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Press Release

14 Jun 2022

Renewable energy transition in Africa risks being derailed by human rights failures

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As the energy transition gathers pace in Africa, new research from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) highlights the opportunities for businesses, states and local communities of embracing green energy – and the significant risks of getting it wrong.

Michael Clements, Programme Director, BHRRC, said: “Rapid expansion of investment in both renewable energy projects as well as extraction of transition minerals in Africa in the coming years is vital to the local and global transition to clean energy. Geopolitics have sharpened this focus as global consumers cut ties with Russian oil and gas and seek alternative energy sources. However, our research shows the industry still has a long way to go in identifying and mitigating human rights risks and consequent risks for investors – which may endanger the energy transition.

“With COP27 in Egypt this November all eyes will be on the continent – the question is will investors, businesses and states use this opportunity to prioritise a fast transition which is also fair? Our analysis is essential reading for investors and businesses driving the energy transition as it uses real examples to outline the pitfalls of ignoring human rights risks while also signposting approaches which sidestep these risks and maximise shared benefits for business, local communities and the planet at large.”

Kenya

Kenya generates more than 70% of its power from renewable energy sources including solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. Using case studies from the country BHRRC explored investor risks and opportunities related to the human rights practices of companies driving the expansion of the African renewable energy sector on the ground. Our briefing provides rich lessons for Africa on how to achieve fast shifts to renewable energy while avoiding the delays and suspensions caused by irresponsible approaches, which create misery or dispossession for communities and workers.

Joseph Kibugu, Regional Manager – Africa, BHRRC, said: “Africa is at the crosshairs of both the climate crisis and the boom in renewable energy-related development, including minerals essential for the associated technology. However, as investment in renewable energy in Africa has expanded, we have documented how the human rights risks for communities - and the investors and companies associated with the projects - have also increased over the last decade.

“There is another way. Learning from the case studies analysed in our research, companies and their investors have a window of exceptional opportunity to build a fast and fair energy transition. But it will only be successful if they take steps to embed human rights policy and due diligence across their value chains; ensure explicit respect for Indigenous communities’ rights; and focus on creating substantial co-benefit with communities and workers.

“There is no time to lose. If we do not learn from past mistakes and implement a human rights-based approach the transition to renewable energy itself is in grave danger – and with it, the achievement of our urgently needed climate goals.”

Key findings

  • Land-related grievances form the highest percentage of complaints by local communities;
  • A high number of cases reveal lack of information and failure to obtain fully informed consent are significant issues, resulting in protests by communities concerned about the impacts and even lawsuits;
  • Examples of renewable energy companies improving practices, fostering better relationships with local communities, and developing opportunities for shared benefit were also identified.

Case study

The Kinangop’s 60.8 Megawatts project proposed by Kinangop Wind Park was cancelled in early 2016 after local landowners put up determined resistance and protested the compensation they received for their land. The locals had raised grievances as far back as 2015, including their fear the turbines would cause health problems and that they would be forced to sell their land. Some members of the local community were injured and one reportedly died during protests. The project ultimately failed due to the protests, and attempts by the company to get compensation at the International Court of Arbitration were also unsuccessful.

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Notes to editors:

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts of companies across the globe.

Media contacts: 

Priyanka Mogul (London), Media Officer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, +44 (0)7880 956239, [email protected]