2050: Damilola Ogunbiyi – The Robin Hood of Energy

What is your job? 

CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL); Co-Chair, UN-Energy. I develop global efforts to close energy access gaps by showing that a just and equitable energy transition is possible for prosperous, dignified, and healthy lives, for all. Our north star is Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7), which targets reliable, affordable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030, plus their links to the Paris Climate and broader SDG agenda goals.

How are you helping cool the planet through your work? 

We cannot achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 without addressing energy poverty. Today, 733 million people lack access to electricity; 2.4 billion lack clean cooking solutions. This deficit holds back modern, dignified lives. But it also forces a reliance on diesel-powered generators, firewood, and other unclean fuels. To stop this, we must provide clean, affordable, and reliable alternatives. To do this we work with high-impact governments to improve planning, policy, and regulation frameworks, unlocking finance to close energy access gaps, and making the transition to sustainable energy systems. 

Over 1 billion also people lack access to cooling. Their vulnerability to extreme heat waves, without ways to refrigerate food or life-saving vaccines makes sustainable cooling solutions an equity issue. To fix this, SEforALL works with governments on National Cooling Plans and IEPs for sustainable cooling solutions. Our #ThisIsCool campaign, launched in 2020 to grow awareness of sustainable cooling has engaged 20 million people to date.

What most surprised you about your job? 

Disparities and inequities in energy access. It is shocking. More surprising is the lack of awareness about these inequalities and their impacts. Energy access supports better education, healthcare particularly for the most vulnerable jobs, and economic development for more prosperous, fulfilling lives. Consider that on average Americans consume 20 times the energy of a person in Sub-Saharan Africa. Gamers in California use more electricity in one year than all of Kenya. We can do better. We must seek enough clean energy to power development and economic growth. If we do not, we risk missing our energy transition goals.  

What can we do to get more young people into public service?

Showing what’s possible when young people lead in the energy sector. For example, last year’s SEforALL Youth Summit — our first — brought together more than 50 youth and high-level speakers, and 2,000 participants from 134 countries to make youth an integral part of our energy transition. Technical training and mentorships, such as our Women and Youth at the Forefront programme, help expand the professional and leadership opportunities for women and youth in the energy workforce. So, create new partnerships that accelerate the participation of youth in the sustainable energy sector. Training and elevating young leaders will help them work together inside and outside of government to bring about innovative, transformational policies and frameworks.



20 People Helping Cool the Planet by 2050

Carolyn Whelan

Carolyn is a writer, editor and analyst who covers the nexus between business and social justice issues. She broke into journalism at the Rio Earth Summit where she interviewed Al Gore and environmental pioneer David Brower. Topics covered since then range from climate change and higher education costs to drugs pricing, geopolitical strife, business ethics, artificial intelligence, gene editing, alternative energy and the search for good jobs -- and innovation in all these areas. Her pieces, reported from Europe, the US and South America have appeared in Fortune, Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal and SciAm.com. Previously she worked for the Economist Intelligence Unit, Barrons.com, Columbia Business School, WWF, the UN and PwC. Carolyn is fluent in French and Spanish and resides in Brooklyn.

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