Supporting skills and work for women is essential if we are to connect every home and village around the world with clean, affordable energy.
That challenge is at the heart of the UN High-Level Dialogue on Energy, taking place in New York today. Funding commitments and clear plans from those in power are urgently needed, if we are to reach roughly 3 billion people living without electricity or energy for clean, safe cooking.
But dreams of a solar panel on every roof, or an end to polluting stoves and cooking fires, will never be met without the workforce to drive an energy revolution. This effort needs engineers and technicians, but also people to fill roles from marketing and IT to finance and customer support. There’s an urgent need to create new renewable energy jobs – the entire continent of Africa currently has just 76,000.
And when it comes to energy access jobs, it’s clear that women are missing out. In three large nations with an important role in the energy access challenge – India, Kenya and Nigeria – women make up about 25% of the decentralised renewable energy workforce. Tackling barriers to women’s inclusion is essential to growing the sector.
Progress is possible. Innovators taking action include Uganda’s Solar Entrepreneurs’ Network for Decentralised Energy Access (SENDEA). This backs smaller, locally-founded energy access enterprises. for example by offering scholarships to the SENDEA Academy for female trainees entering the industry. SENDEA’s connections throughout Uganda’s energy access sector – with businesses, financiers and government – help the Academy’s graduates find work. This is the sort of effective, grassroots initiative that must be supported if we are to create real change in communities.
It’s no secret that energy access unlocks opportunities for better health, education, and stronger economies – particularly through the creation of jobs and livelihoods. Backing energy access skills and training for women brings all these benefits, as well as maximising impact on gender equality. So it is well-placed to become a rallying point for policymakers, funders and investors with a range of different interests. New partnerships and flows of finance can be the spark that fires up energy access initiatives .
This week Ashden and many other non-profits and governments have signed up to UN Energy’s Multi-Stakeholder Energy Compact – Catalyzing Action towards Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment to Accelerate a Just, Inclusive and Sustainable Energy Transition. The compact’s aims include supporting career entry, retainment and advancement for women and investment in training and skills development.
As members of the People-Centered Accelerator, we call on the global community to address long-standing, systemic inequities by removing barriers to energy access — such as limited access to financing for women — and dismantle other significant barriers to achieve community-rooted, sustainable, clean energy for all.
To do this, at this week’s dialogue, leaders and commentators should be crystal clear about the details of how they will support women to deliver energy access in their communities.
Plans and finance urgently needed
Beyond a focus on gender inclusion, we need to scale up investment to meet the objectives of SDG7 net zero emissions and importantly to deliver a just transition That is why we call on developed nations to keep promises made in both Paris and Copenhagen, to deliver financing of at least USD100 billion a year up to 2024 for climate action by low and middle-income nations. Momentum towards this goal is growing, as we saw from welcome announcements this week from the Biden administration. With this funding countries can commit to strong green transitions aligned with the Paris Agreement.
However, we also know that that achieving the SDG7 energy access target alone needs investment of around USD 45 billion a year up to 2030. This could benefit one third of the world’s people, creating positive impacts such as improved resilience to the health crisis.
We must also see a strong global delivery plan, setting out how the world will achieve SDG7 and a just transition. At today’s dialogue national, regional and city governments, businesses, NGOs, young people and other stakeholders have been asked to present energy compacts, setting out their voluntary commitments and concrete plans for achieving access to clean, affordable energy for all and net zero emissions. Ambitious compacts, such as the multi-stakeholder gender and energy compact signed by Ashden, can be a powerful tool for widening energy access and creating a just transition.
The majority of investment needed to reach SDG7 will come from the private sector – but the role of governments and authorities will be vital. For, public support can both set the framework, amplify the impact of business investment, and ensure the transition is genuinely fair by investing in those hardest to reach whom the private sector might indeed leave behind.
We need governments and investment bodies to design policies and financial structures that properly allocate and manage risks, and address the barriers stopping investment in some sectors and countries. Attracting private finance depends on tackling issues such as infrastructure planning, fiscal incentives, and market and regulatory frameworks.
With collaboration, investment, a clear roadmap and a renewed focus on gender equality, we can boost energy access around the world.