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3 ways civil society organizations are crucial to an equitable energy transition

Civil society organizations can help shape the energy transition agenda.

Civil society organizations can help shape the energy transition agenda. Image: Pexels.

Giannis Moschos
Community Specialist, Civil Society, World Economic Forum
David Sangokoya
Head of Civil Society Impact, World Economic Forum
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Sustainable Finance and Investment

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  • Civil society organizations are at the forefront of addressing the equity and affordability challenges in the global transition to clean energy.
  • Mobilising investments in developing economies, civil society organizations provide context-specific solutions while safeguarding the social dimension of the transition.
  • The stronger civil society’s voice is, the more equitable the transition to clean energy will be.

The transition to clean energy is making headway and picking up pace. As shown by the recent report Fostering Effective Energy Transition released this summer, the global average score of the Energy Transition Index (ETI) is on the rise with an increasingly upward trend. This metric assesses countries' present energy system performance and gauges their preparedness for transitioning to sustainable energy sources.

Annual clean energy investment is expected to rise by 24% between 2021 and 2023, driven by renewables and electric vehicles, compared with a 15% rise in fossil fuel investment over the same period. For 2023, out of the roughly $2.8 trillion that is projected to be invested in the energy sector, two-thirds will be directed to clean technologies according to IEA’s report World Energy Investment 2023.

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But this is unfortunately not the whole story. The truth is that most of the investment is driven by advanced economies and China, and there is a significant concern of potential new divisions in the global energy landscape if other regions fail to accelerate their clean energy transitions. The existing trajectory of the energy transition is slow and poses challenges to achieving equity, and many countries are finding it hard to juggle between greening the economy while simultaneously managing labour market risks and Indigenous peoples’ rights.

As the world faces the urgent need for a sustainable energy transition, civil society organizations are at the forefront of addressing the equity challenge. With a strong emphasis on equity, affordability, and inclusion, these organizations play a crucial role in shaping the energy transition agenda and accelerating public-private cooperation. Here’s how.

1. Mobilising investments in developing economies

There is a need to rectify the geographical disparities in investments, as the growth of clean energy investments in numerous emerging and developing economies is progressing at a sluggish pace. Obstacles such as regulatory barriers and limited clean energy deployment throughout supply chains are hindering investments in emerging and developing markets.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) is instrumental in driving clean energy investment in developing markets such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Through the Clean Energy Investment Accelerator (CEIA), WRI along with its partners, unites key commercial and industrial consumers to showcase inventive models for procuring renewable energy and enhance policy frameworks.

The CEIA facilitates the consolidation of clean energy demand and implementation by private sector purchasers. It develops models for aggregating energy demand, utilizes financial tools to expand the clean energy pipeline, and unlocks access to finance. The organization also collaborates with national and subnational governments to enhance policy frameworks, promoting greater investment and deployment of clean energy.

Through engagement with government leaders, the CEIA creates policy environments that encourage and attract investments in clean energy. By fostering collaboration between the public and private sectors and offering technical support to commercial and industrial energy consumers, it helps businesses influence policy-making processes and experiment with scalable purchasing models.

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How is the World Economic Forum facilitating the transition to clean energy?

2. Providing context-specific solutions

It might be a cliché but it bears reminding that the “no-size fits all” saying is true when it comes to the energy transition. The transition has to be global in nature, but for it to be viable, efficient and inclusive, we need strong national and local understanding. Civil society is at the forefront of creating enabling environments for investments in renewable energy projects by developing contextually appropriate solutions that emphasise inclusiveness and affordability.

A good example of this is BRILHO, led by the Netherland’s Development Organizations (SNV). BRIHLO provides clean and affordable energy solutions to Mozambique’s off-grid population, ultimately leading to improved well-being and livelihood opportunities for low-income communities. BRILHO's overarching goal is to enhance and expand energy access for individuals and businesses, driving economic empowerment and promoting sustainable development.

By leveraging the private sector's innovation and investment capacity, the programme fosters the growth of clean cooking solutions, solar home systems, and mini grids, transforming the energy landscape in Mozambique.

At the same time, Energy Peace Partners is developing the Peace Renewable Energy Credit (P-REC), which serves as an innovative financial tool to expedite the adoption of renewable energy in areas affected by conflict. The P-REC initiative aims to convert renewable energy generated in fragile states into monetary value, aligning with corporate sustainability goals and social responsibility commitments.

By extending established international Renewable Energy Credit (REC) markets into crisis-affected regions, P-RECs enhance financial incentives for the advancement of renewable energy projects. This supports the efforts of both public and private sector entities in implementing clean energy solutions that provide tangible benefits to communities impacted by conflict.

3. Safeguarding the social dimension of the transition

If not properly managed, despite its potential to generate economic opportunities, the energy transition, may result in significant social costs and inequalities. The shift from traditional energy sources, such as coal or oil, to renewable energy, can for example lead to job losses in carbon-intensive industries or land-rights violations for Indigenous peoples, what is also known as green colonialism. Civil society has the expertise and mandate to represent the interests of vulnerable communities ensuring that their voices and needs are part of the clean energy transition agenda.

Labour unions such as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and IndustriALL Global Union have been particularly vocal on workers’ needs to ensure that the transition does not disproportionately affect those in poverty or insecure work and/or carbon-intensive industries and fossil-fuel dependent countries.

Notably, ITUC’s Just Transition Centre has made a significant impact in the clean energy transition by advocating for workers' rights, facilitating dialogue, and providing support to ensure a fair and inclusive transition. The Centre has been instrumental in promoting the inclusion of just transition policies in national and international climate and energy frameworks. ITUC’s efforts have contributed to putting workers’ rights and social protection at the forefront of discussions on the transition to clean energy. The Centre has supported the establishment of national just transition task forces, councils, and committees that bring together government, employers, and unions to collectively plan and manage the social and economic impacts of the energy transition.

At the same time, many clean energy projects clash with Indigenous land rights often leading to Indigenous peoples being excluded from their land without necessarily providing clear benefits in terms of the electricity these infrastructures produce. A clean energy transition cannot be equitable nor sustainable if Indigenous people are not involved in planning phases of renewable energy projects. Against this backdrop, Indigenous communities have become leaders in Canada's clean energy transition, with nearly 200 medium-to-large renewable projects and over 2,100 micro or small renewable systems under their leadership or partnerships.

These are only some examples where civil society is playing a critical role in catalysing the energy transition while striking the balance between inclusiveness, sustainability, and equity. The stronger the voice of civil society in clean energy transition discussions and strategizing, the more equitable and just the transition will be.

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World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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