On 24 September, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, will convene the High-level Dialogue on Energy at summit level, under the auspices of the UN General Assembly. This will be the first gathering on energy at this level since the UN Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy in Nairobi in 1981. It is a historic opportunity to provide a global political platform to review and enhance ambition and action on energy for sustainable development.
The overarching goal of the High-level Dialogue on Energy is to promote the implementation of energy-related goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Dialogue should raise ambition and accelerate action towards the achievement of the SDG 7 targets by catalyzing innovative solutions, investments and multi-stakeholder partnerships. It is expected to be a milestone moment for assessing global action as countries around the world face both the climate crisis and the urgency to recover better from the ongoing pandemic.
What will be the implications of the High-level Dialogue on Energy for countries in Asia and the Pacific?
First, the Asia-Pacific region has to accelerate its progress towards achieving SDG 7. The region’s advancement has been mixed, as reported in the recent ESCAP policy brief on SDG7. While countries in Asia and the Pacific are global leaders in terms of commitments and innovations in energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy, there are still large populations in developing countries (in particular the LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS) that are facing severe challenges. ‘Last mile’ electricity access to bring power to remote households is far from universal and about 40 per cent of the population of the region lack access to clean cooking fuels. There is an urgent need to develop stronger policies and make greater efforts to understand the multidimensional nature of the clean cooking challenge.
Although the Asia-Pacific region has been a global leader in renewable energy development, particularly in the power sector, the share of renewable energy in the region’s total final energy consumption has decreased in the last two decades as demand has grown and the traditional use of biomass has declined. Investment in renewable energy projects should be given top priority as renewables now present the lowest-cost option in many circumstances.
Energy intensity, the main indicator of energy efficiency, has demonstrated a long-term decline across the Asia-Pacific region. It is in line with the SDG 7 energy intensity target with an annual reduction rate of 2.6 per cent from 2010 to 2017.
Second, the region has to develop efficient policies and strategies to address the dual impacts of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Asia-Pacific region has faced the challenge of a record number of climate-related disasters in 2020, affecting tens of millions of vulnerable people already hard hit by the pandemic. The region produces half of global greenhouse gas emissions - nearly two-thirds of which are from coal - and it has become the region with the fastest-growing emissions in the world. Regional energy demand has almost doubled since 2000 along with the increased population and rapid urbanization. It continues to rank highest among global regions in overall energy intensity. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed additional strains on limited resources - causing both energy supply and demand shocks across all sectors of society and putting existing energy systems under pressure.
How can countries from the Asia-Pacific region contribute to the High-level Dialogue on Energy?
At the global level, a number of countries in the region have been Global Theme Champions and actively contributed to the preparations for the High-level Dialogue on Energy. Several countries and other stakeholders have also submitted an Energy Compact, which is one of the expected outcomes from the Dialogue.
ESCAP, in partnership with Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), briefed participants from member States and other stakeholders from the Asia-Pacific region at a meeting of the Expert Working Group on Universal Access to Modern Energy Services, Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency and Cleaner Use of Fossil Fuels on 26 August. The meeting provided participants with relevant information to actively engage at the High-level Dialogue on Energy. Representatives from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and SEforALL also briefed on the recommendations from the Thematic Working Groups of the High-level Dialogue and provided details on the development of Energy Compacts. The meeting highlighted that as a voluntary tool, Energy Compacts can be flexible and fit-to-purpose, allowing member States, sub-national authorities and non-state actors to showcase their clean energy ambitions and commitments in the upcoming Dialogue and beyond.
ESCAP, as a member of UN Energy, extended its support to member States and key stakeholders including the private sector to be engaged in the High-level Dialogue on Energy including the development of Energy Compacts. SEforALL is also available to help interested member States and non-state actors to help conceptualize innovative Energy Compacts that can highlight their forward-looking opportunities on the clean energy transition and achieving the targets of SDG 7.