International Day of Clean Energy – an opportunity to recommit to leaving no one behind

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


Today, 26 January, is the first-ever International Day of Clean Energy. It is an important day that aims to spread awareness and encourage action for a fair and inclusive transition to clean energy that benefits everyone.  

Adopting clean energy is integral to the fight against climate change. For decades, science has shown that to limit climate change, we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels and invest in alternative sources of energy that are clean, sustainable, accessible, affordable, and reliable.

Today, we still have over 675 million people without access to electricity and 2.3 billion who are forced to cook with harmful fuels. Clean energy has the power to transform the lives of these communities who currently lack access to reliable power sources.

Clean energy for all

There is a strong connection between clean energy, socio-economic development, and environmental sustainability, and this connection must be fully harnessed if we are to address the issues faced by vulnerable communities across the world.

For populations without clean energy access, the lack of reliable power limits economic opportunities, hinders education, delivery of quality healthcare, and so much more.  Compounding the challenges, many of these communities still rely heavily on polluting fossil fuels in their daily lives, perpetuating poverty.

The example of education perfectly illustrates this link. Increasing access to high-quality education is crucial for reducing poverty. However, if a community is unable to access enough energy services to power their daily lives such as lighting, heating, cooling, cooking, and access to information and communication technologies, learning itself becomes an impossible dream for millions of people.

Another example is the health sector, where reliable electricity access is crucial for the effective delivery of healthcare. In 2023, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the International Renewable Energy Agency, and Sustainable Energy for All published this report which showed that the healthcare facilities serving nearly 1 billion people in low- and lower-middle-income countries lack reliable access to electricity, thus hampering universal healthcare targets in these countries.

It is not only urgent but extremely crucial that we ensure clean energy is expanded across the globe, especially in low-income countries, to ensure that communities that are underserved can reach their full potential.

Walking the talk

Global clean energy additions continue to soar, with cumulative capacity expected to reach over 4,500 GW by the end of this year, equal to the total power capacity of China and the United States combined. By 2027, it is expected that solar PV’s installed power capacity will surpass that of coal, becoming the largest in the world.

However, G20 countries account for almost 90% of global clean energy capacity today. More must be done to accelerate clean energy in other countries, too, including many emerging and developing economies, that grapple with energy access issues.

The countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia, as well as those countries that are categorized as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), must deploy much more clean energy. But for that to happen, a significant increase in public and private finance is needed, and a good place to start is redirecting fossil fuel subsidies.

About USD 7 trillion was spent on subsidizing the fossil fuel industry in 2022, including through explicit subsidies, tax breaks, and more. In comparison, about USD 4 trillion a year needs to be invested in clean energy until 2030, including investments in technology and infrastructure, to allow us to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

I would like to echo the UN Secretary-General's rallying call that we need to encourage the phasing out of these fossil fuel subsidies as a way to encourage investment in clean energy, especially in developing countries.

We all have a role to play

As we continue to push for more clean energy investments across the world, I would like to reiterate that we all have a role to play.

For example, through the UN-led Energy Compacts we are seeing more and more commitments from different stakeholders to drive action on closing energy access gaps, phasing out fossil fuels, and decarbonizing our energy systems. Since their launch in 2021, the Energy Compacts have demonstrated how countries, cities, businesses, youth and other partners can join forces to urgently bring change.

It is really encouraging that the multi-billion-dollar commitments through the Energy Compacts have brought the finance and investment pledged to over the trillion-dollar mark, and this funding is transforming lives every day.

This shows that whether in government, business, or civil society organizations, we can play a role to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all that will ultimately help accelerate progress towards the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

I would like to welcome all of you to develop, finance or implement solutions that can lead to a truly global just and equitable energy transition.

Happy International Day of Clean Energy.