One year after leaders from countries, the UN, the private sector, and civil society announced their voluntary commitments of action to accelerate energy access and the energy transition, high-level representatives convened for a virtual action forum to take stock of progress and exchange views on solutions and the latest trends. While the meeting recognized the many challenges around achieving SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), many participants shared a sense of optimism about realizing a just energy transition.

This Policy Brief puts the forum’s discussions in context, briefly summarizes the highlights, and offers some insights on the way forward.

Where do we come from?

Last year, in response to a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution, the UN Secretary-General convened a high-level dialogue to promote implementation of the energy-related goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in support of implementation of the UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All (2014-2024). The 24 September 2021 High-level Dialogue on Energy (HLDE) was the first UNGA summit-level event on energy in 40 years. 

The Dialogue resulted in two key outcomes: a summary by the UN Secretary-General, which offers a four-page global road map to achieving SDG 7; and a set of over 130 voluntary commitments from Member States and other stakeholders, known as “Energy Compacts.” These commitments identify key deliverables, milestones, and implementation timelines, with clear tracking frameworks towards 2030. Additional Compacts announced since the HLDE bring the total to more than 200, together worth over USD 600 billion.

Where do we need to be?

The UN Secretary-General’s Global Roadmap for Accelerated SDG 7 Action in Support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change sets out milestones for 2025 and 2030. By 2025, it envisions the following:

  • 500 million more people have gained access to electricity; 
  • 1 billion more people have gained access to clean cooking solutions;
  • Annual investments in access to electricity increased to USD 35 billion and in access to clean cooking increased to USD 25 billion;
  • 100% increase in modern renewables capacity globally;
  • Double annual investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency globally; 
  • No new coal power plants in the pipeline after 2021;
  • Fossil fuel consumption subsidies redirected towards renewable energy and energy efficiency; and
  • 30 million jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

On 4 May 2022, UN-Energy launched an action plan towards 2025 to implement the SDG 7 roadmap, pledging to accelerate action, catalyze multi-stakeholder action, grow the momentum, inform the global agenda, and track and share results.

Where are we going?

On 23 September 2022, UN-Energy convened the EnergyNow SDG7 Action Forum, where leaders gathered for a series of eight roundtables to look at progress achieved in the year since the HLDE, identify challenges, lessons learned, and examples of good practice, and share perspectives on what needs to be done to accelerate the energy transition.

The Action Forum took place at a time when the world and the SDGs are “in great peril.” In 2021, global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 6% and, based on current national commitments, emissions are set to increase by almost 14% over the current decade. As UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Li Junhua noted during the opening of the Forum, “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.”

According to the first Energy Compacts Annual Progress Report 2022, which is based on data reported by 51% of the Compact community for the 2021-2022 reporting period, 88 GW of renewable energy capacity was installed, 2,450 GWh of energy saved through energy efficiency measures, six million people achieved better energy access, and 14 million people gained improved access to clean cooking. These figures show that progress is not happening fast enough. However, Forum participants agreed that to catalyze just energy transitions and rescue the SDGs in times the of the triple crisis of energy, food, and finance, it is important to be optimistic and motivate each other to get back on track, harness power of innovation, and promote inclusivity.

Speakers recommended “jump-starting the renewables revolution” by transforming economies and societies. Among concrete ways to accelerate SDG 7 action, speakers highlighted the need to replace coal-fired power plants at the rate of one per day, renew electricity networks, and build energy storage. They also emphasized the need to ensure universal access to electricity, double energy efficiency, and phase out fossil fuel subsidies, underscoring the urgency of accelerating clean cooking solutions, which are “at the intersection of health, gender, environment, and climate” and have not been getting the attention they deserve.

Participants considered perspectives from global leadership, including governments, UN regional commissions, and specialized agencies on the importance of catalyzing affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy solutions for poverty alleviation and converting our energy systems to rely on solar, wind, hydro, and small-scale nuclear reactors instead of fossil fuels.

Women change makers outlined 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.

How will we get there?

Addressing the Forum, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and UN-Energy Co-Chair, Damilola Ogunbiyi, emphasized the role of energy in enabling prosperity, food security, gender equality, and poverty alleviation, urging participants to “put urgency into everything we do.” Warning that the SDGs are not on track to be achieved by 2030, a youth representative called for “turning words into action” as fast as possible.

The world’s major economies and partners have recently indicated they identify climate action and a just energy transition as top priorities for ensuring a sustainable future. The China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) has recommended China stay committed to a green and low-carbon transition while ensuring security and stability in key areas, including economy, energy, food, and climate. In the coming year, high-level meetings, including the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 27), the 2023 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) where SDG 7 will undergo in-depth review, and the 2023 SDG Summit, will provide opportunities for governments and stakeholders to “work together to take immediate action,” as called for by the UN Secretary-General, in the spirit of “renewed commitment to multilateralism and international cooperation,” to make sure these priorities are shared and acted upon.