Feb. 22, 2023

Ep118: Achim Steiner "Sustaining Development"

This week on Cleaning Up, Michael welcomed Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and co-chair of UN Energy. Michael had questions for Achim on UNDP’s roster of initiatives, balancing climate priorities with development goals, and how to clear a path to financing billions of dollars of clean infrastructure in the midst of a global energy crisis.

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Edited Highlights: CLICK HERE

Links and Related Episodes: 

Learn more about UNDP: CLICK HERE

Over 120 countries are part of UNDP’s Climate Promise: CLICK HERE

Discover UNDP’s Sustainable Finance Hub: CLICK HERE

Many of the episodes mentioned can be found in our ‘United Nations’ playlist on YouTube: CLICK HERE

Watch Episode 98 with Bill McKibben: CLICK HERE

Watch Episode 59 with Alain Ebobissé: CLICK HERE

Guest Bio

Achim Steiner became Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme in 2017, and is also the Vice-Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group. Steiner has been a global leader on sustainable development, climate resilience and international cooperation for nearly three decades.

Prior to joining UNDP, he was Director of the Oxford Martin School and Professorial Fellow of Balliol College, University of Oxford. He led the United Nations Environment Programme (2006-2016), and was Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi. Steiner previously held positions including Director General of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and Secretary General of the World Commission on Dams.

Steiner graduated in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (MA) from Worcester College, Oxford University, and holds an MA from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).


Michael Liebreich So, Achim, thanks so much for joining us here today.

Achim Steiner Good to be with you, Michael. Thank you.

ML Now it looks like you are in a plush office, is that somewhere in New York?

AS Very modest office, but with a fantastic view over the East River and on a sunny day in New York. So, from that point of view, no complaints.

ML The way we always start is, I'm going to ask you to describe what you do in your own words. Partly because if I try I'll just mangle it, and get it wrong. So, give us the thumbnail sketch.

AS Well, in my current position, I am what is referred to as the Administrator of the United Nations Development Program, essentially the head of the organization; an organization that is at the centre of the UN's development system, which is well over 30 agencies, funds and programs, amongst them UNICEF, or the ILO, or the WTO. We are the agencies that, essentially, work in the name of the UN across the world with countries on addressing major challenges. And UNDP emerged out of an era of aid financing in the 60s, and has always been at the centre of the UN's development system over the years. Today, I have the privilege of leading a team that consists of about 22,000 staff, working in 170 countries around the world, focused on basically all the major development choices and themes that countries need to confront; whether it's poverty, inequality, digitalization, energy transitions. That's our daily work across the world.

ML Very good. And now, the UNDP is the largest of those agencies, is that right?

AS In terms of a presence on the ground across the world? Yes. I mean, there are some entities that have higher financial turnover, some may have more staff, but in terms of being the UN's development presence on the ground? Yes, we have the strongest footprint.

ML And in terms of the financials, the numerical metrics, the dollars, how much are you - and then we need to get on to whether you're spending it, investing it giving it away - but what are the numbers? And actually, then what is the model for dispersing it?

AS Well, essentially, our financing has always been not that of an international financial institution. We are not in the business of lending countries money: UNDP is the platform on which wealthier countries, essentially, invest financing in the form of grants, technical support, to countries that are in the midst of their development process. So, last year, in the year 2022, UNDP had the highest turnover in 10 years - delivery, as we call it, in terms of funds expended through projects, programs, support - of around $4.8 billion for 2022. But what is very significant is that over the years, particularly as ODA - i.e. development assistance - is increasingly focused on least-developed countries, we have seen many more countries -middle income, upper middle income countries - retain UNDP services. So, over 25% of our total financing is in fact developing countries paying to have UNDP as an advisor, as a partner, and implementing programs in their countries. So, this is also part of the equation, let's say, of the financing of UNDP.

ML So, just to be clear, you used the word there 'invest'; you said this is the more developed countries, the wealthier countries, investing. But actually, they're not investing at all - that would be the World Bank or lots of other programs that do investing. This is actually grants and development work. So, studies, research, etc. Is that correct?

AS Well, I use the term investing very deliberately. And I acknowledge that yes, in traditional financial sector terms, that means you lend somebody some money or you invest in something and you want your investment back. This is a different form of investment. This is co-investing in poverty eradication and greater resilience to pandemics. It's essentially the promise of development cooperation of our age; it's not development aid anymore; it's not charity; it's not just a transfer. It's the realization, also, with the Sustainable Development Goals, clearly pointing us to the fact that if we don't invest in one another's capacity to address these great risks to our development, then we will all be victims of these failures. And that's why I deliberately use the term... Money that is transacted through UNDP is also a co-investment in the development of others, but also in the well-being of those who provide those funds.

