Energy access on the climate agenda: Here’s what we learned at COP26

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The world is already heating up quickly as a result of human activities, and we need to limit the global temperature increase to under 1.5 degrees to avoid the worst consequences of a changing climate. COP26’s main discussions were about how and who will do this, and who should pay for it.

The new climate reality emphasizes the need to not just consider emission reductions, but also boost resilience and enhance adaptive capacity, embracing green growth and climate-smart approaches going forward. However, the sad reality is that too many across the globe remain behind in poverty. A pathway is needed to realize economic development for many developing countries, in line with the climate goals.

Energy access for the people without electricity was brought up on the main stage by a number of heads of state and the “fair and just transition” was a key theme at the event, acknowledging that the world’s most vulnerable need to be at the forefront of the green energy transition.

Off-grid solar has a pivotal role to play to ensure we leave no one behind while enhancing resilience and adaptive capacity for the people we serve, who are amongst the most climate-vulnerable on the planet.

Increased presence of energy access at COP26

At this COP, energy access has been positioned for the first time as an important part of the climate agenda. Previously, the sector lacked a clear champion and coordinator.  This year, SEforALL, supported by the newly formed Global Energy Alliance, rose to the challenge and sought to be that champion. The SDG7 pavilion, the first of its kind, had a busy and diverse schedule with a number of high-profile guests.

The pavilion offered GOGLA and many of our partners the opportunity to present our messages on stage on multiple occasions: putting a spotlight on our Energy Compact, highlighting the off-grid solar sector’s investment needs, showcasing the industry’s links to agriculture, deep-diving into new climate finance instruments and local entrepreneurship and jobs.

Adaptation and ‘loss and damage’: future themes for off-grid solar

Adaptation and ‘loss and damage‘ are emerging as relevant themes to off-grid solar, with a high potential to open up new funding for the industry. Out of the annual $100 billion of climate finance that developed nations make available for developing nations, at least 50% should be for adaptation. While pressure to act has been building up for developed countries to increase their climate financing towards developing countries, no concrete new commitments were made.

The energy access sector has all the right arguments to play a big role in these themes, so it needs to position itself in the minds of the right institutions (developing and developed country governments and the right intermediaries) with an appropriate understanding of the technical procedures through which these funds get disbursed. If and when such commitments materialize, the off-grid solar industry needs to be well-positioned in order to benefit from them.

GEAPP and increased funding opportunities need to be leveraged

One of the headline-making announcements during the first week of COP26 was the $10 billion commitment to decentralised renewable energy by the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP), including $1.5 billion in philanthropic funds from IKEA Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and Bezos Earth Fund.

With the GEAPP announcement, the availability of grant funding for energy access will increase substantially and could prove transformative for the off-grid solar industry and to achieve universal energy access.

Meetings held during the event made GOGLA cautiously optimistic about the positive impact of GEAPP for the industry. GOGLA emphasized that an approach that recognizes and leverages systems  which can deliver across all tiers of energy access will be critical towards realizing universal energy access by 2030.

Advocacy and thought leadership, keys to success

Although hard to navigate, COPs are becoming more relevant to GOGLA and they are a great convening platform bringing together stakeholders from all divides around climate and renewables. For the next edition, GOGLA should certainly be present again, and we are certain there will also be another SDG7 Pavilion.

It’s clear that our work in advocacy and thought leadership on this theme need to go beyond COP. It’s absolutely crucial that we engage with all stakeholders: donor governments, recipient governments that will have a main role in deciding how they will distribute the funding for adaptation or loss and damage, the philanthropic community that has increasingly higher stakes in climate financing as well as climate finance intermediaries.

Some of these actors will be at COP, but many will not, or they will be too busy to engage outside of the negotiation processes. However, they need to know about us, understand our work, its ties to energy access, development and climate, so advocacy should happen just as much outside of COP.

Altogether, COP26 brought a clear sense of change – the climate agenda is becoming more and more relevant for the off-grid solar industry. Our presence there was only the beginning. We want to invite you to join us at the next step: our Global Off-Grid Solar Finance Summit the 8th and 9th of December. We will highlight the $20 billion investment opportunity off-grid solar represents and discuss how we can use the COP26 results to mobilize new capital, boost our industry and help achieve universal energy access.

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