SDG7 logo at COP26

SDG7 takeaways from COP26

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COP26 has ended with the Glasgow Climate Pact calling on all 197 countries to accelerate efforts on climate action, keeping the hope of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees alive with new and updated NDC and net-zero commitments. Experts agree that this Pact is not enough and that we need much more ambition, finance, and action in this decade to have a fighting chance at achieving net-zero by 2050. 

However, all hope is not lost. Over the course of two weeks, we saw several instances of raised ambition from governments and the private sector, committed to accelerating climate action and just transitions.

More specifically, on the main stage on Energy Day and at the SDG7 Pavilion, for the first time, we saw clear commitments focused on energy – the largest contributor to emissions and an important contributor to the blueprint for a sustainable and more prosperous future for all. An important signal was sent in simply having an SDG7 Pavilion for the first time at a COP, which was hosted by Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) in partnership with the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) and with the support of the UN. While we still have a long way to go, and there is disappointment and frustration at the final outcome, especially by climate-vulnerable countries already dealing with the effects of climate change, here are seven ways in which COP26 has left us poised for action, putting us on a pathway to achieving SDG7 by 2030 and a cleaner, healthier planet by mid-century.

1. Elevating the conversation on clean energy and energy access

For many, COP26 represented a turning point. With less than 9 years to make deep emissions cuts and deliver on SDG7, countries were asked to think long and hard to deliver ambitious updated NDCs – and energy systems were crucial to these commitments. Earlier in the year, at the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy convened by the UN Secretary-General, countries, companies, and other stakeholders were asked to make clear, trackable commitments in the form of Energy Compacts.

And at the SDG7 Pavilion, SEforALL, GEAPP and other partners sustained this urgency and continued to elevate the conversation around the importance of action on SDG7 and its critical impact on achieving net-zero targets. In addition, a dedicated and main stage Energy Day put the focus on the critical role of clean energy transitions that encompass energy access goals within the climate action agenda.

The Global Roadmap for Accelerated SDG7 Action in Support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change officially released by UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, on the side-lines of COP26 was another milestone demonstrating unequivocal support for clean energy as the golden thread tying our collective climate and development goals together.

2. Ensuring a just and equitable energy transition

A critical piece of COP26 negotiations focused on balancing the need for developing and emerging countries to respond to the aspirations of their populations by providing sufficient and reliable energy for development with ensuring an energy transition that would put the world on a pathway to net-zero before it’s too late.

We cannot get to net-zero collectively unless we also factor equity into the conversation. The Glasgow Climate Pact includes multiple references to just transitions, including “finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development in a transparent and inclusive manner in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication”. But there is very little by way of actual commitments made towards achieving this.

However, on a positive note, countries deeply embedded in fossil fuel energy systems, Nigeria and India, made net-zero commitments supported by evidence and commitments that they had put forward at the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy in September 2021. Similar commitments were made by Thailand, Nepal and Vietnam. This now means that nearly 90 percent of the global economy is covered by net-zero commitments. The Energy Transition Council, championed by the COP26 Presidency and supported by SEforALL, will continue at least until COP30 in 2025 to provide a platform for the global community to support these and other developing countries in meeting these targets and achieving a just energy transition. 

3. Ending coal-fired power?

It is heartening that for the first time ever, coal has been explicitly mentioned in COP documents and significant commitments were made to transition away from coal, as well as end the financing of coal power abroad. More than 40 countries signed up to a political declaration on Energy Day to transition away from unabated coal power generation, and although the final Glasgow Climate Pact had language changed from ‘phase out’ to ‘phase down’, this is still important progress. This builds on the momentum of the No New Coal Energy Compact commitment presented by Sri Lanka; Chile; Denmark; France; Germany; United Kingdom and Montenegro at the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy, responding directly to the Secretary General’s call for halting all new coal-fired power production. 

There were significant commitments on the side-lines of the official negotiations, including 28 new members joining the Powering Past Coal Alliance – the world’s largest alliance on phasing out coal – taking the number to more than 160 countries, sub-national governments, and businesses. 

Banks and financial institutions made commitments to end the funding of unabated coal. These complement announcements made earlier in the year by China, Japan and South Korea to end overseas coal financing. Additionally, a group of 25 countries signed a UK-led joint statement committing to ending international public financing for the unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022, prioritising support for clean energy instead. This functionally ends almost all concessional or public financing of international coal power. The Climate Investment Fund and Asian Development Bank also announced partnerships supporting accelerated transitions away from coal power. While there are still plenty of questions on the robustness of these commitments, as the UNFCCC has stated, the days of coal as a viable energy choice are numbered.

