How do we get to 100 percent renewable power for the poor?

Leaders of government, business and communities from around the world will gather together in solidarity for global climate action at the One Planet Summit in France Tuesday. The summit marks two years since the Paris Agreement was adopted and, with a focus on climate finance, is a timely opportunity to highlight the vast potential that adequate climate finance can unlock across the developing world.
Not only do many developing countries urgently need to adapt their infrastructure and systems to deal with the impacts of climate change, and find solutions to address its unavoidable impacts, but poor and vulnerable countries also face the unique and unprecedented challenge of lifting their people out of poverty in a sustainable manner, without relying on fossil fuels.
This is where renewable energy comes into play.
Over 1 billion people worldwide lack access to basic electricity. This has wide-ranging impacts on health, communication, productivity, education and wellbeing. Renewable energy has the potential to close this gap and meet the electricity needs of the world’s poorest without exceeding the planet’s limited remaining carbon budget.
But it goes beyond that — renewable energy is the answer to all needs, including enhanced farming, food processing, local businesses and industrialisation. The people-centred, smart-energy systems of the future can be and will need to be 100 percent renewable energy.
These renewable energy systems will be the most important means of driving meaningful economic development across all our communities. Innovative approaches to renewable energy that empower people through enabling households or communities to generate their own power are proliferating.
From household solar systems and biomass burners that create power from excess waste to micro-hydro systems that power community minigrids and larger wind farms and solar installations, an increasing range of technology is becoming available at increasingly cheaper prices.
The challenge lies in making these solutions available to those who need it the most.
Many developing country governments lack the resources to provide renewable electricity to all. Instead, non-governmental organisations and businesses often lead the charge, particularly in the solar sector, with products such as portable solar lights or solar home systems sold cheaply in large numbers, but the need to profit makes it difficult for businesses to reach the poorest of the poor and those in remote and rural areas.
Access to finance for governments, business and NGOs is sparse. The perceived riskiness of the decentralised renewables sector leads to higher interest rates and a lack of finance available in local currencies.
Given the challenges facing renewable energy, there is a need for greater in-country support to develop the policies and regulations behind the ambitious goals of many developing countries. It is important that this is a true capacity building effort, building local institutions and businesses to enable them to learn and replicate what works in their country and region.
At COP22 in Marrakech last year, the Marrakech Global Partnership on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency was launched. This partnership is designed to form the ‘roof’ atop the pillars of key regional initiatives in Africa, Latin America, the Small Island Developing States, and the 47 poorest countries in the world known as the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
It will accelerate the global energy system by helping initiatives on renewable energy and energy efficiency through sharing information and best practices, enhancing transparency and communications, identifying gaps, improving institutional capacity and enabling the scaling up of finance and support. As with any house, construction of the Marrakech Global Partnership has begun by laying a firm foundation and building each pillar from the ground up.
As this work takes place, there are some great successes the Global Partnership can learn from: in Bangladesh over 5 million solar home systems have been installed through funding from the national Infrastructure Development Company Limited; Nicaragua is currently on a journey to 100 percent renewable energy; and in East Africa the cost of solar home systems has fallen so low that households on less than $1 a day can afford to light their homes with clean electricity.
The regional initiatives seek to replicate these successes. In the LDCs, for example, the LDC Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Initiative (REEEI) is being developed to provide support for renewable energy through stimulating the use of energy for sectors such as agriculture and small businesses, strengthening energy planning and national institutional frameworks, tackling policy and regulatory barriers, facilitating bottom-up local investments and supporting innovation.
The Marrakech Global Partnership will play a key role in advancing the interests and building the capacity of the regional initiatives it unites. To flourish, however, initiatives like REEEI need bespoke donor finance that facilitates a bottom-up, capacity building approach that utilises local expertise rather than international consultants, addresses the gaps and shortfalls in global funding and private sector investment, and provides the patient in-country support that enables local people and institutions to learn and replicate what works.
Renewable energy will enable developing countries to leapfrog to energy systems that not only provide electricity to millions of energy-poor households, but also strengthen public sectors and foster thriving economic development, while averting a massive ramping up of greenhouse gas emissions through the use of polluting fuel sources.
The aims of the One Planet Summit are to take tangible and collective action, to innovate, and to support one another. Support from the global community for initiatives like REEEI and the Marrakech Global Partnership offer tangible and innovative ways to work collectively – rapidly moving beyond the fossil-fuel based economy of today to the clean, green economy of tomorrow that is fundamental to ensuring a safe and prosperous future for all.

Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, the lead climate negotiator for the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a former chair of the Least Developed Country climate negotiating bloc and sits on the board of the Green Climate Fund.