Lisbon, Portugal – More than 800 attendees – the heart and soul of the SDG7 movement – gathered today at the fourth Sustainable for Energy for All Forum in Lisbon to chart the bold steps that are needed to accelerate progress on achieving Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) by 2030.

The opening day was a mix of data-driven reality about the challenge ahead and optimism that bigger, bolder gains are more imminent than ever. And, no doubt, attendees at the Forum – a mix of financiers, governments, business CEOs, civil society and community leaders – were the secret ingredient for making the transformative gains happen. “You are the vanguard, the tipping point of the revolution,” said Rachel Kyte, Chief Executive Officer and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All.

Among the day’s key highlights:

Taking Stock on SDG7 Progress: If Rwanda and Bangladesh can achieve exponential growth in off-grid renewables in just a few years, why can’t other countries in Africa and Asia? If Portugal can achieve 100 percent renewable energy, why can’t other advanced economies?

This was the reaction to the Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report released at the Forum’s opening session. While the data shows significant challenges in meeting 2030 goals, it also contained some bright spots on energy efficiency, energy access and  renewable energy.

Among the positive trends: the primary energy intensity of the global economy improved at a faster 2.8% pace in 2015; for the first time in all regions of the world, electricity access grew faster than population growth; in Bangladesh and Mongolia, energy access gains were nearly 10 percent. Far more sobering was the report’s clean cooking access figures as well as slow progress in many Sub-Saharan African countries on all of the SDG7 objectives.

“Far more needs to be done to advance renewable and efficient energy in all sectors,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in a video message to Forum attendees. “Let us invest in the future, not the past.”

So what will it take to get more countries on the right track? Supportive government policies and regulatory frameworks are critical – a point echoed by a half-dozen government ministers speaking about their gains on energy access, energy efficiency and clean cooking.

Rwanda’s government has an integrated electrification strategy emphasizing grid- and off-grid solutions. Remote, rural populations far removed from electric grids are a central focus of their strategy. “We want to make sure we connect the entire population,” said the Hon. Germaine Kamayirese, Rwanda’s Minister of State for Energy, Water and Sanitation.

Getting Real on Clean Cooking: Static progress on access to clean cooking fuels and technologies was the most sobering trend by far in the SDG7 progress report. The clean cooking access deficit is still stuck at about 3 billion, with gains from 2014 to 2016 negligible gains and only 59 percent of the global population with access to clean cooking. “If we keep up this pace, we’ll only reach 73 percent by 2030. That’s unacceptable,” said Dr. Maria Neira, Director of Public Health and the Environment, at the World Health Organization.

No doubt, new, more collaborative strategies are needed, country by country. And all cooking fuels – whether biomass pellets, ethanol or LPG – need to be on the table as a scalable solution. “We need lots of solutions. There is no silver bullet,” Kyte said.

A case in point is Cameroon, which is pursuing an ambitious national strategy based primarily on LPG cookstoves. It has doubled its clean cooking numbers since 2006 and about 20 percent of the population is now using LPG stoves; by 2030, it hopes to be at 50 percent. Ghana is also pushing a national strategy based on sustainable biomass and LPG.

The international funding community also needs to step up in supporting countries with the biggest clean cooking access gaps. “There’s a massive opportunity to create big markets for clean cooking fuels,” Kyte said.

“Funding needs to be incredibly patient,” added Dymphna van der Lans, CEO of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. “This market is not off-grid solar. It needs to have a sense of humility.”

Simply put, Kyte noted, investing in clean cooking is investing in “smarter energy.”

“What I’m hearing again and again today is that we’re not just talking about energy as electrons,” Kyte said he her wrap-up remarks. “We’re looking at the health care benefits that will be achieved when we deliver reliable affordable energy. Energy that will help save children’s lives because they’re breathing cleaner air.”

Leveraging Women’s Role: Gender diversity and women’s empowerment in the SDG7 movement came up time and time again.

A new report produced by SEforALL and ENERGIA, Levers of Change, provides powerful evidence of how women are often not given an equal chance to take advantage of sustainable energy opportunities, such as traditional and mobile money financing that would enable them to acquire home solar systems or clean cooking solutions.

At an interactive lunch on gender inclusive investing, Calvert Impact Capital highlighted two key opportunities for enhancing women’s role: first, because women are more apt to live in energy poverty then men, targeting them in investment strategies will have a bigger impact; second, Calvert found its investments perform better when it uses a gender lens.

You’ll hear much more on this topic during Day Two of the Forum.