ML Presumably, it's an investment in the sense that if those countries then get onto a good development path, that their economies will grow, then we will benefit through trade, or through other opportunities from that. So, in a in a sense, it is a financial investment, but one with a very loose linkage. Is that part of the theory?

AS Yes, and the return on investment arises not in the repayment of the loan or the interest, it arises in greater global security, human security. Or, let's touch on a topic we will spend some time discussing today: energy transitions. If you want to help the world move on to a low-carbon, net-zero path on emissions, then enabling poorer countries to accelerate that transition faster is actually both a benefit to the developing country, but equally to the wealthier countries who - as we all know - have traditionally been the major emitters of CO2. It's a different investment proposition, it's a different way of measuring return on investment, but ultimately, the logic applies: we're all better off if we reduce the vulnerabilities and the inequalities across the globe.

ML You're doing my job for me, because you've sort of done the segue into climate and clean energy. So, Cleaning Up is about leadership in the age of climate change, and so, I want to drill into this question of why you focus on anything to do with climate and energy. Why is that one of your priorities? Not why you should be bothered at all, but why do you consider it a core priority for UNDP to see things through the lens of climate and clean energy?

AS Well, first of all, as the UN's development programme, I don't think I have to explain in great detail that essentially, climate change is a major threat to development; whether development that has already been achieved or future development in countries across the world. So, any development agency that does not take climate change seriously as a variable in thinking about the future of development, is essentially abdicating its responsibility. And - already my predecessors [tried] - but I have particularly in the last few years also, tried to bring the climate change challenge into the centre of UNDP's work; not through the narrow lens, necessarily, of carbon emission reductions, but rather on pathways towards access to energy, but access to clean energy; the financing of energy transitions, that are part of a natural logic of development progress. But let me also go back to the fundamental realization, that we still live in a world where one out of ten people don't have access to electricity - many of them in the African continent, but also in other parts of the world - well over 700 million people. Access to electricity, access to clean electricity, is part of a development mandate that we take extremely seriously in UNDP. And if you take the Sustainable Development Goals: we have an SDG7 on energy, and we have an SDG13 on climate change. In UNDP, you can run an SDG13 project, or an SDG project; in fact, we're doing the same thing, and that's part of that integrated logic, that in helping poor people have access to electricity... The number one driver of development progress for the - not just the last 200 years, but actually for thousands of years in different forms - is actually at the heart of also addressing development deficits. But we have a race against time, and this is why in our current strategic plan, we made a commitment to try and contribute to 500 million people gaining access to clean and affordable electricity. It's a fundamental development commitment, and it's a fundamental realization that the energy systems of the future have to be decarbonized.

ML Let me push on that, because your mandate is development, right? There's a clue, in UND[P,] the D is development, right? And if you are in any way slowing down the access to reliable electricity - or indeed to other forms of energy that might be used in industry - but if you're in any way slowing that down, surely you are going against your mandate? And there are those that would say all of this stuff is irrelevant; these 700 million people without access to electricity, you could give them all access to electricity, it would make no difference whatsoever, meaningfully, to climate, because they're still poor and won't use much. And what you should be doing, if you want to help on climate, is all about the rapidly developing countries, that - a few of them China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, a few others - those are ones that could move the dial. But for those 700 million with no access to electricity; I mean, what are you doing, trying to get them to renewables? And all this is a distraction, surely?

AS Well your assumption, or presumption, is that we can't do both, and we have been doing both. We have been engaged, for example, in China for the last 15 years in helping China to develop its hydrogen economy. Not so much as an institution that is working on the technology end, but rather helping to create a development context with universities, with the private sector, with local government, for example, in running bus fleets, and also national research institutions, in order to allow the kinds of technologies to emerge that could add to a further, let's say, pathway to decarbonize China's energy systems. We are very actively engaged, sometimes actually as a partner, who is also learning and benefiting, from India's extraordinary commitment to by 2030, install 480,000 megawatts of renewable energy infrastructure, just as we are concerned, for instance, about a continent like Africa, where to this day, only 600 to 700 million people have access to electricity. Let's assume, for a moment, every African by 2050 will have access to electricity; that's somewhere close to 2 billion people. That would add more people to the electricity grid, globally-speaking, in the next 25 years than China has in the last 50 years. So again, here is a question of not thinking about the future in terms of the present or the past; look ahead. And this is future-smart UNDP at work; it's been very much my focus to think about the future of development, anticipate where the great shifts, transitions, will take place, and not to simply focus on those who have the highest carbon emissions or the most poor people. The UN Development Programme is engaged in all of these countries, because in fact, we are relevant to their choices and decisions.

