‘Growing momentum’ to make 2021 the global action year for sustainable energy
Despite that the world is not on track to meet climate objectives and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) for universal access to clean, affordable and reliable energy, Marcel Alers, UNDP Head of Energy, said that “clean energy solutions exist that can get us there”.
“There is growing momentum to make them political and investment priorities,” he added.
Men install solar panels for a hospital in Yemen (photo courtesy of UNDP Yemen)
Fossil fuels used to be less expensive than clean energy but that is changing, according to Alers. Renewables are becoming more affordable every year, and “some options are now cheaper than fossil fuels”, he said, pointing out that since 2010, the price of solar had decreased by 89 per cent.
“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,” the UNDP official said. Moreover, amidst an exceptionally challenging year, and despite suffering setbacks, the renewables sector has shown resilience.
“This fall in price, coupled with technological progress and the introduction of innovative business models, means we are now at a tipping point,” he said, urging for a large-scale clean energy investments from the public and private sectors.
Translating pledges to action
Throughout 2020, countries have pledged to build back better, Greener and fairer.
“With support from UNDP’s Climate Promise, 115 countries committed to submitting enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions,” Alers said.
Among other things, he noted that high-emitting economies—such as China, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the European Union—had made net-zero commitments and that United States President-elect Joe Biden had vowed to rejoin the Paris Agreement.
“These pledges now need to be translated into action,” said the UNDP official. “Ambitious commitments are a strong signal and a necessary first step towards reaching net-zero emissions. We now need to build on them.”
Clean energy is also a win-win solution to recover from COVID-19 as it can improve healthcare for the world’s poorest while providing a reliable electricity supply—imperative for health centres to function.
“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,” Alers reminded. Furthermore, investing in renewables could create nearly three times as many jobs as investing in fossil fuels.
“As the world is rapidly urbanising, energy efficiency in buildings; sustainable cooling and heating; smart urban planning and sustainable transport options… are key for the future of cities,” he maintained.
Looking to September
In September, for the first time in 40 years, the UN will host a High Level Dialogue on Energy for countries, businesses, civil society and international institutions to step up action on sustainable energy. UN-Energy and UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner recently called for a reinforcement of global energy governance, saying “we know clean energy can both deliver universal energy access and contribute to tackling the climate crisis”. Although phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to Green economies is a monumental task, Alers assured that “we are ready to rise to the challenge”.