Equitable and clean energy access is the key to a sustainable future


February 14, 2022, 5:17 PM IST Jaideep Mukherjee and Ashvin Dayal and Joseph Nganga in VoicesIndia, TOI

At COP26 this past November, governments from more than 200 nations converged in Glasgow to chart a path to a more sustainable and equitable future. The world is watching to see how India, South Africa, and other nations that made major new commitments will deliver on those promises, and what specific steps they will take to reduce emissions and accelerate just energy transitions.

For its part, India announced some significant goals for 2030, including a pledge to reduce its total projected carbon emissions by one billion tons and meet half its energy requirements with renewable fuels. India also declared its ambitious net-zero goal for 2070, as part of its “five elixirs” to combat the global climate crisis. As India and other emerging economies grow, the demand for reliable power will rise significantly, and the next two decades will be key to meeting this demand with a viable, low-carbon pathway.

With the right policies and programs, this pathway can also help tackle another of the world’s most pressing issues: energy poverty. Advances in renewable energy technology have provided us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring clean electricity to hundreds of millions of people worldwide who still live without any access, and to power the lives and economic aspirations of 2.8 billion people who lack reliable electricity. With a scaled-up and integrated approach to support distributed renewable energy, grid-based renewables, and fossil fuel transitions, we can respond to the climate emergency without leaving these billions of people behind.

A Green Pathway for Growth and Development

To date, global efforts to combat the climate crisis have largely focused on the reduction of emissions in wealthy, energy-rich economies. There has been minimal attention paid to low-income, energy-poor nations that comprise more than half the world’s population but are collectively responsible for just 8% of its carbon emissions and have received only a small fraction of investments in renewables.

While energy-poor countries bear little responsibility for global emissions to date, if they are left out of global energy transition efforts, their annual emissions could grow to more than 75% of global emissions by 2050. Investing in energy-poor economies today is thus vital from both the perspective of global development and climate action.

In Glasgow, the Indian government made an ask of USD 1 trillion in climate finance from developed countries in order to meet its climate commitments in the decade ahead. Developed countries’ decade-old commitment to mobilize $100 billion in climate finance annually to support emerging economies’ energy transitions is yet to be realized. COP26 demonstrated the need, and the opportunity, to build the kinds of partnerships that can provide the financial and technical assistance developing nations need to support transformational energy programs that provide universal access to clean power.

From Commitment to Action, The Road Ahead

Turning commitments to curb carbon and expand energy access into reality will require a significant scaling up of novel financing mechanisms and urgent, organized action from various stakeholders: policymakers, regulators, financial institutions, the private sector, and civil society. Policymakers and regulators must create a conducive environment – designing favourable regulatory schemes, streamlining licensing and administrative processes, and expanding access to open-source data.

For its part, philanthropy can provide grant capital to de-risk investments, especially at the early stages of project development. Together with investments from development finance institutions, this blended finance can also stimulate larger capital flows from commercial investors.

To offer an example of the power of philanthropic and private sector partnership, Smart Power India, The Rockefeller Foundation and Tata Power’s collaboration led to the establishment of the world’s largest rural solar mini grid venture in 2019, which aims to deploy 10,000 mini-grids that will provide affordable, reliable electricity to millions across rural India. As of January 2022, 175 mini-grids were empowering over 128,200 people as well as 10,000 shops and productive enterprises that have already begun to transform local economies, leading to new jobs and increased incomes.

The success of this venture and similar projects in developing markets worldwide led The Rockefeller Foundation, IKEA Foundation, and Bezos Earth Fund to establish the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet, which launched with $10 billion in philanthropic capital and aligned investments from development finance institutions at COP26. The Alliance will help catalyse the financing, technical support, and regulatory changes needed to accelerate green energy transitions and expand energy access in partnership with emerging economies around the world.

There is still a lot to be done if the world has a hope of meeting the commitments made six years ago in Paris, commitments that were reinforced last year in Glasgow. But with practical solutions for project delivery and finance, and the right approach to policy and partnership, we can build a world where the transition to renewable energy empowers everyone, everywhere.