• English

Pathways to Sustainable Energy: Where to go and how to get there?

Energy is the underlying element of almost all of the Sustainable Development Goals. The sustainable energy system of the future will thus have to address all aspects of the sustainable development pillars in line with national priorities and concerns, including climate change and natural resource use, job creation and energy security, social tolerance, health and energy access, among others. How could pathways to sustainable energy for the future look like and how to align national policies accordingly present key challenges for countries worldwide at this crucial point in time. 

These were some of the core issues debated at the Committee on Sustainable Energy from 18-20 November. This year’s session offered an opportunity to participants to explore what sustainable energy means for the UNECE region, both from the perspective of reducing the environmental footprint of energy and from the perspective of assuring the energy needed for sustainable development.

Discussants noted the broadly varying conceptions of sustainable energy that are leading to diverse expressions in national and regional energy strategies. The result is a lack of common understanding of sustainable energy, what is meant by pathways towards a future sustainable energy system or even how to move to such a pathway. There is now an important opportunity to explore what sustainable energy means for the UNECE region and which role fossil fuels will play going forward.  

Selected panellists presented national energy policies and private sector initiatives to inform a dialogue about energy futures. Participants considered the challenges and opportunities of the accelerating transition of energy systems and the national pledges that are being made in the context of the sustainable development and climate agendas, and recommended the exercise as an important milestone towards reaching objectives, for example through exploring the challenges and consequences of alternative energy futures and the implications of choices member States could make. Reference was made to the outcomes of the Sixth International Forum on Energy for Sustainable Development, , to the World Bank’s Global Tracking Framework, and to the Readiness for Investment in Sustainable Energy (RISE) initiative as examples for how progress might be tracked on energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The panel was concluded by the proposal of Kazakhstan to hold a ministerial conference and international forum on energy for sustainable development in the framework of the EXPO 2017 “Future Energy” to be held in Astana from 10 June to 10 September 2017.

Such a wide-ranging and engaged conversation will contribute to enhance decision-making with respect to the work programme under the Committee on Sustainable Energy. National energy planning and the work on sustainable energy could greatly benefit from transparent, inclusive processes and the possibility to compare alternative energy futures in various contexts. Results would contribute to the ability to better understand the transition to a sustainable energy future by allowing for course corrections, acceleration and scale up over time.

Close to one hundred participants discussed highlights from the biannual work programme and activities undertaken by the Committee and its subsidiary bodies for 2014-2015 and adopted the work plans for the coming two years. Key achievements include: i) Recommendations to the UNFCCC about carbon capture and storage,  ii) best policy practice on energy efficiency; national case studies, iii) dissemination of Best Practice Guidance on Coal Mine Methane and steps to operationalize an International Center of Excellence for  Coal Mine Methane in Poland, iv) a status report of renewable energy in the UNECE region, v) United Nations Framework Classification (UNFC): Application of UNFC to injection projects for geological storage of CO2 and guidelines for application of UNFC to uranium and thorium resources, vi) the Sixth International Forum on Energy for Sustainable Development, resulting in the Yerevan Statement of Common Action, vii) the Sixth Gas Industry Forum, and viii) a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the International Gas Union as part of the engagement of the energy industry in UNECE work on sustainable development goals and climate change.

As requested by the Committee in its twenty-third session, a UNECE Renewable Energy Status Report has been prepared in collaboration with the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) as a tool for closing data gaps and tracking the uptake of renewable energy in the region. Findings and key messages from the report were presented to the Committee for information and discussion. The 17 countries reviewed in the report is home to over 300 million people but only represents 0.5% of global renewable energy investments, with a noticeable downward trend. Investment is also unevenly distributed throughout the countries. There is considerable potential in the region to reverse this trend.

The official documents and presentations held during the session can be at: http://www.unece.org/index.php?id=38539#/