Five reasons to be optimistic about clean energy in 2021

Commentary, Online Exclusive Feature / 2021

Five reasons to be optimistic about clean energy in 2021

by Marcel Alers, Head of Energy, UNDP

January 19, 2021

The energy sector, still dominated by fossil fuels, is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. We know we need to switch to sustainable energy. Yet, despite progress, we are not on track to meet our climate goals and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7: universal access to clean, affordable and reliable energy. Much more needs to be done.

1) Clean energy is a smart investment

Renewables are becoming more affordable every year, and some options are now cheaper than fossil fuels. It is now cheaper to go solar than to build new coal power plants in most countries, and solar is now the cheapest electricity in history. Amid an exceptionally challenging year, and despite suffering setbacks, the renewables sector has shown some resilience.

This fall in price, coupled with technological progress and the introduction of innovative business models, means we are now at a tipping point. The right efficiency policies could enable the world to achieve more than 40 percent of the emission cuts needed even without new technology. We now need massive investment from the public and private sectors.

2) There is growing momentum for carbon neutrality

Throughout the years, countries have pledged to build back better, greener, fairer. High-emitting economies such as China, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the EU have made net-zero commitments. The announcements at or just before the Climate Ambition Summit—together with those expected early next year—mean that countries representing around 65 per cent of global CO2 emissions, and around 70 per cent of the world’s economy, will commit to reaching net zero emissions or carbon neutrality. President-elect Joe Biden has announced that the United States will seek to rejoin the Paris Agreement early in his presidency.

These pledges now need to be translated into action. Yet at the time of writing, more than half of all public money committed to the energy sector as part of COVID-19 recovery packages in G20 countries are for fossil fuels. In 2019, US$500 billion was spent on fossil fuel subsidies. Ambitious commitments are a strong signal and a necessary first step towards reaching net-zero emissions. We now need to build on them.

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3) Clean energy can power a Green recovery that leaves no-one behind and is in line with the Paris Agreement

Clean energy can improve healthcare for the world’s poorest. As COVID-19 vaccines—some needing to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius—get rolled out, powering a sustainable and reliable cold chain will be critical.

Clean energy is also an engine for job creation. Investing in renewables could create nearly three times as many jobs as investing in fossil fuels.

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated momentum for healthier, Greener cities. As the world is rapidly urbanising, energy efficiency in buildings, sustainable cooling and heating, smart urban planning and sustainable transport options—from electric vehicles to enabling walking and cycling—are key for the future of cities.

4) Every year, tens of millions of people get clean energy

Population growth in some parts of the world offsets some of this progress. To accelerate action on energy, a new coalition launched by the Rockefeller Foundation with UNDP as founding member committed to end energy poverty by bringing sustainable energy to one billion people by 2030.

5) 2021 will be the year of global action for sustainable energy

In September 2021, for the first time in 40 years, the United Nations will host a High Level Dialogue on Energy. Organised by UN-Energy, this event will be instrumental for countries, businesses, civil society and international institutions to step up action on sustainable energy.

Phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to Green economies is a monumental challenge. But the solutions exist. We need to finance them, to scale them up, to accelerate them.

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