial Thematic Forums.
As countries gear up for the Glasgow Climate Change Conference, lessons learned from the HLDE ought to be examined. While the G7 arrived at a shared level of ambition to aim for a warming of 1.5°C, agreement on a similarly ambitious target within a larger and more diverse group of countries such as the G20 has proven elusive. Reaching agreement within the UNFCCC – a forum that boasts universal participation – has been notoriously difficult.
Both the G7 and G20, as well as the UNFCCC, envision a role for stakeholders in helping achieve the SDGs and the goals of the Paris Agreement. The HLDE’s focus on catalyzing voluntary pledges by a range of stakeholders that “are thinking realistically about what they themselves can and will do” could be a source of inspiration for the climate process. Such partnerships are an important piece of the puzzle, and can complement multilateral action. Ultimately, however, state-wide coverage will still be instrumental in bringing about the level and scale of transformation required to achieve SDG 7 and the goals of the Paris Agreement.