17 min
Representatives from up to 56 Commonwealth nations, spanning Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Pacific, and Europe, will gather in London from 24th to 26th May to discuss how to accelerate the global transition to more sustainable forms of energy.

Next week, the 3rd Commonwealth Sustainable Energy Forum will bring together senior government officials, private sector actors, industry experts, and youth delegates. They will review energy transition progress in the Commonwealth and discuss ways to achieve ambitious goals with action on the ground.

Energy access is essential for sustainable development, with nearly 774 million people worldwide still without access to electricity. More than half of them live in Commonwealth countries.

Globally, nations are working to pivot towards low-carbon energy systems in response to climate change, energy security needs, and the falling cost of renewable energy technologies.

Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, highlighted the importance of the upcoming discussions, stating:

“Commonwealth countries are working together to fast-track an inclusive, just, and equitable transition to low-carbon energy systems through the Commonwealth Sustainable Energy Transition (CSET) Agenda.

“While the transition pathways may differ, the move to clean energy systems is a common goal, and all member countries recognize the nexus between climate change, energy access, and sustainable development.”

Several milestones and new initiatives will be announced at the event. These will be implemented under the CSET Agenda – a platform for all member countries to work together to accelerate the global transition to clean energy through collective action, knowledge sharing, and technical support.

The Sustainable Energy Forum is also seen as an opportunity to discuss the road to the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28, held in Dubai, UAE, in November.

In particular, the event will have a solid intergenerational approach, recognizing that young people are essential stakeholders in creating the solutions for the energy transition.

The Forum will meet over three days:

  • Day 1 focuses on global developments in the transition to cleaner energy
  • Day 2 will be a closed-door plenary for member country delegates, including dedicated sessions focusing on youth action
  • Day 3 will consider both public and private financing solutions

The global energy landscape is undergoing a significant transformation as countries worldwide seek to transition towards low-carbon energy systems with an increasing share of renewable energy sources in their energy mix. Several factors drive this shift, including concerns about climate change, the need for energy security, and the falling cost of renewable energy technologies.
As part of their commitments under the Paris Agreement, Commonwealth member countries have set ambitious targets for decarbonizing their energy system towards a net-zero future. Many member countries are implementing measures to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy technologies and supporting infrastructure, including developing national policies/strategies and enacting regulations to unlock investment and incentivize activities in the clean energy sector.

Aligning ambition and action is crucial for achieving a successful energy transition. Setting ambitious targets for deploying renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures is necessary to grow a low-carbon energy system rapidly. However, these targets must be supported by concrete actions, such as developing and implementing policies and regulations, investments in research and development, and deploying renewable energy technologies. They must also be established in implementable action plans with achievable and measurable results within a specified timeframe. By aligning ambition and action, member countries can ensure that the energy transition addresses the immediate concerns of energy security and climate change and contributes to long-term sustainable development.

This changing landscape, reshaping energy systems, and potentially disrupting existing supply chains presents challenges and growth opportunities for Commonwealth countries. In particular, energy transition brings uncertainties for countries whose economies heavily depend on fossil fuels regarding future consumption trends, global investment flows, technology advancements, and energy choices. Also, fuelling certain green technologies will require the production of more metals and minerals. It is essential to consider the impact that energy transitions will have on extractive industries and the potential for developing countries to leverage activities in this sector to further the achievement of the SDGs while minimizing socio-economic and environmental risks.

The Commonwealth Sustainable Energy Forum is a biennial convention of senior officials from the ministries, departments, and agencies responsible for the energy sector across the Commonwealth. The Forum is organized under the Commonwealth Sustainable Energy Transition (CSET) agenda, a platform for collaborative action amongst member countries to accelerate the transition to low-carbon energy systems in a manner that contributes to achieving the Paris Agreement on climate change and SDG 7. The CSET agenda is anchored on three key pillars: Inclusive Transitions, Technology and Innovation, and Enabling Frameworks.

The Forum’s first day will focus on global developments in energy transition with presentations from partner organizations and subject matter experts. Day 2 will be a closed-door plenary for delegates from Commonwealth member countries with presentations from different countries on individual pathways, progress, and challenges, including dedicated sessions focusing on the role of young people in the energy transition. Day 3 of the Forum will consider solutions for unlocking public and private sector funding for the energy transition.

Every delegate is welcome to participate as both a knowledge holder and a recipient. Participants are encouraged to share relevant experience, policies, and case studies, articulate their knowledge needs, and indicate specific areas of interest arising from deliberations during the Forum. Participant contributions must be short, narrative, and reactive to the discourse and other interventions.

Implementing a Just & Inclusive Energy Transition

With the rest of the world, Commonwealth countries are facing challenges from global warming caused by the increased emissions of greenhouse gases, over two-thirds of which are attributable to the energy sector. Long-term global energy projections indicate that the world will require substantially more energy as population growth and urbanization outweigh efficiency gains. More than half of the 733 million people across the globe without access to electricity live in Commonwealth countries, and expanding energy access is a priority for these countries.

