New York City, United States – The world must use trillions of dollars in coronavirus recovery and stimulus to ensure countries have green economies, Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), told Al Jazeera.
Steiner, Friday’s co-chairman High-level dialogue on energy (HLDE) at the UN, says the event is an opportunity for governments to take bold action for universal access to clean, affordable and reliable energy and to end dependence on fossil fuels.
Friday’s meeting on energy is the first to be held under the auspices of the General Assembly since 1981. It also comes weeks before the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) later this year, which hopes countries will commit to ambitious 2030 emissions reduction targets.
At the time, the UNDP chief stressed the need for richer countries to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in the green energy transition to ensure that poorer countries are not literally left in the coal dust.
In his conversation this week with Al Jazeera Senior Business Producer Radmilla Suleymanova, Steiner urged entrenched countries to deliver on their financial promises to help the most vulnerable countries — those most affected by climate change, though they are the least affected. to contribute – to help green .
*This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Radmilla Suleymanova: Why has it taken 40 years for the UNGA to meet on energy when it is such an urgent matter?
Achim Steiner: Well, Friday’s HLDE [high-level dialogue on energy] is an indication that more and more governments – and the private sector – are recognizing the crucial importance of this issue. But that’s not to say there hasn’t been a movement in energy in the past 40 years.
RS: What exactly was done?
IF: For example, the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, launched in 2011 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, aimed to mobilize action to support access to energy, energy efficiency and increasing the share of renewable energy. .
But what makes this HLDE so critical is the fact that it happens when we need it most. We are not on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals [on climate mitigation] while we are not on track to reach SDG7 [which aims to guarantee that everyone on the planet has access to clean, reliable and affordable clean energy] by 2030.
RS: What stats keep you up at night?
IF: Three quarters of all greenhouse gas emissions come from energy production. It is the main cause of the climate crisis, hitting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable the hardest. And 760 million people still live without electricity, 2.6 billion people still cook with dirty, unhealthy fuels each year, and nearly 4 million die prematurely from illness due to air pollution in the home.
RS: So doing well on SDG7 is at the top of the SDG priority list?
IF: All SDGs are closely linked. They are designed to move away from compartmentalised answers to concrete problems and embrace the complexity of today’s challenges. SDG7 is about achieving universal access to clean energy, but also about realizing the opportunities that come with it.
RS: What opportunities?
IF: Well, it could create some 18 million green jobs and new livelihoods by 2030.
Access to clean energy is essential to improve livelihoods and social mobility, gender equality, women’s empowerment and people’s health. Achieving SDG7 could rapidly expand education in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, where half of secondary schools are out of power. For others, renewable, clean energy will increase access to essential services such as affordable broadband – the ‘nervous system’ of tomorrow’s green economy. And finally, an accelerated energy transition provides a potential 40 percent of the emission reductions we need to meet our climate goals.
RS: So properly arranging access to energy is crucial?
IF: Yes, achieving universal access to clean energy is essential to achieve all SDGs.
RS: The pandemic has limited countries’ ability to achieve sustainable development, hasn’t it?
Yes, COVID-19 has caused a major disruption in people’s lives and livelihoods. But in a sense, the pandemic has shown us what we are capable of and what is possible: how quickly communities and countries can respond to an imminent threat.
RS: Okay, what should be done now?
IF: Right now, we need bold actions, including a just transition to net-zero emissions that leaves no one behind with universal access to energy. Given the opportunity and with the right funding, clean energy will change lives and boost human development, especially in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. It will also put the world on the right track to tackle climate change.
RS: What’s one thing you hope governments and businesses will walk away from knowing Friday’s dialogue?
IF: It’s about how we can power our economies, not just now, but in 10 to 20 years’ time. It is the beginning of global, collective action to refocus the world’s attention on renewable energy and accelerate the energy revolution. COP26 will maintain and increase this momentum. But more needs to be done.
RS: What’s missing?
IF: About 759 million people in the world do not have access to electricity and 2.6 billion people do not have access to clean fuels and technology to cook, light or heat their homes. If current trends continue through 2030, 660 million people will still have no access to electricity and 2.4 billion people will not have access to clean cooking.
RS: Okay, is there any good news?
IF: Yes. Since the Paris Agreement in 2015, the number of proposed coal-fired power plants has been reduced by 76 percent. The costs of renewable energy are falling sharply. Remarkably, it is now cheaper to opt for solar energy than to build a new coal-fired power station in almost every country.
RS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sounded quite alarmed about energy and climate during his speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday. Do you feel the same urgency?
IF: Yes. While it’s encouraging to see some of the commitments made this week, including through energy contracts and other climate-related announcements, we still have a long way to go to make COP26 a success and turn it into a turning point. marks in our collective efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
The latest UNFCCC report on the nationally determined contributions of all parties to the Paris Agreement shows the world is on a catastrophic road to 2.7 degrees [Celsius] of global warming. And the latest IPCC report shows that the window we have to steer the planet in the right direction is now shrinking.
RS: It sounds like time is of the essence!
IF: We are running out of time to prevent the world from going above 1.5 degrees Celsius. That will cause catastrophic climate change, with the world’s most vulnerable first hit hardest, but no one will be left untouched by this emergency. It is a “code red for humanity” in the words of the UN Secretary General.
We need decisive action from all countries, especially the G20 [Group of 20 developed nations], to go one step further and contribute effectively to emission reductions. Developing countries need reassurance that their ambition will be met with technical and financial support, including a commitment from wealthy economies to mobilize $100 billion annually from public and private sources for mitigation and adaptation actions by 2020.
RS: Finally, as a former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), what do you think is the one thing that is missing from the global conversation about renewable energy?
IF: The COVID-19 pandemic is a clear warning. Recovery from this crisis cannot be driven by a zero-sum game of economy versus environment or health versus economics. This is a once in a generation opportunity to set things right and I am hopeful that this ambition will be fulfilled. Competition can be a good thing, but at this time of the global climate crisis, we must prioritize collaboration and “co-investment” to create a sustainable and more inclusive future for people and planet.