DESA-UNHCR Event Highlights Energy-Humanitarian Nexus
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A high-level event on the eve of the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants highlighted connections between sustainable energy and humanitarian responses to displacement.

Participants at the event, 'Leaving no one behind: Energy for humanitarian response and sustainable development,' argued that displaced people's energy needs must be met in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all).

humanitarian-response18 September 2016: A high-level event on the eve of the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants highlighted connections between sustainable energy and humanitarian responses to displacement. Participants at the event, titled ‘Leaving no one behind: Energy for humanitarian response and sustainable development,’ argued that displaced people’s energy needs must be met in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all).

The event took place on 18 September 2016, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, hosted by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, the IKEA Foundation, the Moving Energy Initiative, Schneider Electric, and UN-Energy were partners in the high-level event.

Participants discussed how lack of energy affects the lives of displaced people, including by preventing children from studying, women from safely going outside after dark, and families from cooking without polluting their living spaces. Meanwhile, humanitarian agencies spend their scarce resources inefficiently by relying on diesel generators for electricity in camps.

Moderator Ahmad Alhendawi, UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, said reliable energy provision would improve all elements of humanitarian response. Kelly Clements, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that investing in clean energy infrastructure in humanitarian situations benefits not just refugees, but also host countries. Highlighting the importance of partnerships, she said UNHCR seeks to adopt innovative technologies and financing mechanisms to increase the use of renewable energy, in both emergency and protracted situations.

In a keynote address, Mogens Lykketoft, President of the 70th UN General Assembly (UNGA) and Co-Chair of the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, said people living as refugees, internally displaced (IDPs) and forced migrants are “left far behind.” He said clean, safe and renewable energy can transcend the humanitarian-development divide by enabling sustainable solutions.

Moustapha Naite, Guinea’s Minister of Youth and Youth Employment, stressed lack of energy access as the root cause of many challenges in Guinea, including youth emigration due to lack of opportunities, and highlighted an “incubator” initiative to provide private sector support to for young entrepreneurs investing in renewable energy. Per Heggenes, IKEA Foundation Chief Executive Officer (CEO), described energy access as a “basic right for human beings.” He described collaboration with UNHCR to build the agency’s capacity and expertise in the area of sustainable energy, and he highlighted a 6MW solar farm that will soon open in Azraq, Jordan, through cooperation between the IKEA Foundation, UNHCR and the Government of Jordan, which he said will continue to benefit Jordan even after Syrian refugees return home.

Minoru Takada, DESA, moderating a session on actions for energy access in humanitarian situations, observed that the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), in May 2016, did not include any reference to energy in its outcome documents, and underscored the need for the UN system to more seriously consider energy-humanitarian linkages. Radha Muthiah, CEO of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, called on the UN system to include energy issues at key levels, noting that it is currently not a “cluster” within the UN’s humanitarian response system. Emmanuel Lagarrigue, Schneider Electric, expressed his company’s view that “access to electricity and energy is a basic right.” He said Schneider’s Access to Energy Programme began as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative 14 years ago, but is now a deeper commitment and part of the company’s business ventures. Paul Corrigan, Mainstream Renewable Power, focused on the high prices for energy paid by the world’s poorest people, especially in Africa.

In comments from the floor, one participant encouraged UNHCR to further strengthen its emphasis on energy and bring lessons from the renewable energy industry into the humanitarian sector. Another participant said prices do not come down by themselves, but as a result of governments offering feed-in tariffs and taking other steps to build the market.

Clements summarized the discussion with several points, including: energy access must be addressed in humanitarian situations for many reasons, including to ensure refrigeration of vaccines and minimize violence towards women and girls; solutions must be addressed towards host communities and displaced people in urban settings, not only refugees in camps and IDPs; the humanitarian sector must increase its expertise in energy and make that growing capacity sustainable; data and statistics are important for driving change; and youth, girls and other affected people must be involved directly in developing solutions. Clements concluded that from the humanitarian point of view, “we feel embraced and not alone” in trying to solve difficult problems. [IISD RS Meeting Coverage]


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