There is an urgent need for a rapid and just transition away from the harmful fossil fuel-based energy system, to a renewable energy system based on energy sufficiency for all

This report explores energy transitions in four countries of the Global South: India, Palestine, Bangladesh and Argentina. It highlights key barriers and gives recommendations for implementing renewable energy in the Global South in a way that protects the rights of peoples.

Why a just transition?

The urgency of an equitable fossil fuel phaseout means a far more rapid, but fair, scale-up of renewable energy is needed everywhere. Friends of the Earth International prioritises small-scale, socially-controlled, decentralised renewable energy projects. Projects like these ones in Bangladesh, Palestine and Philippines contribute to just and feminist societies, within the framework of energy sovereignty

However, a rapid increase of renewables will require larger-scale infrastructure. 

To date, many large-scale renewables have too often replicated the same destructive patterns of the current extractivist dirty energy system. This system is built on fossil fuels and destructive large-scale hydropower, nuclear and industrial biomass. Some parts of the climate movement have prioritised the urgency of tackling climate change and rolling out renewables over the rights of peoples living in the global South, in terms of land, food, water, livelihoods and energy access. This has resulted in renewables projects (including the gathering of raw materials like lithium) that have actively displaced or harmed communities, and which have provided no energy access benefits for these communities. This risks the wholesale rejection of larger-scale renewable energy installation in the Global South. 

Case studies on renewable energy and land use 

A just transition or just a transition? The case of the Rewa Ultra Mega Solar project examines the impact of a 750 Megawatt installation on land surrounding villages and communities in Rewa, India 

Growing renewable energy under occupation: socio-environmental impacts of solar energy in Palestine explores opportunities for increasing energy access whilst highlighting gaps in environmental impact assessment and monitoring. 

No space for solar: Overcoming political apathy to harness rooftop solar in Bangladesh highlights the need for effective leadership and policy-implementation in scaling-up renewables. 

Resourcing renewable transitions through ‘energy colonialism’? An exploration of Lithium mining in Fiambalá, Argentina explores the impacts of material supply chains needed for renewable transition. 

Barriers and recommendations for scaling-up renewables

The aim of this report is to enable learning and give recommendations on how renewables should be implemented in a way that respects peoples’ rights and does not cause grave harm. 

It highlights the following barriers:

  • ‘Green grabbing’ and energy colonialism
  • Lacking consideration regarding patterns of land and water use
  • Lack of conservation policy, environmental impact assessment and follow-up
  • Political oppression and apathy
  • Patriarchal structures that exclude women’s participation beyond household-level decision making
  • Outdated grid infrastructure

And gives the following key recommendations:

  1. Ensure that communities that host renewable energy projects significantly share in the decision-making processes that affect them, as well as the benefits. This means access to sufficient, affordable energy and meaningful socio-economic opportunities that support the wider community instead of creating tensions and divisions. 
  2. Promote women in technical and decision-making roles outside the home. Targeted and sustained efforts are needed including effective implementation of gender mainstreaming policies, and equitable training and leadership opportunities to ensure just transitions for all, not just 50% of society.
  3. Carefully consider seasonal land and water use patterns, including differences related to gender and socio-cultural norms, including for landless groups such as pastoralists.
  4. Recognise the environmental and socio-economic costs of political apathy favouring centralised and fossil fuel-based approaches. Develop effective and contextualised policy implementation for the rapid deployment of renewables, such as rooftop solar. 
  5. Develop national policies to protect ecological habitats recognised for their importance through the Ramsar convention. Ensure capacity to independently monitor implementation of environmental impact policies.

For a just transition to an energy future that is genuinely transformative for communities on the frontlines of renewable infrastructure installations and raw materials extraction, the lessons from these case studies and others like them must be heeded by policy makers and activists alike. Friends of the Earth International has many positive stories of the transformative impacts of renewable energy on the ground in the Global South, but they are not the only stories to be told and this report makes for a sobering reality check.

To address the climate crisis with a rollout of renewables that meets the challenges of energy access in the Global South, peoples’ rights must not be sacrificed for the ‘greater good’ and the mistakes of the existing extractive fossil fuel energy system must not be repeated. 

Read the full case studies, barriers and recommendations in our report: Renewable energy and land use: barriers to just transition in the Global South.