ML Maybe let's come back to this question of the mission to get clean energy versus not-clean energy, we've jumped ahead. I think, first, let's hear about some of the programs that you run, some of your initiatives. Because I think that will flesh it out for - our audience is, of course, very smart, very switched-on, but they may not be familiar with all of the initiatives that you run. So, can you give us some of the major blocks that you work on, how you disperse the money, how you accelerate development in these countries?

AS Sure, and let's take a bit of a timeline: 15 years ago, we were part of the international institutions that were pioneering the proof of concept; the notion that somehow, for developing countries, opting for, or engaging in a renewable energy infrastructure path, would somehow be too costly would, slow down the development. So, many pilot projects, particularly supported through the Global Environment Facility, where countries invited UNDP to be their, essentially, R&D partner, were the core of our portfolio. Over the years, increasingly countries have begun to see the economics, the viability; in fact, the shortcut to access to energy. So, we now are developing programs that, first of all, begin with a de-risking. It's not just public finance, it's not just aid finance, or development cooperation finance; it's the private sector that needs to become a major investor in helping countries to expand energy infrastructure. How can we help them to the risk an energy market? Deal with an often postcolonial legislative framework, state monopolies in the electricity sector, and make it more viable to actually attract private sector investment? And, again, I mean, India is a unique economy in many ways, but most people don't realize that India is investing private sector finance, or essentially leveraging private sector finance, for virtually all of that 480,000-megawatt energy infrastructure, renewable energy infrastructure that's invested right now. The IEA just came out with a figure that said somewhere around $380 billion, I think it was, were expended in 2021, on renewable energy infrastructure. Do you know how much of that was actually invested in Africa? Just $13 billion - that's 3%, or 4%, of the total. That's, in a sense, the challenge we face: we need to look at the developing world; we need to figure out how to first of all, de-risk the investment environment; to pilot the kinds of renewable energy solutions that may emerge. And let's be clear, there are many: there's geothermal, there's solar, there's wind, there's hydrogen. You know, the possibilities are expanding, the cost per unit kilowatt hour [is] coming down. We now get to a point where we need to attract significant investment capital. Part of it is also to help countries to address energy poverty. No country will escape poverty if most of its citizens don't have access to electricity. So, a new program of UNDP is now working with mini-grids across 21 African countries. Do you know how many people could potentially benefit from having access to electricity if these programs are invested in - this is roughly $60 billion it would take over the next five years? 265 million people. That's the kind of transformative renewable energy infrastructure that we're working towards. And on top of that, Michael, let me just say: we work very much with a focus on the countries, but because we are in so many countries, we also contribute to a global public good: the ability to advance in addressing climate change through development answers, and that's why we developed two and a half years ago, the Climate Promise, which was our commitment to help 100 developing countries to update their nationally-determined contributions, their national climate strategies, with more ambition in the lead up to Glasgow. We are now engaged with over 120 countries in turning these national strategies into investment plans. That's the kind of work that we believe is ultimately most likely to give developing countries a confidence that the future of net-zero is in fact not slowing down development; it's the only way for them to go in the coming years.

ML And that Climate Promise Programme, does that operate across mitigation only? So, avoiding the use of fossil energy, the leap-frog to clean? Or does that also cover adaptation?

AS Well, I'm proud to say that UNDP already, since a number of years, has a 50%-50% approach to this portfolio; in part because, in so many developing countries, we are seeing the urgency of having to adapt to climate change. And frankly, in my years when I had the privilege of leading UNEP, the first Adaptation Gap Reports were published, and to me, it was an eye-opener of how much money, how much development funding, that countries would normally invest in infrastructure, in modernization, now has to already be diverted to simply deal with adaptation needs. So, in many ways, it's an extraordinary tax on development, because for reasons that have largely to do with others' decisions, emissions track records, many countries in the developing world now have to invest in simply staying in the same place. And if we watch the news over the last two or three years, the number of extreme weather events that are increasing, the amount of damage that is being recorded, it just shows you what a tragic moment we have reached. Essentially, having waited for too long, and now having to divert an extraordinary amount of money, that first of all, could go to basic health infrastructure, education, or indeed, investing in energy infrastructure, access to energy, and essentially now having to be diverted to maybe dealing with the risks of coastal zone flooding, of extreme flood events, of droughts. And that's the story of development also in the year 2022.

