SDG7 logo at COP26

2021 in review: bold, new commitments for the energy transition

By Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, and Co-Chair of UN-Energy

The world will hopefully look back at 2021 as a watershed for the energy transition. Many initiatives from the past 12 months could very well transform our ability to achieve clean, affordable energy for all – as called for by Sustainable Development Goal 7 – and put us on track to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. I am proud that Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) was at the heart of several of these initiatives.

We started this year by calling on global stakeholders to Be Bold as part of a global campaign calling for greater ambition and action on SDG7 and the Paris Agreement. In line with this call to action, we set a bold annual workplan focused on areas we see as critical to SDG7 success.

We focused on major global advocacy and diplomacy efforts to build political will for a clean, equitable energy transition, while also working closely with countries on targeted interventions that will help them improve energy efficiency and access.

Our work took place amidst challenging circumstances because of COVID-19. Yet, the pandemic reinforced the global case for sufficient and reliable energy access, with electricity being essential for vaccine distribution and powering health services.

Here are seven SEforALL highlights from this past year. Of course, these successes do not belong to SEforALL alone: they represent fruitful collaborations with key partners who share our dedication to SDG7 and climate action. Thank you to our partners and funders for their support of our work.

High-level Dialogue on Energy

With growing urgency around climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals, 2021 saw the first summit-level dialogue on energy during the UN General Assembly in 40 years.

I was privileged to be chosen as a Co-Chair for Dialogue, which gave SEforALL a lead role in shaping the High-level Dialogue on Energy, including the outcomes it hoped to produce. Working with our partners at UN-Energy, we set out on developing a platform that would mobilize stakeholders to make commitments to SDG7.

Energy Compacts were created in the lead-up to the Dialogue as a centre point for business, governments, development institutions and other to rally around before, during and after the summit. The compacts ensured the Dialogue was not simply an opportunity for exchanging words, but about catalyzing action.

The Dialogue saw more than 130 global leaders, including heads of state and other leaders from government, business, finance, among others, announce ambitious commitments, transformational actions, and bold investments towards achieving universal energy access and net-zero emissions.

Energy Compacts

While they originated through the High-level Dialogue on Energy process, Energy Compacts are meant to be a valuable platform for action on the energy transition for years to come.

Approximately 200 Energy Compacts have been submitted to UN-Energy, with 156 accepted to date following UN-Energy principles. While the impacts of these compacts will be realized in the coming years, they are expected to usher billions in investment into the clean energy transition – catalysing millions of jobs and billions in economic activity for developing countries.

Besides our work helping to secure and coordinate these compacts through our involvement in UN-Energy, SEforALL is a supporting partner in the Multilateral Energy Compact for Health Electrification that aims to electrify 25,000 healthcare facilities with clean energy, and the 24/7 Carbon-Free Energy Compact, launched by Google to fully decarbonize the world’s electricity systems.

We will launch the Energy Compact Action Network in January 2022, bringing together the Energy Compact community to facilitate matchmaking, support strategic alliances, and enable delivery of compact commitments.

COP26 and the SDG7 Pavilion

Our work on this year’s COP actually began in 2020 after I was named Co-Chair of the COP26 Energy Transition Council, which was launched to support transitions from fossil fuels to clean energy in developing countries.

We organized ministerial forums and country dialogues in Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Vietnam, Morocco, and Indonesia, bringing their governments, donor countries and development finance institutions together to catalyse their collaboration in making clean energy transitions more affordable and attractive.

As part of our ETC support for Nigeria, we commissioned a data driven Energy Transition Plan that shows a credible pathway and investment target for net zero by 2050/2060. This helped spur the Government of Nigeria to announce a net-zero target by 2060 at COP26. Coal phase-out agreements from Morocco, Indonesia and the Philippines were also featured at COP26.

At the conference in Glasgow, we hosted the first-ever SDG7 Pavilion along with our partner, the newly launched Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet. Through pavilion events held over 11 days and various other engagements, we helped bring new attention among global leaders that SDG7 is a critical step on the road to net-zero by 2050.

Country engagement

Delivering targeted support to countries with the greatest needs for improved energy access is a major strategic for us. This year we made tremendous inroads when it comes to country-specific engagement.

