Renewable energy for refugees: How to make a difference

A new paper published with Chatham House explores the role and importance of policy and governance and the need to include climate finance in the delivery of sustainable energy for displaced populations

October 6, 2022

More and more people are forced to flee their homes, as a result of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations. As the number of forcibly displaced hits a new record of than 100 million, UNHCR and host countries are struggling to accommodate growing numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, approx. 80% of whom reside in low or middle-income countries.

A new Research Paper published today on “Scaling sustainable energy services for displaced people and their hosts: How policy and governance make a difference” looks at how national and transnational actors can deliver on access to sustainable energy, and how collaborations can unlock global sources of climate finance for some of the most at-risk populations in the world.

The Research Paper is the result of a collaboration between UNEP Copenhagen Climate Centre (UNEP-CCC) and the Royal Institute of International Affairs, otherwise known as Chatham House, and was financed as an output of the Renewable Energy for Refugees (RE4R) project, funded by the Ikea Foundation.

Need for increased capacity and access to climate funding

Through case studies and in-depth research, the report, among other things, finds that transnational actors have a key role in developing sustainable energy projects, especially where there is limited capacity in the humanitarian system and/or host countries.

Designing and implementing new sustainable energy access projects often take years and the report shows that it’s crucial to both have a project champion, and a continuity of dedicated staff working to push projects along.

Looking at how to finance energy access investments in low-income refugee-hosting communities, the report contains clear recommendations for hosts governments on how to engage the global donor community, enable and de-risk investments.

Lead humanitarian agencies have limited technical capacity on issues related to energy and environment and most do not have accreditation with sources of multilateral support such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), Global Environment Facility (GEF) or the Adaptation Fund. To deliver on global humanitarian sustainability strategies, and the ambitions of progressive refugee-hosting countries, will require systematic collaboration between relevant UN agencies and Governments.

What are the issues and why is UNEP working on this topic?

Since 2017 UNEP-CCC has worked with UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations to better understand the issues and opportunities surrounding access to clean energy in situations of forced displacement.

While global data remains patchy and unstandardized, approximately 90% of refugees living in rural settlements have very limited access to reliable, clean and sustainable electricity or cooking fuels.

Fuel poverty among displaced populations often leads to unsustainable deforestation, relatively high greenhouse emissions and a range of risks to human life and health, including indoor air pollution, conflict with local communities and violent crimes committed against the refugee women and children who are often responsible for collecting woodfuel.

Despite these clear issues progress towards SDG7 on affordable and clean energy remains slow in situations of forced displacement.

 Global advocacy and the organisation of data, evidence and research

 UNEP-CCC’s work in this field aims to help accelerate progress and aligns with UNEP’s Medium Term Strategy, which states that UNEP will “support access to clean energy for refugees and people displaced by conflict and environmental stresses, in particular women, to avoid the health impacts from inefficient cooking practices and lighting and the related unsustainable deforestation.”

At the global level UNEP is a co-founder and Steering Group Member of the UN’s inter-agency Global Platform of Action (GPA) for Sustainable Energy Solutions in Situations of Displacement, launched in New York in July 2018, as part of the High-Level Policy Forum reviewing progress towards SDG7.

Among other issues, the GPA highlights the lack of data and empirical evidence as a major factor limiting the development and implementation of sustainable energy solutions in the context of humanitarian assistance.

UNEP-CCC has co-chaired the GPA working group on data, evidence and research, and in this capacity has helped to scope priority activities and outputs of benefit to UNHCR and other lead UN agencies in the GPA such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

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James Haselip

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