ML If we just pause a second and take stock, just to make sure mainly that I've understood, and make sure that our audience is keeping up. So, you've got this $4.8 billion a year, and you're spending it. The countries, it sounds like, are also commissioning you. So, there may be... some of that money, most of that will come from the developed world, but maybe some of it is coming from the countries themselves. And you are helping them to develop their national development strategies. Not only, but including climate strategies, if I'm right? And then you are also in a sense pump-priming some of those developments with grants and disbursements of funds?

AS Yes, that's right, Michael.

ML Very good. Can you give us an understanding, within all of that, how substantial are climate and energy programs? Or infrastructure, so kind of the net zero, is that half of what you do, does it touch everything that you do? Is it a separate set of programs?

AS Now, I would say in terms of a portfolio right now, it's maybe between a quarter and a third of our work. Obviously, it varies from year to year; I mean, we have a very broad portfolio. And sometimes, you know, the work that we currently do on sustainable finance, is very often linked also to the climate and energy question. So, the Integrated National Financing Frameworks that UNDP is supporting in 86 countries right now, which are helping countries - who are coming out of the pandemic and in the current economic crisis facing recession - is helping them to prioritize, for instance, how to use public expenditure, where to look at blended finance. That work obviously, immediately translates also into changing the conditions, the framework conditions for investment in renewable energy. In some countries, we're also advising the Just Energy Transition Partnerships. Sometimes the financial volume may not reflect the significance of our engagement, because our work can often involve advisory work. And we are also looking, for instance, right now, in terms of the debt problem - that is of ever greater concern to us - how could that restructuring, the injection of liquidity; and as the Secretary General has called for an SDG stimulus to help the world come out of this crisis, also leverage more investment in clean energy transitions, for instance, through debt-for-climate initiatives, on a significantly larger scale. And you will remember that in some parts of the world, the energy infrastructure will grow exponentially. Take the African continent the next 20 years. If we don't step up now and find ways to mobilize capital - investment capital, concessional loans, and also yes, grant financing - then we're essentially condemning many African nations to having to go to the lowest bidder. And unfortunately, as we have seen, the financial markets, the energy sector, is still one that is largely a product of the past rather than of the future. And it is these kinds of inertia factors that we're also trying to address with multiple approaches to our policy advisory work.

ML Energy, absolutely, as I'm hearing it, then energy, very core to your programs. You come from a long tradition by the way of Cleaning Up guests who have seen energy really as the kind of red thread that runs through development work. That's Ban Ki-moon, that's Kandeh Yumkella, Rachel Kyte, Damilola Ogunbiyi. And, in fact, you have another role, which really, in a sense, cements that position to my view, which is that you are also co-chair of something called UN Energy with Damilola. Can you talk to me about UN Energy?

AS Well, within our UN family of agencies, funds and programs, which are well over 30 different entities, there are some who have a very direct engagement in energy access, to electricity. But then there are many who also work in, essentially, the consumption end of electricity or in opportunities to change investment decisions. Take the health sector: working with WHO, for instance, we are looking at the whole health infrastructure and how it can be a part of making that transition to net-zero. Sometimes it's looking at the large-scale hospitals infrastructure; at other times, it's for instance, with the Global Fund, we have inserted into our work to support countries in gaining access to antiretroviral drugs, for instance, a component to solarize rural health centres; improving the cold chain, creating more access to electricity in these very remote areas, and allowing the new digital data frontier to become part of managing the health system. All because the installation of relatively cheap photovoltaic panels suddenly connected these remote health centres to a national health system. So, in UN Energy, what we're trying to do is in a sense, take these different threads with which all our agencies work - FAO, for instance, but UNIDO - and see if we can find areas in which working more deliberately and by design together, we can actually achieve greater impact.

ML Now if I was to be provocative - you know I hate doing that, but - isn't this really, doesn't this just highlight the dysfunction of the UN, really? The fact that you've got to have UN Energy coordinating; because you've got UNDP, and you've described the programs there; you've got UNIDO, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, which, you know... I don't know where development stops and industrial development starts; you've got the five ECOSOC organizations, the Environmental Commissions, the African one, the ECA, but you've got five of them; you've got UN SEforAll, so that's Damilola's organization, formally run by Rachel Kyte, and before that Kandeh Yumkella; you've got the WHO; you've got the Food and Agricultural Organization; you've got UNEP - which still, you go to the UNEP's website, and it says, UN Environment supports developing countries to improve energy efficiency, and increase their use of renewable energy - so, they're doing the same thing as you; you've got UNICEF, a brighter life for every child - with sustainable energy; you've got the World Bank; you've got the Global Environment Fund, we had Naoko Ishii on the show. I mean, everybody's working on the same thing. And then you've got UN Energy trying to coordinate it all. I mean, it's hopeless, isn't it?

