Opinion - 18/June/2018

Gender equality for a quicker energy transition

“Reducing gender inequality makes economic sense apart from being the right thing to do,” concludes a World Bank report from May 2018. Christine Lins, former Executive Secretary of REN21, a global renewable energy policy network, explains why and how she and other sustainable energy leaders are helping empower women to play a bigger role in the transition to a clean energy economy

While a plethora of reports show that reducing gender inequality makes economic sense, men continue to dominate the energy sector. Christine Lins, former Executive Secretary of REN21, a global renewable energy policy network, explains why she and other sustainable energy leaders have launched a new initiative to help change the status quo and speed up the energy transition

 

“Why don’t you look for a proper job?” I was told. It was 2000 and renewables were still in their infancy. Leaving Austria to set up an umbrella organisation for the European renewable energy industry in Brussels was not seen by many as a promising career option.

Well, I guess reality has caught up with those cynics! Less than two decades later, renewable energy accounts for 70% of net additions to global power generation capacity; investment in new renewable power capacity is roughly three times that in new fossil fuel capacity; and with 40,000 photovoltaic (PV) panels installed every hour globally, more solar PV is now installed than the net capacity additions of fossil fuels and nuclear power combined.

The progress made so far, however, is not enough to bring us even close to reach the objectives of the Paris climate agreement to hold the global average temperature rise to well below 2°C, not to mention a much safer limit of 1.5°C. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose for the first time in four years in 2017. The rapid renewables uptake in the power sector shows that the energy transition with renewables and energy efficiency is possible, but we need to do more in the fields of heating and cooling as well as transport and we need to better integrate planning policies and regulatory frameworks.

 

 

While we can‘t predict the future we do need to debate the opportunities and challenges of a 100% renewable energy future. We need to understand how system integration can shift thinking from the traditional perspective of baseload power to one where the optimal integration of variable renewable energy provides on-demand, reliable, affordable electricity and brings added-value to grid infrastructure. And we need to rely on all available talents, from both men and women.

It is a well-known fact that the energy sector continues to be male-dominated. The absence of gender equality can be observed both in industrialised and emerging/developing countries. Gender inequality is even more prevalent at decision-making levels. Women are generally under-represented on company boards and among senior management positions, as well as in politics. This reality of under-representation is even more accentuated in energy-related fields. As a result, the few women who manage to secure top positions are often less well connected with their peers than their male colleagues.

 

Climate impacts

Furthermore, the impacts of climate change are not felt equally. While poverty and geography are important dividing lines, so too is gender. Climate-change induced disasters disproportionately affect women. When disaster strikes, women, who still often play the primary role of looking after children and the elderly, are the last to evacuate, leading to higher female death tolls. Around 90% of the 150,000 people killed in the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone were women. They typically have less access to emergency response information and if they do survive, women, especially in poor or marginalised communities, are often less able to rebuild and recover.

Solutions to climate change and a sustainable energy supply need to work for everyone, yet women’s voices and needs are still often excluded from the decision-making table. The problem of climate change is simply too big to overlook half the world’s population and ignore female talent. Gender diversity drives innovation, opens new pathways for technology deployment, brings fresh perspectives to development of societies and attracts and retains a richer pool of talent.

With this in mind, a group of senior energy professionals got together in 2017 to create GWNET, the Global Women’s Network for the Energy Transition. This is a global network aimed at empowering women working in sustainable energy in both developed and emerging/developing countries at different career levels from both the public and private sector through interdisciplinary networking, advocacy, training, coaching and mentoring.

It is a bottom-up initiative where young professionals, middle and top management executives can participate. Together with its regional partners, GWNET works closely with top-down initiatives such as the Clean Energy Education programme and the Empowerment Technology Collaboration Partnership (C3E TCP) run by the International Energy Agency, as well as the People Centered Accelerator led by the Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) initiative.

 

GWNET activities in a nutshell:

  1. Collecting data on women in clean energy in collaboration with the International Renewables Agency (IRENA)
  2. Mainstreaming gender in energy policies by finding synergies between two of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, namely SDG7, ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, and SDG5, achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls
  3. The first global GWNET mentoring programme is now up and running, and interested mentors and mentees can submit an expression of interest for the next programme round
  4. Networking events are held back-to-back with major conferences and fora
  5. Creating a database of women experts in sustainable energy

 

The network is open for individuals and corporations committed to gender balance in the energy sector and wishing to connect with their peers and to advance the energy transition more rapidly www.globalwomennet.org

 


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