Concept note

Kyiv, Ukraine, 12-15 November 2018
Concept Note

Full version of concept note and draft outcome document of the Ninth International Forum on Energy for Sustainable Development is available here.


There is no commonly agreed definition of what energy for sustainable development is or how it will be achieved. As national circumstances vary significantly, countries will choose different pathways to meet commitments they have made, including under the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement. Analysis to date of the progress that has been made shows that much greater effort is needed, including much bolder policy commitments, substantial financing, and a willingness to embrace the range of technology solutions on a wide scale. Countries will act in ways that reflect their unique national circumstances to meet the commitments they have made. Their choices will be made in the broader context of their economies as a whole and can be expected to be economically and socially rational, targeting quality of life and not just access to affordable, modern, and clean energy.

The Ninth International Forum on Energy for Sustainable Development (the Ninth Forum) is an opportunity to reflect on the implications of accelerating and re-directing change. Technology innovation and decarbonization require accompanying social innovation, so the Ninth Forum will explore measures to close the gaps between action and ambition. Emphasis will be given to the resilience of energy infrastructure and the nexus areas in the context of a circular economy to improve resource efficiency. The Forum will focus on disruptive drivers that are at play, and how they can be used favorably to shape energy for sustainable development. The event will unite all technology options with regional cooperation, investment and financing aspects.

The intent is to agree on a balanced set of options for countries to pursue concretely and effectively in both the near term and the longer term and to inform key political processes about collective insights on energy for sustainable development. The event will consider the solutions proposed during the Energy Ministerial at the outset of the Eighth Forum held in Astana, Kazakhstan, on 11 June 2017, and enhance the collective recommendations as a further milestone in the international forum process.


The International Forum on Energy for Sustainable Development is a platform that provides context and enables clear-sighted action. This Ninth Forum will combine an opening ministerial session with plenary sessions, parallel workshops and site visits over four days. Through a series of multi-stakeholder panels and discussions, the Forum will explore what energy for sustainable development means and how cooperation and concerted action could deliver the 2030 Agenda.

The importance of collaboration to achieve sustainability cannot be overstated. Partnerships and multi-stakeholder collaboration at scale at all levels are essential for achieving the 2030 Agenda. A collaboration among the United Nations system, governments, civil society, financial institutions, and the private sector is needed to leverage expertise and resources to address the complex and interlinked challenges of energy for sustainable development.
The Forum is organized jointly by the Government of Ukraine and the United Nations Regional Commissions in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), UN Environment, The World Bank, International Energy Agency (IEA), International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Global Environment Facility (GEF), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), International Energy Charter, International Energy Forum (IEF), and the Copenhagen Centre on Energy Efficiency, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology UMSICHT, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Dartmouth College, and Climate Action Network (CAN). The Forum will attract international energy experts, government officials, and representatives from the business community, financial sector, academia and civil society to share perspectives on how sustainable energy systems can be designed and implemented. It will also include the annual sessions of the UNECE Groups of Experts on Energy Efficiency and on Renewable Energy. Among the planned parallel workshops are a regional workshop on Pathways to Sustainable Energy and the fourth meeting of the Joint Task Force on Energy Efficiency Standards in Buildings.

In 2017, the five Regional Commissions worked with the World Bank and the International Energy Agency to assess the world’s progress on sustainable energy. The conclusion was that the energy sector’s support for the 2030 Agenda is at risk of faltering because the rate of improvement in energy efficiency, deployment of net low carbon energy solutions, and provision of sustainable access to modern energy services are insufficient. Accelerated and concrete measures are needed to improve energy productivity, rationalize energy use, optimize energy resources, and deploy sustainable energy technology and infrastructure. The Ninth Forum will feature an honest and rational conversation about key challenges including energy security, fossil fuel dependency, lack of information, and inadequate capabilities to effect change. Attaining the objectives of the 2030 Agenda will require full engagement of industry to transform energy. It is essential to monitor progress on energy for sustainable development in ways that reflect the cross-cutting interconnections among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), at a minimum, linkages among SDG 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 15, and 171.

Certain options for improving the overall performance of today’s energy system often are excluded for reasons of public perception and emotions, politics, imposed market distortions, or environmental and safety concerns. Truly transforming the energy system will require creative shifts in policy and regulation including treating energy as a series of services rather than as a series of commodities. In many countries, the current political, regulatory, and industrial infrastructure is not yet ready for such a transformation and countries are not yet alert to challenges that will emerge with the 2030 Agenda. Today’s economic infrastructure is not ready to embrace the implications of the new normal.
The Ninth Forum will deliberate on emerging opportunities and concerns. The Forum proposes activities grouped in four parallel pillars:

1) Energy transition and decarbonization;
2) Robust energy systems and infrastructure resilience;

3) Matchmaking and investor confidence;
4) Hot topics and deep dives.