Our work on the ETC mentioned above is a strong example, yet there are many more. We ran several projects in collaboration with the Nigerian government and other local stakeholders, including developing a model for the localization of the solar energy value chain and an integrated energy plan that will help the country streamline its efforts to increasing access to electricity and clean cooking.

The Universal Energy Facility that we launched last year has been operationalized and is providing results-based finance for mini-grid projects that are now being built in Madagascar with construction soon to start in Benin and Sierra Leone.

We have several other ongoing projects to support countries in meeting their energy goals, including in Rwanda, Malawi and Colombia, to name just a few.

SEforALL Youth Summit

Youth are one of the most important stakeholders in the energy transition because today’s inaction will burden them the most. Yet, young people are so often excluded from decision-making processes despite their passion for energy and climate issues.

To help empower youth with new knowledge and connections that can help them ensure their voices are heard, we launched the first-ever virtual SEforALL Youth Summit. Over three days in February we drew more than 2,000 participants from around the world to attend specialized talks, job and educational fairs, and an innovation competition that showcased youth-developed energy solutions. 

At the Troubleshooting for SDG7 Finals, three finalists from Cameroon, Nigeria and China were chosen to present their impressive innovations to a panel of judges, with the team from Nigeria taking home the USD 2,500 prize for their solar-powered cold storage unit.

Throughout the year we continued to engage with participants from the summit and other youth by ensuring their involvement at major global fora like the High-level Dialogue and COP26.

New partnerships 

We were honoured to work with a wide network of partners on the above activities. By reshaping our efforts with existing partners and engaging with new ones, we are now in a better position to achieve our goals.

Through partnership we were involved in several exciting new initiatives in 2021 that have great promise for the future. The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet launched at COP26 has a goal to unlock USD 100 billion in public and private financing to reach 1 billion underserved people with reliable, renewable power; avoid 4 billion tons of carbon emissions; and drive economic growth, with +150 million jobs created. We are a delivery partner in the alliance and have been helping facilitate country engagement and prioritizing which countries it will initially support.

With Power Africa we launched a partnership focused on health facility electrification in Africa; with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) we hope to unlock public and private investments towards affordable and sustainable energy access for all people in Africa, particularly in the Sahel; and with the Enel Foundation we will expand on their existing Open Africa Platform to train women and youth for careers in the energy sector. 

I am also delighted that eight high-profile energy leaders have agreed to establish a new SEforALL Leadership Council to work alongside our Administrative Board in support of our mission at this critical juncture in the organization’s development.

Thought leadership

As always, we developed and shared valuable inspiration and insights to spark stakeholder action on electrification, clean cooking, energy efficiency and sustainable cooling.

Our annual Chilling Prospects research continued to punctuate the urgent need for cooling solutions that will protect both people and planet; however, our advocacy and advice on sustainable cooling gained major attention thanks to the #ThisIsCool campaign, which harnessed digital channels and tools to help people assess their cooling needs and identify solutions.

It was the fourth year of publication for our Energizing Finance research. The main reports – Understanding the Landscape and Taking the Pulse – illuminated major shortfalls in finance commitments for clean cooking and electricity access while taking deep-dives into the specific country contexts of Ghana, Mozambique, and Vietnam. 

We also published an update to our Powering Healthcare Solutions Catalogue, which we launched last year in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. This resource captures practical energy solutions that will help countries treat patients and establish vaccine cold chains.

Final thoughts

It’s clear that both SEforALL and the broader SDG7 movement built tremendous momentum in 2021 as we collectively strive for clean, affordable energy for all by 2030. But with 759 million people globally still without any electricity and 3.3 billion without clean cooking solutions, we need 2022 to have even greater impact.

Next year will be the ten-year anniversary of SEforALL, which means that we plan on celebrating our past while rallying others to support our work and collaborate on building a healthier, more equitable future founded on sustainable energy.

The SEforALL Forum, to be held 17-19 May in Kigali, Rwanda, will be an important moment to bring SDG7 stakeholders together to build on the initiatives from this year while seeding even greater ambition and actions.

We look forward to working with all of you over the coming year.