16 March 2018 – Voices of a Brighter Future – positive sustainable energy stories from least developed countries

How does access to sustainable energy affect the day-to-day lives of those living in the world’s poorest countries? This month, UN-OHRLLS aims to find out and support those doing the investigation.

Journalists from the 47 least developed countries are being called on to submit stories from their communities, which inspire and highlight the challenges of sustainable energy. Three winners, judged by a high-level panel, will have the opportunity to attend the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in Portugal and have their work featured by the UN.

Russell Watkins, Department for International Development 2015.

Access to reliable and affordable energy is crucial to improving the lives of the 954 million people living in the world’s 47 Least Developed Countries (LDC’s) and is instrumental to decreasing the burden on those individuals to carry out labour intensive work to service their own basic needs. In 2015, the international community came together to commit to The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). These goals place a large emphasis on energy provision, indeed Goal 7 is entirely dedicated to sustainable energy and aims to connect the one fifth of the world that still lacks access to modern electricity. At the recent Global SDG7 Conference in Bangkok, Ms. Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu, High-Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, stressed the importance of this goal, “If we want healthy children, educated girls, inclusive and productive societies, if we want to effectively address climate change, we must look at SDG 7 as a key means for realising inclusive and sustainable development and communicate this clearly.”

However, continuing along current trends will not be enough to achieve SDG7 in LDC’s. More needs to be done to accelerate this progress. According to the United Nations, energy is the dominant contributor to climate change, accounting for around 60% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Prioritising investment in renewable or sustainable energy sources, educating communities in energy efficient practices and adopting clean energy technologies and infrastructure could go a long way towards fighting climate change.

The world’s poorest countries are in a unique position when it comes to investment in energy resources. With much of their energy technology not yet determined, these nations have the opportunity to ensure that practices are sustainable and efficient from the start when beginning to exploit their vast endowments of renewable resources.

Martine Perret, UNMIT 2010.

Government ownership and leadership is important and should be utilized to increased national allocations to the energy sector. However, given the limited nature of national budgets in LDC’s, multi-stakeholder involvement, including the private sector and the international community, is also key. recent UN-OHRLLS report suggests that private sector participation is vital in ensuring the longevity of renewable energy investments. Private companies, such as m-Kopa, Mobisol, Bboxx and Easy Solar have been working in LDCs using a PAYGO model to finance energy investments, with the first generation of PAYGO companies having raised over $360 Million in capital by 2017, a portion of which has been trained on LDC markets in Africa. Within this model, the private company uses their financial flexibility to shoulder the initial cost of the investment so that rural customers don’t have to take out a loan, thus spreading access to electricity without a large upfront cost to the consumer or the government. Furthermore, the use of public-private partnerships can help to expand sources of funding and the scale of the project. In Nepal, Gobar Gas Co. was created through multi-sector involvement, which supported the formation of over 100 local biogas construction companies.

There are many actors in the sustainable energy field.  UN-OHRLLS is currently working with Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll) to promote the Voices of a Brighter Future competition and highlight sustainable energy around the world.

A small existing private sector, coupled with a limited knowledge of sustainable practices, can act as a significant barrier. NGOs can help to fill this gap, through educating farmers and agricultural employees to build a sustainable private sector. Proximity Designs in Myanmar helps farmers and 70% of the population that depends on agriculture through working within communities to design new tools that increase income and enable more sustainable practices. Since their inception in 2004, Proximity Designs has helped increase the income of over 100,000 rural households generating around $275 million for those families. Likewise, in Burkina Faso, the Nubian Vault Association identified a gap in local knowledge in the area of sustainable housing. Through teaching local communities the ‘Nubian Vault Technique’, they estimate they have cumulatively saved around 75,000 tons of CO2 through decreasing the use of trees and metal sheeting. Furthermore, their programme trains apprentices and contractors, ensuring the benefit can be spread throughout the community.

Gaganjit Singh, UN Women 2012.

NGOs can also work with women whose potential is often overlooked when it comes to furthering economic growth and sustainable practices. “Women have for a long time been the untapped potential in the developing world and the piece of the equation that nobody was counting on, especially the women 35 to 50 years of age,” Barefoot College’s CEO Meagan Fallone in told CNBC’s Sustainable Energy in 2015. Barefoot Collegeorks in Burkina Faso, Liberia, Senegal, South Sudan and Zanzibar to teach sustainable farming techniques. They focus particularly on training women to support themselves and spread those skills to their communities. For example, Barefoot College trains women to become solar engineers. Once trained the “Solar Mamas” or “Barefoot Grandmothers” return to their villages with the skills and equipment to electrify more than 50 homes each. Similarly, Solar Sisters, an NGO working with women in Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania, states their programme not only benefits the environment, but benefits women’s livelihoods and independence. One Solar Sister entrepreneur stated that, “Before I was waiting in my house for my husband to buy everything for the house. Now I can buy whatever I want.”

These success stories seeko inspire members of the LDC communities by providing them with an opportunity to expand their own futures and use practices and tools that are good for the environment. The Voices of a Brighter Future competition aims to highlight those within LDC communities, who are making a difference to the lives of individuals and support the journalists telling their story. The competition is open until 22 March 2018.

Tessa Pang, OHRLLS.