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Published on 20 October 2023

As the world experiences multiple crises, the energy transition has been described as a 'golden thread’. It brings opportunities to make gains across the broad spectrum of human rights and goals for sustainable development, but this potential will only be realised if renewable energy is ‘done right’, by centring human rights and global justice.   

Christian Aid’s new report, Getting Down to Business, explores some of the risks and opportunities and sets out ten principles to guide policymaking towards a just and equitable transition.  

While it’s critical that we deliver renewable energy quickly, and on the scale needed to address the climate crisis, our report examines: 

  • How to ensure the rush to invest doesn’t result in human rights violations 

  • How renewable energy technologies can be produced and deployed in ways that maximise the benefits for poorer countries  

  • What needs to be done to ensure the substantial economic benefits of decarbonisation are equitably shared.  

Read the full report

Download the report to learn more about the role of the private sector in delivering a just and equitable energy transition.

Challenges in ensuring human rights compliance

Our research highlights that energy companies and related sectors, such as mining of ‘transition minerals’, have failed to fully comply with their obligations to respect human rights, leading to human rights and environmental abuses. In some cases these abuses are directly linked to the consumption of ‘green’ technologies, such as electric cars, in Europe.  

Abuses include pollution of water supplies and destruction of forests that marginalised communities depend on, and failure to respect internationally recognised protections for land rights.  

National legislation and voluntary frameworks such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights have proven inadequate, so an important principle highlighted in our report is that respect for human rights should be made mandatory. To support this, Christian Aid is calling for a Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights

Empowering communities in the transition

The human rights risks of the energy transition are greatest where there are huge power inequalities, for example, between transnational corporations and marginalised indigenous peoples, and where people living in poverty (who bear the brunt of human rights and environmental abuses) have little power or influence.  

Democratising decision making and championing the participation of rights holders in decision making are therefore also important principles to ensure concerns of energy-poor and vulnerable communities influence energy governance. 

There is also much that national governments can do to ensure investment in renewable energy helps deliver other human rights for all. This may involve measures to decentralise energy production and distribution to address energy poverty and ensure affordable electricity supplies for essential public services. It could also involve support for smaller businesses developing appropriate technologies that enhance rural livelihoods.  

Important principles include support for locally led decentralised and sustainable renewable energy solutions, and prioritising the rights of marginalised groups and gender equality. 

Successful models of sustainable energy initiatives

In many cases, civil society organisations have led the way with successful innovations in partnership with communities, albeit on a small scale.  

Our report documents some of the work of Christian Aid’s partners, including their support for women-led sustainable energy enterprises in Honduras, Ethiopia and Malawi. This approach has (quite literally) put power into the hands of marginalised women to support the local economies, and has enabled them to be more resilient in the face of climate change impacts. Such approaches can have multiple benefits. Our report draws lessons from these experiences to inform policies that could help make more such initiatives possible.  

Christian Aid partners are also advocating for an energy transition that results in a fairer, less extractive global economy. This includes ensuring companies, particularly large multinational corporations, pay a fair share of tax. It also includes  climate financing, fair trade practices and other international cooperation to support poorer countries to develop ‘home grown’ energy industries. These  create green jobs and relieve dependence on imported electricity, fuels or technologies.   

Centring human rights in business practices

Together with our partners we are calling for a just and equitable energy transition, one that centres human rights, transforms power relationships and decolonises development.  

We maintain that in this transition, businesses should not only respect human rights, but also contribute to their realisation, by developing sustainable technologies and providing equitable benefit sharing and support for workers and communities who stand to lose out.  

While states have primary responsibility for ensuring they do this, international financial institutions, intergovernmental organisations and businesses must also play their part to ensure energy investment results in a just and equitable transition.  

Getting Down to Business

Putting human rights at the heart of a just and equitable energy transition. Download the report.

Breaking the Barriers

The Breaking the Barriers programme aims to increase rural women's jobs and income in the sustainable energy sector.