1. Energy transition and de-carbonization

The first pillar of the Ninth Forum will explore cost-effective decarbonization of energy. International cooperation can reinforce national actions and thereby accelerate transformation. The nexus among energy and other key development areas (e.g. water, air, food, health, education, and gender) suggests that opportunity lies in cross-sector perspectives and holistic decision-making.

The development and deployment of clean technologies and their interplay with existing infrastructure lie at the heart of options that are available to build the future energy system over the medium term, especially as 80% of today’s energy is fossil-based. For instance, as of January 2018 more than 656 GW of new coal capacity has been in construction worldwide (but net additions from 2017 to 2040, i.e. considering the decommissioning, is expected only at the level of around 400 GW).

The number of people whose national incomes and livelihoods depend on fossil energy is important. As a consequence, the energy transition requires rapid but careful management – enhancing quality of life as the central objective obliges connected policy approaches that optimize across the entire 2030 Agenda, including notably decarbonization and climate, energy access, water and environment, and health.

The world’s carbon intensity of energy has remained mainly flat over the past twenty years with minor increase in 2017.

Additions of renewable energy capacity have yet to deliver the needed and expected decarbonization. Recent studies show no correlation between additions of power from renewable energy sources and the overall net carbon intensity of energy. While “energy for sustainable development” is about more than just energy and climate, energy is the key sector for meeting climate objectives. However, action to reduce energy-related emissions is not currently included in about half of the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) submitted to UNFCCC. When such actions are included, they do not necessarily cover emissions from all sources of energy and t is not always clear that pledges in NDCs are consistent with existing national energy policies and plans.

2. Robust energy systems and infrastructure resilience

This pillar will examine energy infrastructure, resilience and planning and proposes to provide a platform to explore various angles. The adequate integration of climate risks in the planning of climate sensitive investments requires a change in mindset away from conventional behavior and practices to an integrated framework approach that brings together climate information, climate impact assessment and decision-making for investment. Such a paradigm shift requires credible climate information used with appropriate modelling tools and supported by dedicated institutions to better inform policy and development planning.
For example, the recent World Bank/ UNECA study on "Enhancing the climate resilience of Africa's infrastructure" (ECRAI) showed that proper integration of climate change in the planning and design of infrastructure investments can reduce considerably the risk posed by the climate of the future to the physical and economic performance of hydropower and irrigation investments.2 To sustain Africa’s growth and accelerate the eradication of extreme poverty, investment in infrastructure is fundamental.

The 2010 Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic found that investment of some US$ 93 billion per year for the next decade will need to be invested to enable Africa to fill its infrastructure gap. The Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), endorsed in 2012 by the continent’s Heads of State and Government, lays out an ambitious long-term plan for closing Africa’s infrastructure gap, including through major increases in hydroelectric power generation and water storage capacity. Much of this investment will support the construction of long-lived infrastructure (e.g. dams, power stations, irrigation canals, etc.) that may be vulnerable to changes in climatic patterns though the direction and magnitude of the climatic changes remain uncertain.

The more profound the transition that is undertaken towards low-carbon energy and green economy, the more competitive and sustainable a country’s economy will be in the future. For example, great potential lies in the transformation of large industrial complexes and modernizing energy infrastructure comprehensively. There are a number of industrial complexes around the world where mining, power generation, metallurgy, manufacturing and shipping facilities have been integrated into dense, interrelated businesses. Cities and populated areas have grown around these large industrial complexes with their employment opportunities, and they are now vulnerable to environmental impacts and social upheaval. When countries modernize their mining and energy sectors it is in their best interest do so sustainably. Cities and regions around the globe are key contributors with innovative solutions. When done in partnership and developed transparently and openly, modernization of large industrial complexes can lead to innovation-led, socially and environmentally responsible sustainable national energy strategies.

There is also a great challenge across the globe in renovating existing buildings, especially multi-apartment residential ones. Poor maintenance of these buildings in cities has resulted in poor energy performance and also led to social burdens, aging housing stock, common spaces in poor technical condition, safety hazards, and energy poverty. In many countries, multiple demonstration projects showcase modern technology for energy efficient renovation. However, many of the high-technology buildings do not sustain their performance over time as there is poor understanding of the required technical expertise. The human factor presents a huge challenge in organizing energy-efficient renovation of residential multi-apartment buildings in addition to the technological, managerial and financial challenges.

3. Matchmaking and investor confidence

The Ninth Forum represents a renewed opportunity for the financial and energy communities to network and explore partnerships in the wider context of the 2030 Agenda. Building on last year’s demand, matchmaking activities are offered to facilitate a dialogue about possibilities for developing sustainable energy and promoting transformational investment and about lingering issues that might hamper investments. Participants have the opportunity to discuss key issues, identify priorities and propose concrete recommendations for policy changes needed to overcome political, legal, regulatory, technical barriers and take advantage of clean energy potential.