4. Energy Compacts as a tool for support

Since the launch of the Energy Compacts as part of the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy earlier this year, we have received over 200 commitments from a range of stakeholders, including national and local governments, businesses, foundations and international, civil society and youth organisations. These commitments reflect actions and finance commitments through to 2030. The Energy Compacts complement the long term deep-decarbonization commitments with specific actions in the coming years to 2030. Over 157 Energy Compact have now been submitted and found to be in line with the UN-Energy Guiding Principles, including alignment with the Paris Agreement. 

To date, the commitments in these Compacts amount to more than USD 600 billion for both energy access and the energy transition. In addition, multi-lateral partnerships have committed to leveraging billions more in additional finance. 

Many of these Energy Compacts were showcased at the SDG7 Pavilion at COP26. In addition, UN-Energy announced an Energy Compact Action Network, to be launched in January 2022, to facilitate enhanced cooperation to accelerate the pace of delivery. This Network will be central in facilitating matchmaking, supporting strategic alliances, and enabling the delivery of Compact commitments. It will also help bring together demand and supply-side commitments and monitor the progress of individual Energy Compacts. As part of the UN-Energy Pledge, we commit to supporting Member States and their partners to achieve key milestones on SDG7 by 2025. This will be critical to accelerating the pace of delivery for energy access as well as for the energy transition.

5. Enabling partnerships to catalyse energy action

The official launch of the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) by The Rockefeller Foundation, IKEA Foundation, and Bezos Earth Fund signalled the importance of much-needed philanthropic capital to catalyse the much greater levels of investment needed for countries to achieve their energy access and net-zero ambitions. The GEAPP is a platform built on partnerships and new strategic partnerships were entered into during the COP. This includes the U.S. Government’s Power Africa initiative which would bring together nearly two dozen public and private sector partners to seize the opportunity to realise universal, clean energy generation and access for Sub-Saharan Africa by accelerating new distributed renewable energy and grid-based solutions.

Another prominent partnership provided much-needed momentum during the negotiations. The United States and China made a joint announcement that the two nations would work together on more ambitious climate action in this decade, doing more to cut emissions, including methane. 

In addition, several multi-stakeholder Energy Compacts were put together as partnerships working towards common goals, including the 24/7 Carbon-Free Compact, the Gender and Energy Compact and the Health Centre Electrification Compact.

The Energy Transition Council, co-chaired by the COP26 Presidency and Sustainable Energy for All, highlighted some important country-level milestones that have resulted from its phase of work (e.g., Nigeria’s Energy Transition Plan; Morocco’s agreement to phase out coal, Indonesia’s and Philippines’ agreement to focus on the retirement of coal-fired power plants, and others). The continuation of the ETC for an additional five years was also announced to expand this unique multilateral approach that focuses on political, technical, and financing dialogue with developing and emerging economies to support greater energy transition ambition.  

6. Engaging youth to lead a clean energy future

COP26 demonstrated the rising power of youth in having a say in how their future develops. This year at COP26, we saw them take charge by engaging with world leaders to demand change. A statement signed by 40,000 young people was delivered to the COP26 Presidency by climate activists from YOUNGO, the Children and Youth Constituency of UN Climate Change, relaying their priorities, including action on climate finance. 

The UK and Italy, in partnership with UNESCO, Youth4Climate and Mock COP coordinated new global action to equip future generations with the knowledge and skills to create a net-zero world. And over 23 countries put forward national climate education pledges, ranging from decarbonizing the education sector to developing school resources. 

SEforALL and Enel Foundation launched a new partnership to create the next generation of energy sector leaders in Africa, where energy deficits and access rates are among the world’s highest. Under the banner of an expanded Open Africa Power programme, the partnership targets the training and leadership development of women and youth within the energy sector. 

Student Energy, a youth-led organization, through their Energy Compact, committed to deploying USD 150 million towards upskilling, mentoring, and directly financing early- and mid-stage youth-led clean energy initiatives, reaching over 35,000 young people in over 100 countries. Earlier, the SDG 7 Youth Constituency also put forward an Energy Compact aiming at prioritizing the inclusion of young people in global and national energy transition agendas as well as supporting youth-led organisations in accessing funding. 

7. Energizing finance

All good intentions mean nothing without the financing to back them up. The commitment made in 2009 to deliver USD 100 billion in annual finance starting from 2020 to support developing countries transition to clean energy and adapt to climate change has still not been met, and at COP26, we saw the timeline being pushed back further. 

The clean energy offers for developing countries must include finance at the required scale that will enable them to achieve their net-zero ambition while ending energy poverty and enabling economic growth. As outlined in its energy transition plan presented in the SDG7 Pavilion at COP26, USD 400 billion above business-as-usual spending will be required for Nigeria alone to achieve its net-zero by 2060 commitment.

Several climate finance commitments were made, including a bid to double financing for adaptation as well as a pledge from the UK COP Presidency for USD 500 billion to be mobilized by 2025. And a process to define the new global goal on finance was launched. However, developing countries will have to wait to see whether these promises will be made good at this time, or whether finance will remain the Achilles heel on the pathway to net-zero.