Upon returning from COP28 in Dubai late last week, the need to address the energy needs of the developing world is more pressing now than ever before. My conversations with leaders from across the globe at COP made it abundantly clear that the energy transition cannot be achieved without simultaneously providing energy access and security to the billions of people across the world still living in energy poverty. We must continue to prioritize energy accessibility —such as expanding energy access and alleviating energy poverty—as we focus on how to mitigate the effects of climate change and slow the rise of temperatures globally.
Equity and justice are core to the mission of the Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) at Columbia University SIPA. A year ago at COP27, CGEP launched the Energy Opportunity Lab (EOL), an innovative program to address energy insecurity and inequity across both developed and developing economies. A few weeks prior to COP28, CGEP hosted its inaugural Energy Opportunity Forum to discuss solutions for energy insecurity in the United States and how to unlock clean energy finance across the African continent.
The Energy Opportunity Forum was the culmination of almost a year of hard work from our EOL team. Led by Co-Directors Dr. Diana Hernández and Andrew Kamau, the forum brought together over 150 attendees and participants, including researchers and students from across Columbia University, and featured local, federal, and international experts leading work on energy poverty, insecurity, and justice.
CGEP’s Senior Director of Research, Melissa Lott, kicked off the forum by highlighting global improvements in health and quality of life over the past 50 years, while noting that hundreds of millions of people still lack access to electricity, and energy services remain unreliable for billions more.
I moderated a discussion with our EOL Co-directors Dr. Diana Hernández and Andrew Kamau. Our conversation highlighted the Lab’s focus on actionable research, with clear pathways to translate findings into policy and practice. The discussion revealed Diana and Andrew’s wide range of expertise. One key insight they shared with me was the importance of quantifying the scope and scale of lacking energy access, and of building trust between community organizations and research institutions. They also emphasized the important role academics can play in bringing ethics and integrity to research.
The half-day program showcased some of the leading voices in energy access, justice, and equity, including:
Matthew Harris—founder of bedari collective, founding partner at Global Infrastructure Partners, and chair of the CGEP Advisory Board—brought the event to a close. Matt spoke eloquently on the centrality of energy access as both a humanitarian and a climate issue. Expanding it, he said, would help build a thriving global community, and would be key to navigating the complexities of global decarbonization and the energy transition.
One thing that stood out to me personally at the Energy Opportunity Forum was the enthusiasm of our diverse community that came together to be a part of these critical and timely conversations. The event laid bare the tremendous concern and enthusiasm in the Columbia community for solving these challenges. Seeing how this topic resonated so closely with those in attendance was a special moment for me as Founding Director of CGEP—particularly in the Center’s tenth year of existence.
It goes without saying that none of this could have been possible without CGEP’s outstanding EOL leadership, Co-Director’s Diana Hernández and Andrew Kamau, and the tireless work of Senior Research Associate Vivek Shastry (who I would also add served as an outstanding Master of Ceremonies for the Forum’s program) and Research Associate Qëndresa Krasniqi.
Energy opportunity, justice, and equity sit at the heart of the energy transition, and with COP28 coming to a conclusion, the themes and conversations discussed at the Energy Opportunity Forum will be a key determining factor in the success of the global energy transition. CGEP and the Energy Opportunity Lab are working to be at the forefront of these issues, and will continue to develop actionable solutions to these challenges in the years ahead.
I recently returned from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where I joined roughly 84,000 people for the largest climate conference ever: COP28.
The Energy Opportunity Lab (EOL) at Columbia University SIPA’s Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) organized the Energy Opportunity Forum in New York on November 17, 2023.
Nearly 775 million people around the globe are estimated to have no access to electricity. In 2022, that number rose.
This commentary contextualizes the scale of persistent energy burdens in both emerging and developed economies.