With respect to renewable energy, over the past decades most countries adopted detailed renewable energy strategies with ambitious goals and financial support mechanisms to facilitate investment. Global new investments in renewable power and fuels marked new records in 2017. However, these measures have not proven sufficient to foster renewable energy investment and deployment in all countries alike, and the level of investments on renewable energy projects is far from sufficient to reach the ambitious climate change and sustainable development goals. While the costs of renewable energy may be falling, the cost of integrating intermittent sources of energy into the grid is not. Therefore, the challenge goes beyond financing investments and involves approaching a sustainable energy mix from a broader angle and applying broad thinking to a net zero-carbon energy system.

However, it is not only the renewable energy community that is facing difficulties to access financing. It is equally challenging to operate to the highest standards in existing power plants with limited access to finance for modernization and grid integration. The Forum offers a platform to voice concerns about fossil fuel financing for those that attempt to provide populations with electricity access, grid stability and a diversified energy mix. Full transformation of the energy system requires alignment of investment incentives with the objectives of the 2030 Agenda. The Forum will offer opportunities to improve confidence in transformational, long-term investments in energy for sustainable development as a whole. The workshops and activities proposed in this pillar are intended to support all actors participating in the energy development and deployment process.

4. Hot topics and deep dives

The approach taken for the first time in the forum process is a pillar designed for deeper dives into selected topics of interest. The topics at the Ninth Forum include the impact of digitalization, sustainable resource management, and other topics of unique impact to drive change.

Digitalization lies at the heart of change in modern society, how we live, travel, and do business. In modern economies, without a digital infrastructure there would be no energy production, distribution or use. Questions of security, dependency, privacy and disruption are arising as industrial players and utilities invest in digitalization in a major way. There is little information on the value digital technology provides to the energy industry. This deep dive will discuss where are the biggest pay-offs lie, which services are growing fastest, which technologies show the biggest promise, and how business models are evolving in response.

Few institutions have made resource productivity a priority. The global economy is increasingly characterized by greater resource scarcity and a desire to reduce waste. Adopting innovative approaches and taking the lead on resource productivity would strengthen competitiveness and improve economic robustness.

Improving energy efficiency in buildings is the single largest opportunity to save resources and address climate change, it also makes good business sense to develop improved building envelopes, insulation, more efficient heating and cooling systems and the like. The transition to sustainable energy consumption requires action on different scales, from installation of equipment in individual buildings to development of infrastructure on district, city and regional levels. Some energy solutions are complementary (e.g., a building can be equipped with different types of energy efficient equipment from lighting to heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems), while other solutions are alternative (e.g., a building can be heated by an individual heating system or connected to a district heating network). In practice, implementation of energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions involves a multitude of stakeholders, from energy consumers and installers to utilities, energy program administrators and government authorities. In this context, effective coordination between the stakeholders based on high quality data is an important success factor.

Many countries and cities have started to use big and geo-spatial data for the successful implementation of sustainable energy projects, e.g. for the estimation of the renewable energy potential on country level, the development of city energy infrastructure plans or the identification of energy saving potentials for individual energy consumers. Events around this topic will introduce participants to the underlying thought process and technology as well as facilitate an international experience exchange based on case studies, as the respective data management and analysis methods can be easily applied in different locations.


The Ninth Forum provides a unique opportunity to build upon the achievements of previous fora and develop a roadmap for what participants would like to achieve in the short- and medium-term with regards to the 2030 Agenda.
Outcome documents from the previous two fora3 called for a deep long-term transition to a sustainable energy future and set out concrete steps the United Nations Regional Commissions and their member States could take. The actions were discussed at the Eighth International Forum on Energy for Sustainable Development and Energy Ministerial and were endorsed by participating ministers:

• Accelerating the transition to a sustainable energy system;
• Improving energy efficiency in buildings;
• Improving energy efficiency in industry;
• Accelerating the uptake of renewables;
• Understanding the role of natural gas ;
• Valuing coal mine methane;
• Extending deployment of United Nations Framework Classification for Resources;
• Reducing the environmental footprint of fossil energy through deployment of high efficiency, low emissions technology and carbon capture use and storage;
• Building on international cooperation and collaboration; and
• Improving data quality and indicators.

The Ninth Forum and its energy ministerial will provide a reality check on the real state of the energy transition through an honest and informed debate on the need to modernize fossil-based economies and the drive towards a green economy.
Such a system notably would address all aspects of sustainable development 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. All nations are committed and are in the process of developing or implementing their approach to achieving their interpretation of sustainable energy and the 2030 Agenda. It is necessary that each country recognizes the perspectives and the drivers of the others, that there is not a single approach to the transition but a multitude of approaches. What truly matters is that the collective outcome delivers the needed results and that this collective approach can achieve these targets faster than individual national or sectoral actions.