AS I would say the contrary, Michael. I mean, either you believe that energy is relevant to every single sector, and every aspect of human activity on the planet... So, why wouldn't a Food and Agriculture Organization embrace the challenge of how food and agriculture, through energy transitions and decarbonizing the energy systems, that are driving for instance, the production of grains or of livestock, should be part of this. I mean, I would say the opposite. Now, I'm not saying that this is necessarily the Philharmonic Orchestra with one conductor moving in, delivering, one set piece. But the fact that industrialization, the health sector, the agriculture sector, are in need of reflecting on how in their particular economy of working, they should also look at the centrality of energy and of decarbonizing our energy systems, I think a priori is actually a good sign. And it's actually a sign of the success of 20, 30 years of not just having a United Nations Environment Program, for instance, running around the world and saying, we need to rethink our energy systems and everybody saying, oh, but you know, economic development prohibits that, it's too expensive, it's not accessible. I was head of UNEP for 10 years; a central piece of the work that UNEP did then was to tackle this issue of the transition towards a green economy. You remember the kind of arguments that we had to deal with 10, 15 years ago, that this was all science fiction. Well, today, we live in a world where not only is everybody taking climate change seriously, we're also going back to fundamental decisions: it's not just about reducing carbon emissions, it's about how to keep the lights on, how to connect 700 million people without lights and access to electricity so far, while also looking at urban transitions, industrialization in a different mode. Now far be it from me to say that everybody at the moment is working in unison, because we have all had steep learning curves; we are bureaucracies, just like in every government, and even in large companies. But frankly speaking, the fact that we have UN Energy... It's not some superstructure. Because the other option is we create another agency in the UN called the United Nations Energy Organization. Do we really need to create, for something as transversal as energy, another organization? Or does every institution in every sector in which it works need to take seriously the decarbonisation challenge, combined with an equity challenge and priority, which is access to electricity. So, that would be my response to you; it's actually a sign of success, rather than a failure. Notwithstanding that not everything is as it should be. And my ambition in leading UNDP to become a central player in this area of energy and development, is precisely our ability to help countries to accelerate, in an equitable and sustainable way, a massive leap forward. Because otherwise, our objectives in the Paris Agreement are redundant; they are no longer relevant to what happens next to humanity. And that's why each one of our institutions, I think, needs to be absolutely focused on climate change. But we in particular, on energy, and access to clean and affordable energy.

ML The last thing I think I would advocate is the creation of a new agency, having been, as you were... where we first met, we worked together on Sustainable Energy for All; in a way that was going to be the one agency that coordinated them all. And part of the problem with the UN system, of course, is that you could never get rid of an agency. So, unlike the CEO of a company, the Secretary General can't just say right, you six people, you now all report to Achim, because he knows what he's doing. But my question is...

AS That would be the day, but it's not yet here...

ML But my question is this: supposing I'm running a big clinic, or a university, or a private sector food processing company, and I have got a problem; there's either no electricity, or it's intermittent, and it's insufficient for me to do my job educating students or treating patients or grinding flour or whatever it is I'm trying to do; who do I talk to? You know, there was this question about, when it came to foreign policy, what’s the one telephone number in Europe that the US president wants to be able to call. What is the one telephone number in the UN that those people should call? Because it sounds to me - I know there is - just this huge range. There are there are 30 or 40 different people that you could call.

AS Well, the simple answer is they still haven't figured out that one phone number for international geopolitics and security, so maybe it's an elusive desire in a world of many different opportunities. But let me give you two more practical answers. First of all, much of our work is actually to create that phone number within the country. We shouldn't try to service individual businesses or individual citizens somewhere from Nairobi, Vienna, New York, or somewhere else in the world, with these kinds of requests. What we should be doing is building up government capacity to be able to provide information, work with the private sector. And you know, in the years that I was in Kenya, it was remarkable how quickly Kenyan industry, through its associations and business, began to put up services: energy audits for individual businesses to show them how much money they could save through energy efficiency investments; the renewable energy infrastructure legislation in Kenya, essentially made Kenya one of the major actors in the geothermal energy investment market and infrastructure market, because it has significant geothermal potential. And the largest wind power farm on the African continent was built in Kenya. These were products of very deliberate collaboration and partnership, led by Kenya, and therefore the phone number should be in Kenya, first of all. But if you're looking for a UN phone number, at country level, we have a United Nations Development System, we have a resident coordinator, you can call the UN resident coordinator. And you can call UNDP, or if you're in the ministry of industrialization, you can also call the UNIDA representative. But ultimately, there are many ways in which you can access information. But I think the ideal point at which everything comes together is at the national level. And that's why so much of UNDP is focus is really to work at the national level to create more cohesive, more effective and responsive platforms on which you can then really accelerate transitions towards cleaner energy.

