Sustainable Energy: The Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus
Our world is “wrestling” with different crises, including the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as displacement crises, some more recent (e.g. Russian invasion of Ukraine ) and some protracted crises (e.g. in South Sudan). Among some of the priorities to address these issues comes the energy transition to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change, improve energy security and eradicate energy poverty. As a young professional who traverses the humanitarian and development sectors, I would like to take this opportunity to share some high-level perspectives related to sustainable energy.
Displacement of populations can be triggered by several reasons including “human” causes, such as conflict and violence, and “natural” causes, such as environmental hazards and disasters. The most recent estimates presented at the 2022 Humanitarian Energy Conference show that the majority of the people displaced worldwide do not have access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern sources of energy: an estimated 94% of displaced people in camps do not have access to electricity and 81% rely on firewood and charcoal for cooking. Yet, sustainable energy can improve education, health and well-being, as well as provide a livelihood and the opportunity for communities to become more self-sufficient, especially in protracted situations, which often last for decades. Still, without substantial financial investment and decisive political action, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 is highly unlikely to be achieved in displacement settings by 2030. Finally, humanitarian organizations have the responsibility to green their operations, including their energy systems relying on diesel generators, as they are committed to the “do no harm” principle, which also includes minimizing their contribution to the climate crisis.
Clean and modern energy is an enabler for achieving the goals of the 2030 United Nations Agenda, as well as the Paris Agreement. But the challenges linked to SDG 7 are significant and multifaced. In 2019, 759 million people were still without access to electricity, with three-quarters of them in sub-Saharan Africa and a majority in rural areas. Meanwhile, 2.6 billion people (one-third of the world's population) still used inefficient, harmful and polluting cooking fuels such as wood and charcoal. Besides, 64% of the global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions came from CO2 linked to fossil fuels and industry (coal, oil, natural gas, etc.). For these reasons, we need resilient and sustainable energy systems that allow a just and inclusive transition. Last, the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has reinforced the fact that a high dependence on fossil fuels (in that case Europe depending on natural gas coming from Russia) is a weakness that has incredible consequences beyond energy security but has impacts on food security in some of the most vulnerable countries to do globalization. That is why it entails tackling the energy transition with a systemic and holistic approach.
Natural resources, including energy resources such as fossil fuels and biomass, can induce community tensions when resource management is ineffective at ensuring that human rights are protected. This can be due to the economic importance of the energy source, the risks associated with the energy carriers (e.g. nuclear energy on health or hydropower on floods/droughts), or the environmental consequences of using the energy. Furthermore, commercial extraction of energy resources and large-scale projects, such as oil fields, mines, logging, and dams, can be a source of conflict where corruption and non-democratic regimes are in place. Moreover, they tend to only benefit economically a small elite in addition to multinational companies and their shareholders, while the local population (most often poorer communities, minorities, and indigenous groups) suffers from the externalities that negatively affect their health and the environment. Decentralized renewable energy (DRE) offers two advantages: 1) it is cleaner compared to fossil fuels and 2) it favours community control, social cohesion by retaining economic
benefits locally, and self-reliance rather than dominant corporate ownership. All in all, some argue that ensuring that countries transition to a low carbon economy with more DRE is a long-term strategy for global peacebuilding.
Final remarks: what about youth?
If we are serious about “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (i.e. sustainability), then the meaningful participation of young people (and other underrepresented communities) in decision making related to political and economic processes should be facilitated. And this is valid for the transition to sustainable energy since youth-led innovation has the potential to accelerate this transition and put the world on a path to meeting its climate targets.
As a final word, I would like to mention a few key facts about how the issues discussed above affect the youth:
· Young people have contributed the least to the climate crisis but will pay the highest price.
· Youth comprises a significant share of the forcibly displaced population. Half of all refugees are under 18 years old, with young adults aged 18–24 representing 13 per cent of the total. Moreover, there are approximately 10 million internally displaced persons between 15 and 24 years old who lack opportunities to realize their full potential.
· Over 200 million children worldwide go to primary schools without electricity access. This is a barrier to quality education for some of the poorest and most vulnerable youth.
· Poor households and individuals are disproportionally affected by both migration pressures and barriers to movement, and the age group that is most likely to move in response to climatic pressures is youth.
For all these reasons, as a 2022 EDD Young Leader, I hope to be able to represent the voice of the youth in the high-level panel on integrating energy markets but also try to mainstream the cross-cutting topic that is displacement in the conversations we will have in Brussels.
Anaïs conducting a focus group discussion about energy access needs in a resettlement site where internally displaced populations are hosted in Sofala Province, Mozambique (April 2022).