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Meeting the challenge of sustainable energy

Fueled by the Paris climate agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Eighth International Forum on Energy for Sustainable Development kicked off at Expo 2017 with the energy ministerial opening ceremony and addresses.

Led by Mr. Timur Kulibayev, Chairman, KAZENERGY Association, Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister and three United Nations representatives offered insights on the global transition to renewable energy and the rise of the green economy.

Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev began by discussing the host country’s commitment to clean energy as seen in President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s promotion of renewables nearly a decade ago. He also highlighted the Green Bridge initiative, an innovative partnership aimed at invigorating green economic growth through sharing of technology and know-how.

Access to such knowledge is valuable and has the capacity to yield future growth. The Prime Minister accordingly recalled the wise Kazakh saying: “One seed planted by the fathers will be harvested by the children.”

This energy ministerial would, later in the day, culminate with a declaration by participating ministers — publicly affirming their commitment to take action in furthering the 2030 Agenda. Prime Minister Sagintayev explained that this proclamation would be “a manifesto of Expo 2017.”

The first UN speaker, Ms. Shamshad Akhtar, Under-Secretary General of the organization and Executive Secretary of UN ESCAP said: “The global transition to sustainable energy certainly has begun, however progress is uneven across the world..” She noted the long-term opportunities and challenges of this global transition (from fossil fuels to renewable energy).

Stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions through a switch to cleaner energy sources would be key. This process, though already underway, would require a commitment to new, more ambitious climate pledges, as 2016 marked the third successive year of unchanged global emissions.

“Allowing markets to play a significant role in energy transition will speed up the dynamics of change,” said Ms. Akhtar, calling for phasing out fuel subsidies, taking down energy monopolies, and instituting tax reforms and other policy incentives to get the private sector on board.

Energy infrastructure investors, operators and owners should collaborate to reap the benefits of new technologies; while policy makers, operators and governments would need to adopt new approaches to governance.

Ms. Akhtar emphasized how a digitized, interconnected energy system would elicit the need to invest in risk management mechanisms. The evolution of workforces and skills, from old to new industries, would have to be addressed too. And, in the sustainable energy finance realm, there should be regulations to protect investments and boost risk appetite.

“Cross border energy cooperation is needed to harmonize legal and regulatory frameworks and build interconnected power grids, which enable cross border energy markets,” she said, before wrapping up her address.

Ms. Olga Algayerova, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary, UNECE took to the podium and shared a sober reality: “The 50 year average [monthly] temperature has been rising steadily since 1964.” A projected global population of 9.7 billion by 2050 — 70 percent of which will live in cities — would further raise those stakes.

It would therefore be vital to improve energy performance in buildings — the source of 40 percent of CO2 emission — in order to have a positive impact on quality of life and climate change, going forward.

Ms. Algayerova cited several actions that — even amongst diverse energy approaches — have universal resonance, with enhancement of citizens’ quality of life chief among them. Consumption subsidies were not the answer, and she maintained that they would not be financially sustainable. However, carbon tariffs could “steer investments and transform our energy system.”

She then echoed her previous statement —“There is not one universal way to achieve results” — referring to how countries which committed to the 2030 Agenda and Paris agreement had created their own respective national plans. It was thus important to recognize the unique perspectives and drivers of such countries’ actions.

Ms. Algayerova closed by suggesting that the new green energy economy might take its cue from the innovative, telecommunications sector — which is today services-driven. “Perhaps what is needed for true sustainability is to reinvent the energy industry as a service industry… We don’t consume energy. We consume the services provided by energy.”

The final speaker was Ms. Cihan Sultanoğlu, UNDP Assistant Administrator, Director of the RBEC and UN Commissioner General for Expo 2017 in Astana. She told the audience that in 2016, total renewable energy jobs around the world reached 9.8 million — with most having been in China, Brazil, the United States, India, Japan and Germany.

But, “Kazakhstan is also making great strides towards low carbon and climate resilience development,” she said. This is happening, despite a local abundance of fossil fuels, and is embodied in initiatives such as Green Bridge and events like Expo 2017.

Yet, challenges remain on a global level, demanding urgent efforts towards universal access, energy efficiency and renewable energy. Among the necessary steps: a scaling up of innovative business models that improve access to finance and are inclusive of end users, the vulnerable and developing countries which may be viewed as risky by investors.

She then spoke of some of the UNDP’s sustainable energy initiatives — whose reach extends to over 110 countries. Among these, she said they had assisted the Peruvian government in putting in place policies to promote new rooftop solar energy business models, targeting private sector investment.

Ms. Sultanoğlu concluded on a positive note: “Our world has the resources, technology and knowledge to rise to the energy, climate and sustainable development challenges.”