Vienna Energy Forum (VEF) 2021

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Summary report 5–7 July 2021 (

Vienna Energy Forum 2021 | UNIDO

The Vienna Energy Forum 2021 (VEF 2021) is designed to facilitate a multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder and interdisciplinary dialogue on sustainable energy for inclusive development and productive capacities. Guided by the motto “Where Action Meets Ambition” and designed as the first virtual VEF, the 2021 edition will include a Youth Day on the 5th of July 2021, followed by the VEF on the 6th and 7th of July 2021.

As a flagship platform designed to spur action, this year’s edition will bring together key stakeholders and experts to explore and deliberate on the key topics that advance sustainable development in the energy domain. Senior government representatives and leading experts will discuss key priorities, offer local perspectives, and highlight opportunities and potential solutions that also contribute to global climate action.

The sessions will delve into key priorities, showcase projects, and highlight the action-oriented steps required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, helping to forge an inclusive pathway that leaves no one behind as we work to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The near-term objective of the Forum was to build momentum, develop recommendations and spur breakthroughs in commitments and action for the High-Level Dialogue on Energy (HLDE) that will convene on 20 September 2021 under the auspices of the UN General Assembly, the G20 Leaders’ Summit in October, and the 26th session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC COP 26) in November.

Through high-level thematic plenaries with panel discussions, executive dialogues, and roundtables, the Forum focused on:

  • food system transformation, including scaling food productivity and smart food systems;
  • industry integration, including the race to zero emissions and the digital revolution;
  • energy efficient products;
  • reimagining energy systems, including renewable capital and green grids;
  • the consumer dimension, including how consumers may drive change and spur new consumer services;
  • green transportation and sustainable mobility solutions; and
  • resilient networks and the blue economy in small island developing states (SIDS).

A number of recommendations for the energy transition emerged during VEF 2021, and participants also heard calls to action from UN leaders and Austria, Forum co-host.

A theme running throughout VEF 2021 was the need to involve youth in the energy transition and the role young women could play as catalysts for change. This was the sole focus of a first-ever youth day, Youth for VEF, co-organized by youth leaders on 5 July.

 VEF 2021 also focused on: the potential of the African continent to move towards an energy transition that promotes progress and development; and the plight of SIDS, which face many constraints, including vulnerability to climate change, geographical isolation, and limited territory for placement of renewables.

VEF 2021 participants agreed on the undeniable need to decarbonize the economy. They called for a just and inclusive transition, requiring political resolve, innovative solutions, additional financing, capacity building, and a people-centered approach. They generally agreed that the recent acceleration in the affordability and availability of renewable energy technologies was remarkable. However, they also noted persistent barriers to accessing such technologies given unfavorable enabling environments, difficulties in achieving the necessary scale to attract the investment required, inadequate project formulation, and consumer confidence.

Originally scheduled for 2020, the sixth VEF was postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. VEF 2021 met from 5-7 July 2021 in a virtual format due to continuing restrictions as a result of the pandemic. Over 2,000 participants from 146 countries registered to participate, including Ministers and other government representatives, senior officials of UN agencies and other international and regional organizations, and representatives from the private sector and civil society. The event was co-organized by the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, and the Austrian Development Agency.

Brief History of the Vienna Energy Forum

The VEF aims to explore how energy can contribute to meeting global development challenges, based on the premise that issues, such as poverty, climate change, security, health, and income, are closely linked to the nature, accessibility, and affordability of existing energy systems. Established in 2008 by the Government of Austria, IIASA, and UNIDO, the Forum takes place every two years.

VEF 2009: The first VEF convened in Vienna, Austria, from 22-24 June 2009 under the theme “Towards an Integrated Energy Agenda Beyond 2020: Securing Sustainable Policies and Investments.” The conference served as an opportunity to: shift the debate on energy and development beyond generalities to identify specific courses of action; initiate and advance regional and international cooperation; and present new international energy initiatives, such as the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). One of the Forum’s key recommendations foresaw the creation of a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on energy, that would seek to achieve universal energy access by 2030.

VEF 2011: The second VEF, themed “Energy for All – Time for Action,” convened in Vienna from 21-23 June 2011, and was held in parallel with a Ministerial Meeting on Energy and Green Industry. The Forum focused on energy poverty and increasing energy access in developing countries and followed the priorities of the Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) initiative, which was established in 2010. It addressed a range of issues, including key building blocks for developing a strategy for prioritizing energy access, energy efficiency, and reducing global energy intensity.

VEF 2013: The third VEF, themed “One Year after Rio+20: The Energy Future We Want,” took place in Vienna from 28-30 May 2013. It addressed sustainable energy in the context of negotiating the post-2015 development agenda, a process initiated at the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

VEF 2015: The fourth VEF, themed “Sustainable Energy for Inclusive Development,” was held from 18-20 June 2015 in Vienna. It aimed to contribute to the post-2015 sustainable development agenda and climate processes by emphasizing their multiple co-benefits, as well as showcasing best practices and actions on the ground.

VEF 2017: The fifth VEF met from 9-12 May 2017 in Vienna, under the theme “Sustainable Energy for the Implementation of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.” The event sought to promote dialogue on: the nexus between energy, climate, transport, food, water, and health; linkages in implementation of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate change; and the role of innovation as a global driver for sustainable growth.

VEF Special Session: This session on “Powering Innovation for Prosperity” convened on 14 May 2018 with the aim of contributing to the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development’s (HLPF) review of SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) in July 2018. The Forum was organized around the themes of energy system transformation, climate and clean energy technology and innovation, and delivering prosperity through partnerships.

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