The challenge to society is ensuring that the energy transition progresses in a manner that reflects the goals of justice, equity, and fairness. No one should be left behind as the change happens and society moves towards the 2030 SDG and 2050 climate goals. Driving a clean and just energy transition that simultaneously ensures a secure, equitable, and sustainable way forward is a complex problem. Anticipating and managing the impacts of the energy transition on economies, communities, and industries must be at the heart of a just transition.

This session will reflect on approaches and practices that Commonwealth countries can consider and the global community to implement an inclusive transition that fairly distributes the benefits and costs of the energy transition in keeping with the Paris Agreement.

Scaling up Mature Solutions and Enabling Innovations in Clean Energy Technology

Suppose the world shifts to a net zero carbon emission pathway consistent with the Paris Agreement. In that case, urgent action must be taken to achieve a significant and rapid deployment of clean energy technologies. With policy support, wind and solar PV have seen rapid expansion. At the same time, faster progress will be needed in end-use sectors, which accounted for 55% of energy and industry-related CO2 emissions in 2019.

Harder to abate end-use sectors, including high-heat industrial processes, heavy-duty trucking, shipping, aviation, and chemicals, will need to be overcome by clean fuel alternatives such as low-carbon hydrogen and biofuels. Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS) may also play a role, given its ambition to provide harmful emissions and produce carbon-neutral CO2-based e-fuels, subject to transparent monitoring, reporting, and verification. Deep decarbonization will require deploying energy storage systems (ESS) to maximize the renewable energy share in the energy mix and in parallel with other technologies, such as a hybrid power plant to serve local power needs and distributed self-contained power systems. Power-to-X technologies such as hydrogen, synthetic natural gas, liquid fuels, chemicals, and other synthetic fuels present significant potential for value-added and industrial development.

The deployment of distributed renewable energy, including off-grid systems, has seen progress, but the pace and scale have been slow. About 733 million people had no access to electricity and 2.4 billion to clean cooking by the end of 2020. Most of that population resides in rural communities in developing countries in South Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa and remote, isolated areas

.Creating the Enabling Environment for Accelerating the Energy Transition

The pace and scale of the sustainable energy transition need urgent acceleration to meet global goals. The economics of the change is such that low-carbon technologies are becoming increasingly competitive, risks are better understood, and investment in renewable energy is rapidly growing. Also, the shift to a clean energy system is set to drive a massive increase in the requirements for critical minerals as more batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, and networks are deployed. It also means that the energy sector will emerge as a significant force in driving demand growth for many minerals.

Strong political will and ambition are required to establish and embed the policy, regulatory and economic frameworks needed to accelerate the transition and attract the necessary finance to achieve ambitious clean energy targets. How the energy transition will take place and at what pace and scale will be primarily determined by the policy, regulatory, and governance frameworks, including the implemented incentives and the underlying economics of the technologies involved.

This session will focus on the policy, regulatory and economic frameworks that can support accelerated action for transforming energy systems and achieving national and global goals and targets for the energy sector.

“Co-generation”: The Role of Youth in an Inclusive Energy Transition

The achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG7 on access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy, must be implemented in an inclusive, equitable, and just manner. With over 60% of the Commonwealth population under 30, youth in the Commonwealth have vast and under-tapped potential to accelerate the sustainable energy transition and inclusive development. In addition, the impact of the energy systems on the future climate and economic growth will be disproportionately borne by the youth. As such, the child across the Commonwealth have a personal stake and a critical role in driving the change and innovation required to meet global targets, leveraging their skills and competencies, technical capabilities, and strong networks.
This session will be an interactive, youth-led dialogue that is pragmatic, open, and honest. It will focus on the value-add of youth in accelerating and shaping sustainable energy transition, the critical challenges in youth engagement, and practical solutions to ensure mutually beneficial collaboration among youth, governments, and stakeholders for the sustainable energy transition in the Commonwealth.

Unlocking Finance for the Energy Transition

Despite global investment progress in energy transition investments reaching USD 1.3 trillion in 2022, annual investments must quadruple to remain on track to achieve the 1.5°C Scenario (IRENA’s World energy transitions outlook 2022). The disparity in investment flows between developed and developing countries must be addressed. While 70% of the world’s population resides in developing and emerging countries, investment flows to these countries represented only 15% of global assets in 2020. Investments are also not flowing at the pace or scale needed to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Investments in off-grid renewable energy solutions at USD 0.5 billion in 2021 fell far short of the USD 2.3 billion needed annually (IRENA). In addition, investment has been concentrated in specific technologies. It uses in a few countries, with solar photovoltaic attracting 43% of the total investment in renewables, followed by wind onshore (35%) and offshore (12%). Governments and development partners must play a more active role in ensuring a more equitable flow of finance. Recognizing the limited public funds available globally, private sector finance (domestic and foreign private sector capital) would be needed to close the large financing gap. Significant investment will be required to sustain a rapid increase in the production of the minerals that form the primary inputs of a low-carbon economy, estimated at over 3 billion tons of minerals and metals (World Bank).

Ayele Addis Ambelu ayeleradio@gmail.com reports