ML I've got two other topics that I want to raise in the time that we have remaining. One is - maybe that's the one we'll take last - would be finance, and you've already touched on it. Because a lot of these solutions, the clean energy solutions, they're very high CapEx, lower OpEx, and therefore, they're very sensitive to cost of capital, and the developing world has got a problem of higher cost of capital. So, let's come back to that one, because I just want to push on one other first, which is, you've got this program called the Climate Promise, right? And we're all concerned about climate change, particularly, by the way, in the capitals of the Western world, and particularly amongst younger people in the capitals of the Western world, particularly, by the way in Europe. And we are setting a bunch of priorities, that may not be the priorities, always, of the client countries, of the developing world. I'll give you an example: we had Alain Ebobissé, and he is the CEO - you may know him - of Africa 50. It's an infrastructure fund backed by around 24, 25 African countries. And I asked him - this was before the Glasgow Cop 26 - what he would consider success. And what he wanted to see was what he calls a balanced approach. He said, we've got climate targets, we've also got development goals, and we want to massively invest in renewables, but also look at ways we can support natural gas. Because of course, we in the West have got gas already to keep the lights on when there's no wind and no sun, but that is not in place in Africa, in many of the lesser developed countries. And he was essentially begging for help to actually develop that part of the energy space. But of course, that doesn't sound right. And we had also Bill McKibben, came on this show, and he said, no, no, no, that is that is rich elites want business as usual, and we should not be doing that at all, we should only be funding the new clean stuff. And he called Alain Ebobissé's demand for fossil, he called it colonial plans, is what he called it. So, are you promoting colonial plans prioritizing clean energy, or are the colonial plans, the ones that are promoting gas?

AS Well, to be very frank, I don't find myself in that framing in the first place. I think where we began... and let’s take the Climate Promise as an example. Why did we step forward with the Climate Promise? Because essentially, what we were saying to developing countries is there are so many demands, you're signed up to the Paris Agreement, every time you go to a climate COP, you're expected to deliver more ambition, and in return, you're supposed to get more financing. So far, that equation has been singularly to the disadvantage of developing countries. Let's be very frank. So, these Nationally Determined Contributions were extremely important for two reasons. First of all, the Paris Agreement had built into it, a cycle of every five years reviewing the ambition levels in order to, over time, bring the exponentially [needed] curve of energy decarbonisation in line with where the science and the IPCC were telling us this could happen. The NDCs were the tool for that. Many people thought, oh, these are just documents, and they're written by consultants: no. UNDP saw an opportunity here to help countries write sovereign national climate strategies; not a report to the UNFCCC but rather, to use these as platforms in a regular cycle to reflect on how would the future of energy look like in their countries. In order to do so, we had to obviously step up the support, because there were only 18 months. We made a commitment to 100 countries, 120 ultimately engaged us with other partners also, in looking at these NDCs. So, first of all, UNDP's commitment is one to national sovereignty being critical in actually not having somebody lecture others about what they should do, but countries with a very clear-eyed view, looking at the future of their energy system. I also refrain from telling African countries, you know, you should or should not touch your fossil fuel resources, because frankly speaking, as we see around the world today, some of the greatest advocates of that are also some of the greatest producers of fossil fuels, including increasing their production. So, the irony of this does not escape the developing world, frankly speaking. So, where are we at right now? Well, our focus is we do not finance fossil fuel development. We believe a country has the right to do so, if it - in a very mature global investment economy - wants to sell its oil and gas rights to international developers, often at a horrendously bad deal, frankly, for what actually comes back to the country, then it is its right to do so. Our role, our focus, has been to show the superior economics, the actual timeline, of being able to - particularly in a country where many people don't have access to electricity - to use renewables to accelerate that transition, and to demonstrate that you can build a renewable energy future that is perfectly compatible with accelerated development, poverty eradication and industrialization. Let me just remind you also that people often think that renewable energy frontiers are only being pushed in the so-called developed world. That's not at all the case anymore. I was last year in Uruguay; I was astonished at how this country had made a transition to renewable energy in excess of 95% of its electricity consumption. Kenya is now at over 90% of its electricity consumption being sourced and powered by renewables, because it actually refused to follow the advice of some of our premier international institutions, including development banks, to not invest in wind, in geothermal and now solar. And I mentioned India and China already. So, we need to rethink this whole view that somehow renewable energy is a northern-led conspiracy. What is unfortunate is that many developed countries, in a sense, constantly pushing developing countries to decarbonize their energy systems, but are not willing to co-invest. The shame of these $100 billion that were promised over a decade ago as part of this agreement to move forward together, not having been fulfilled, is just one of the most visible, egregious failures. And for those who continue to argue that, you know, the developing world will not move faster if the north doesn't pay for it - wrong again. It's actually multiples, in terms of hundreds of billions of dollars, that developing countries are investing in clean energy, while still waiting for the developed world to become an effective co-investor. We've got to stop asking developing countries to jump ever higher, ever faster, and then tell them oh, yes, and please, you can borrow some money here at slightly concessional rates, which your taxpayers have to pay off again, when already we are in the midst of a global economic crisis, with debt problems being extremely dangerous right now. We need to go to the core of a financing debate about development, including about energy transitions, and to change the way that perceptions keep on distorting the reality of what actually is happening and what is not happening and why it is not happening.

