Learning from success in renewable energy: Indigenous leadership & shared prosperity
The transition to clean energy is now a global emergency. Accelerating climate breakdown across our planet means we are hurtling towards a tipping point. Indigenous and marginalised communities around the world face multiple forest fires, while workers struggle through worsening heat stress from Arizona to New Delhi. The move to clean energy sources is essential to correct our current course. It is also a golden opportunity to deliver true, shared prosperity, with good jobs, resilient livelihoods, healthier environments, and thriving communities.
The scope and scale of the energy transition is unprecedented. It will demand the best of humanity. The International Energy Agency estimates that the extraction of transition minerals needs to increase six-fold by 2040 for us to reach net zero emissions, with over 50% of the known mineral reserves on Indigenous or peasant lands. It’s also determined we need US$5 trillion each year invested in renewable energy supplies to keep within 1.5C, to have a chance of conserving our benign climate.
We also need strong public support for the transition through the real promise of a fairer, more equal world. Modelling the shift to renewable energy on the old energy and extractive industries of the past won’t get us there. Public trust will be lost through dispossession of people’s land and water, abandoned workers and communities, and poor jobs, with benefits concentrated in the hands of elites. Indigenous peoples and marginalised communities need this fast transition. But if they are the ones to pay the costs, through irresponsible investment and unjust legal systems which grab their lands and water, and with it the extinction of their nations, then there will be no deal – just understandable resistance, blockades, delays, conflicts and mounting losses for investors and companies.
Indigenous and rural communities, enlightened companies and investors, and public-spirited governments are already demonstrating that it is not only possible but advantageous to build renewable energy projects that deliver shared prosperity and recognise Indigenous leadership.
It does not have to be this way. Indigenous and rural communities, enlightened companies and investors, and public-spirited governments are already demonstrating that it is not only possible but advantageous to build renewable energy projects that deliver shared prosperity and recognise Indigenous leadership. These designs hold the promise of the ‘Triple Win’: where communities and workers gain decent livelihoods, long-term revenue streams, environmental protection, and control over the projects within their communities; investors and companies gain stable and conducive investment environments; and our planet gains rapid transition action towards re-establishing a stable climate.
Indigenous communities are often leading the way in these models – especially in countries where their land rights are more safeguarded. A few current examples of our possible future:
Kipeto Energy: the second largest windfarm in Kenya, on Maasai land. After a rocky start of fear, conflict and community protest, the Indigenous custodians of the land negotiated a 5% share in the company with the revenues going to a Community Trust and guarantees of minimal relocation and land title security. The long-term revenue stream, and local electricity supply is already transforming the lives of communities, while building long-term value for investors.
Neqotkuk First Nation in eastern Canada owns a 51% share in the Wocawson Energy Project with Natural Forces (49%), a renewable energy company that has grown its business by partnering with Indigenous communities on solar and wind projects. The project generated over US$400,000 for the community in the first year, set to double the next. The revenue has been spent in part on community infrastructure, especially housing to reduce over-crowding.
The Nga Awa Purua (NAP) geothermal power station in New Zealand is the largest single turbine geothermal power station in the world. It is owned by the Nga Awa Purua Joint Venture with Tauhara North No2 Trust owning 35% and renewable energy company Mercury Energy owning 65%. The Community Trust receives a ground lease and a royalty payment for the supply of geothermal fluid. The arrangement expresses the nation’s aspirations: “Hold fast to our lands and make the best use of our lands for future generations.”
We need a fast and fair transition to clean energy – and models like these demonstrate this possibility. To replicate them, governments, investors and energy companies need to commit to work in partnership with Indigenous leadership, communities and workers to deliver a transition centred on three core principles:
- Shared prosperity: business and investment models that deliver long-term revenues to communities and workers through co-ownership models and equitable benefit-sharing approaches, as this blog demonstrates.
- Duty of care: the enforcement of companies’ human rights and environmental due diligence before investment and during operations is critical. The identification of human rights risks and an action plan to mitigate them builds trust and ensures it is not lost. Measures to protect the environment are imperative.
- Fair negotiations: Free, prior and informed consent for Indigenous peoples is enshrined in international law and must be respected in line with the recognition and protection of their rights to their lands territories and resources and to self-determination. Companies also need to guarantee the protection of leaders who speak out against injustice or irresponsible investment – silencing and intimidation of these defenders must end.
In this way we can build a future of shared prosperity, community resilience and climate security.
by Joan Carling, Executive Director, Indigenous People’s Rights International; and Phil Bloomer, Executive Director, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre