Even though delayed by the pandemic, when it did finally happen, the Sustainable Energy for All forum delivered more than it promised, establishing important threads that need to be picked up at the COP 27 in Egypt.
When the curtains came down on the first Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) forum on May 19, 2022, the overarching mood in the conference hall in Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali, was that of hope and collaboration.
USD 347 million had been pledged for enabling energy access and transition to clean energy, over 1,000 stakeholders had attended in-person and an additional 2,500 had participated in the proceedings remotely. The forum had also come up with key ideas that needed to be acted upon in the upcoming climate conference, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCC) 27th Conference of Parties (COP) slated to be held in Egypt in December this year.
Celebrating its tenth anniversary, SEforALL was established in 2011 to enable decisive action towards achieving the Sustainable Developmental Goal (SDG) 7—ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. In its short history, the forum has become a key meeting point for stakeholders to make the dream of fulfilling SDG 7 a reality. As Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of UN Energy said during the forum’s conclusion, “Energy, climate, and development must go together. Clean energy access truly is the link to a better life, to a safer and more prosperous future.”
In 2015, all UN member states adopted the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. This agenda provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At the heart of this agenda are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries. All signatories to the agenda recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tacking climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.
All of the SDG goals are inevitable linked to each other. Nevertheless, each SDG goal works towards achieving specific outcomes as well. The SDG 7 outlines actions needed to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. With this in mind, the SDG 7 states the following key sub-goals.
The three day event in Kigali witnessed lively discussions, exchanges, and partnerships develop. The following are the key ideas that emerged from the forum that will be relevant for world leaders and other stakeholders to consider when convening for the COP 27 in Egypt.
Per Heggenes, the CEO of Ikea Foundation emphasised on the need to think beyond traditional boundaries in his talk at the forum. Heggenes stated that a paradigm shift is needed to take clean energy to all the communities that require it. As an example of such ‘out of the box thinking’, Heggenes referred to his organisation’s work in assisting the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) setup lighting and provide energy access to a refugee camp in Azraq, Jordan which is home to thousands of refugees who fled the Syrian civil war. He said, “We inaugurated the first ever solar power plant in a refugee camp in 2017. This provides energy for over 50,000 refugees now. Imagine the ordeal of living in a refugee camp in the middle of the desert without even a fan or unable to refrigerate food.” The IKEA Foundation was among the biggest pledgers at the forum in Kigali where they announced that they will commit USD 5.8 million in funding to support the scaling up of universal energy facilities. Heggenes went onto say, “We want to go beyond lighting, the big opportunity is there. The productive energy available to us is not available for poor communities. This is why we work with organisations like the Selco Foundation to push the use of renewable energy and develop off grid solutions. What we really want to do is to create a system where people living in poor communities can become entrepreneurs and innovators.”
According to the Chilling Prospects report launched during the forum, one in seven people are globally at high risk due to lack of access to cooling. The report states that these numbers will continue to rise by 2030 if no action is taken to achieve universal electrification and end extreme poverty.
In this context sustainable energy for adaptation and mitigation becomes a key task that all stakeholders need to work towards. As the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame said during the opening of the forum, “Today in Africa, more than half a billion people still do not have access to electricity. This energy crisis coincides with the threat of climate change to which our continent is especially vulnerable. It is crucial that the switch to sustainable, renewable energy is made soon.” President Kagame’s views are only further emphasised by the other findings of the Chilling Prospects report. The report has found that over 1.2 billion people are at high risk because they lack access to cooling. The report also states that new research by The Lancet has shown that extreme heat has been the cause of death of 3,56,000 people in the year 2019 alone.
The need for sustainable energy to deal with climate change cannot be made more apparent. As President Kagame said, “We need to expand the use of off-grid technology and standalone systems that can help bring power to rural communities in Africa more quickly. We need to integrate industrial policy with sustainable energy policies and we need to plan now to be able to power Africa’s future industries. By integrating sustainable energy in pandemic recovery plans, we can accelerate the transition to clean power but the transition must also be just and equitable. This means, we should align with Africa’s development priorities and aspirations to ensure that no one is left behind.”
Lessons from the past have illustrated that big commitments despite being made in good spirit doesn’t always translate to effective action on the ground. Using public and private efficiently is also a key issue to think about while making the transition to sustainable energy. President Kagame had addressed this during his opening remarks at the forum. He said, “There needs to be increasing financing to developing countries to support climate adaption in line with international agreements. Africa cannot carry the burden alone, especially given that its emissions did not create the climate emergency. However, Africa will be part of the solution.”
On the side lines of the forum, Victoria Sabula, CEO of Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF), had some pertinent observations to make regarding issues of financing sustainable energy. In an interview with CNBC Africa, she said, “Access to finance is the biggest challenge that small and medium enterprises face as they seek to present private sector benefits to the communities that require those services and good in this time.”
Sabula stated that learnings and changes are required from all stakeholders for enabling easy flow of finances. As she said, “The entrepreneur must be able to give confidence to investors that their money will be returned. That the impact that is being sought and growth that is being sought will be realised.” At the same time, she said a change in mindset is needed from investors too. “You will find investors most of the time are actually coming from Western countries. There is need for investors to be a little flexible to appreciate better, the strengths of the locally owned SMEs who understand the local market and economy. They understand the nooks and crooks of navigating the market and how to navigate that particular market. The terms and condition that really come with some of this capital can really be stringent. They ask for turnover figures, collateral details etc. Go and tell a woman owned business to give collateral in Sub-Saharan Africa and you will you find that woman do not own property. This way, the smaller businesses are then continually left to rely on family and friends to get money. Capital mobilised by debt funds and financial institutions demand for more than what local SMEs are able to offer.”
The final and potentially the most important takeaway from the forum was the learnings shared by stakeholders with regards to the necessity to collaborate across sectors and not work in silos. In a discussion during the forum, Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health and Environment at the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, “The need for electricity in a health care centre should not need to be justified. Along with clean water and sanitation, it is the bare minimum you should have. If you don’t have electricity, you shouldn’t call it a health care facility.” Dr Neira has had first hand experience working in hospitals and clinics around the world which have had limited access to electricity. She added that the growing role of decentralised renewable energy for the health sector is only further emphasised in this context stating that DRE is cheap, it can be setup fast and is reliable.
In the same discussion, Dana Rysankova of the World Bank highlighted how working across sectors can only result in more effective solutions. She said, “The energy sector thinks that the health sector will solve a problem, while the health sector thinks the energy sector will address it. In this, many important development priorities fall in between the cracks.” She said her organisation is now funding various projects that will try to improve cross-sectoral collaborations. As she said, “We have started working on this and are connecting like-minded people and partners. We have invested about 250 million in energy as is needed for the health sector globally but our estimates itself show that the requirement is more than 4.3 billion dollars. The question now is, how do we mobilise this?”