ML Again, you're doing my work for me, because you did a beautiful segue from the question of who's setting the priorities. You and I worked on Sustainable Energy for All; it is absolutely essential that the countries set the pace, it's got to be their priority. So, I am with you on that; I asked the question in a provocative way, but I'm with you on that. In terms of the finance: isn't the big picture, though, that these countries need not $100 billion, but they need many hundreds of billions. I mean, the amount invested in clean energy and transportation last year - BloombergNEF, my old house, my old team - $1.1 trillion. And in the developing world, which is going to drive most of the emissions in the future, it's clearly got to be more than... it's got to be many hundreds of billions and ultimately, even trillions per year to effect change. That whole discussion about $100 billion; I mean, the number got to $86 billion in 2019. It's so close... I mean, you know, it just seems a complete distraction. The real discussion surely needs to be, how do we get hundreds of billions, which are far bigger as numbers than anything that governments... No World Bank, no governments can shift that sort of capital. So, what is the actual solution here? When we get beyond niggling about this program, and that program, and you said this, and it didn't have... How do you get hundreds of billions of dollars flowing?

AS Good Michael, as you said, first of all, hundreds of billions of dollars are already flowing, and you know, 90% of all new electricity generating infrastructure in 2022, I think it was, if 2021 was, in fact, renewable. So, we often speak about the energy revolution, as if it's something in the future. And some people would like to present it as you know, science fiction - it's already happening. But it's happening very unevenly. And let me point to two areas in which finance needs to change. First of all, a promise made and not kept does not raise confidence levels. The $100 billion, frankly, is a floor, it's not even a ceiling anymore, and it's an embarrassment. But we began our conversation by talking about investment, and I made the point to you that people always equate investment to either somebody buying a stake in something and then being able to take the money out again, or you're being led to the international financial institutions and asked to borrow money there that you have to repay. I'm actually arguing first of all that we need to come to a co-investment perspective; as long as the wealthier part of the world considers anything that it invests in the energy transition of the poorer parts of the world, we will remain in a very distorted aid and charitable approach to this, where one will always look at the other as essentially an illegitimate partner. The truth is that developing countries are already investing hundreds of billions of dollars. How else do we think that China would have achieved the significant renewable energy infrastructure that it now has in place, or India, or indeed countries like Uruguay and Kenya and Morocco and Ghana and we could go on. It's already also begun on the Latin and South American continent, countries that often thought this was not for them; Chile, Argentina, and others now are very significant[ly] invested in this energy transition. But ultimately, one reason why we also established three years ago in UNDP, a Sustainable Finance Hub, is that we need to get beyond this notion that this is only taxpayers money that will finance this, or it's only public finance. That's why we established a SDG Impact set of norms and standards to help countries go to the capital markets and raise green bonds, blue bonds, SDG bonds. Basically, accessing capital with these development objectives also being a part of it, and also to lower the cost of capital. The problem is that the $100 billion that we referred to earlier is actually still needed, particularly for the least developed countries. For the countries on, for example, the African continent, or small island developing states, when they go to the capital markets, are paying punitive risk premiums in order to borrow money. Therefore, they cannot invest in these energy transitions. We have a very diverse set of players across the world. You can look at them just in terms of their carbon footprint. It's one attempt just now with the Just Energy Transition Partnerships that's being explored, can one help them to phase out coal sooner, with more of a co-investment approach. Then there are poor countries that need to be assisted to first of all, reduce the impact of lacking access to energy and poverty, but secondly, to pivot into a clean energy infrastructure future. And I always say, Africa will be 2 billion people by the middle of this century. If China's energy paths were to be - in the initial 30 years - Africa's development path, the Paris Agreement is irrelevant to what happens next. We have a vested interest from a development, from a geopolitical and human security point of view, but particularly also from a decarbonisation point of view, to co-invest with developing countries in pivoting towards clean energy infrastructure. And that is not because it's more expensive per kilowatt hour; it's because access to capital, which in renewable energy infrastructure, you need more upfront, is simply so expensive. So, I can give you another ten reasons why finance is fundamental to actually being able to move forward with the Paris Agreement alive.

ML Achim, we're very close to running out of time. A final question: with everything that you see going on in the world; this horrible aggression by Russia on Ukraine; populism and pushback; there are people who are not going to be listening to this, because they don't, but who would consider all of this to be evil, socialist nonsense, and they're not far from the corridors of power in various countries; if you look at the trends, the acceleration of the impacts of climate change; do you remain optimistic? And if so how?

AS Well, let me be honest, being the head of the UN's Development Programme at the moment is a very sobering and very frustrating experience. Our Human Development Report just documented last year that for two years running the Human Development Index, for the first time, in its 30+ year history has actually gone backwards. We find ourselves somewhere in the levels of development of 2016. So, it's been a horrendous period, particularly for poorer countries and poorer people in countries. So, that is very disheartening. But, you know, this year, we will have an SDG summit, halfway on the sustainable development goals to 2030. And many people are saying, oh, all these setbacks, the SDGs are no longer relevant because we haven't met the targets and indicators. Terrible, terrible, wrong conclusion. The targets and indicators are no longer relevant because we didn't plan with having a global pandemic. Now we're having this war on Ukraine with all its ramifications on global energy security. But let's also be clear: both the pandemic and this horrendous attack on Ukraine, have actually sharpened the world's understanding of what many of us have been saying for years: that energy security, geopolitical security, human security are all tied together. The investment in a decarbonized energy pathway to the future, in renewable energy infrastructure, less dependence on fossil fuels, maybe has its greatest dividends not even in the cost of electricity generation, but in wars avoided, in disruptions avoided, that we are just living through right now. And the bottom line here is, Michael, we will come out of this crisis with many wounds and many scars, and who knows where we will be maybe in a year or two. But one thing I have absolutely no doubt on: the energy transition, the decarbonisation of our energy systems, has suddenly moved from second gear to third gear. Tragic that it requires wars and pandemics to drive that. We could have listened to sensible advice and made smart choices, but that's sometimes human history. So, in a nutshell, I actually think we will perhaps get back to within range of a 1.5-degree world, simply because the degree of acceleration on energy transitions is now being driven by the very factors that we added on to the common-sense factor of the last 20 years. And that makes me hopeful.

ML And there you have touched on themes that I discussed with people that I know you know, Nabuo Tanaka, former head of the IEA in his episode recently, and then with Dan Yergin, the co-founder of IHS CERA and deputy chair of S&P, just at the beginning of this series. So, they're themes very close to my heart, and I completely agree. We're in the midst of a clean energy acceleration coming out of these horrible situations. I'm afraid that's all we've got time for, I just want to thank you for joining me here today. And hopefully, we can do this in person, again, fairly soon.

AS It's been a real pleasure, Michael. And let me just end, if you allow me, with perhaps one remark. People often are critical of the United Nations. But let me also remind the world: would we have been able to get to where we are without an IPCC? Without a United Nations Framework Convention? Without UNEP? Without the WMO? Without two Secretary-Generals now, Ban Ki-moon and Antonio Guterres, making climate change a central part of their agenda, bringing the world together? Without the work that we do as the United Nations Development Program in countries to help them decide for themselves what is their future development going to look like? So, my last plea is just to sometimes in shining a critical light on where things go wrong, let's also sometimes take a step back and ask ourselves, are we actually making the most of the institutions and platforms we have for working together, for coming together despite our differences? And certainly, on this topic, I think we have proven in the last few years that the United Nations Promise is certainly a central part of that hopeful pathway. Thank you.

ML Your closing point is very well taken.

AS It's been good to be with you. Take care, Michael. Thank you.

ML Thanks very much. Take care Achim. Bye bye.