Clean Energy Challenge

We all have a responsibility to take action, both to reduce our own emissions and to ensure people of concern can access clean and renewable energy.

During the Global Refugee Forum, and matching the Sustainable Development Goal 7 on access to Energy, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is issuing an ambitious Clean Energy Challenge:

“All refugee settlements and nearby host communities will have access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy by 2030.”

There are five main components to the Challenge:

  • Refugee and host community households have access to a minimum Tier 2[1] renewable electricity.
  • Refugee and host community households have access to modern cooking fuel and technology.[2]
  • Health and education facilities, latrines, public spaces, businesses and street lighting for refugee communities, and humanitarian facilities in refugee settlements are powered by energy-efficient technologies and renewable energy.
  • Water supply for refugee settlements, including boreholes, are powered by renewable energy.
  • Energy solutions support nearby host communities equitably, and align with broader programmes to support host country national and local energy plans, or vice-versa, that refugee communities can be included in these plans

Indeed, while the entry point for the Challenge relates to refugee settlements, the Challenge should only be implemented as part of a broader drive to support host governments’ own energy agendas. By building on national capacities and supporting both host communities and refugees, the latter can live in dignity and contribute to the country hosting them until they have an opportunity to return home.

The Challenge has been developed in close coordination with the World Economic Forum (WEF) Humanitarian Investment Initiative, and will continue to do so into 2020 around joint UNHCR-WEF events on energy.

Reflecting the five components, the Challenge is a joint initiative between the sectors of Shelter and Settlements, WASH, Protection, Food Security, Education, Livelihoods, Health and Energy, grounded in an integrated approach to settlements. This approach recognizes that infrastructure investments in and around refugee settlements need to be coordinated around a vision for the future use and layout of the settlement, developed with refugees and the host government and aligned with integrated planning principles.

The Challenge does not explicitly cover all activities related to energy for refugees and host communities, and notes the importance of other critical areas, including food production, agriculture and forestry management. Success for the Challenge is dependent on linking to a holistic approach that includes productive activities for refugees and host communities, in a manner that fosters social cohesion, economic development and joint prosperity.

Similarly, while focusing on refugee settlements, the Challenge underlines the importance of approaches that provide alternatives to camps and support refugees to live and thrive in rural and urban areas, supporting host country capacity and infrastructure.

As far as possible, ‘market-based’ approaches will be pursued, working to build sustainable private sector solutions, and developing local market capacities. The importance of participation, disaggregated data and gender-aware programming that ensures access for all, will be emphasized.

How will the Challenge be implemented?

The Challenge is both a high-level vision statement, and a tangible expression of international solidarity in support of refugees and host communities.

Implementation will require an accompanying baseline and monitoring process and a light coordination system to track progress. Implementation has to be bottom-up, based on country-level coordination and host country plans, feasibility studies and participatory approaches with refugees and host communities that inform solutions appropriate to each context.

UNHCR’s role would be that of an enabler, in the spirit of the recently launched Global Strategy for Sustainable Energy, seeking partnership with other stakeholders on the delivery of the response.


Building up to the GRF, UNHCR and the Global Plan of Action are developing an initial baseline of 100 refugee settlements, by component. Some already have common areas, boreholes benefiting from solar power; some have private generators providing power. Most use firewood as the primary source of cooking fuel.

The baseline sample was selected based on population size and proximity to host communities. It is not constructed on a randomized sample. Into 2020, the baseline will be developed further with partners and potential users with the aim to inform high-level prioritization of where to intervene. Actual implementation and response design would then require more detailed country driven data collection.


Shortly after the GRF, an Action Group will be formed to discuss how the Challenge will proceed, and to provide a light structure to accompany monitoring of progress.

Coordination should not be duplicative, and rather add to existing coordination mechanisms. Indeed, there are already well-functioning coordination groups which the Challenge will support. Similarly, there are a number of important ongoing initiatives and programmes at the country level – many of which have a broader scope around energy access – and to which the Challenge will be complementary.

The Action Group could be formed from the co-sponsorship group on Energy and Infrastructure; be housed in an existing coordination structure (GPA, SE4All) with UNHCR support; or a combination of the above.

First tasks of the Action Group in early 2020 will be to:

  • Agree the principles through which the Challenge will be implemented.
  • Working with existing coordination groups, take stock and build upon related initiatives that have been concluded or are currently being implemented. Exchange with actors in existing rural energy access programmes to ensure complementarity.
  • Review the Baseline; create a more refined data analysis process, working with existing energy data analysis (e.g. Moving Energy Initiative; GPA).  
  • Establish a process for host countries ‘opting in’ to the Challenge, including collecting and advocating for projects from the country level in a manner that ensures coverage of needs in all countries.
  • Within the broader humanitarian/development sphere, explore the idea of an “Energy Fund”, reinforcing that this is not intended to fund UNHCR programmes, but rather partners who are implementing directly energy programmes that benefit refugees and host communities.

Joining the Challenge

The Challenge is open to Member States, Multilateral and Inter-governmental Institutions, UN agencies and NGOs, Research institutes, and Private sector companies, and related organizations.

Joining the Challenge implies i) an expression of support for the Challenge goal, and ii) that the Member State, organization or company is interested in being part of the Action Group in early 2020.

To join the Challenge, please write to Alex Tyler, Snr Energy Coordinator; [email protected] and/or Ziad Ayad, Snr Liaison Officer, [email protected].

Our partners who have joined the Challenge

[1] ESMAP; SE4All, Multi-Tier Framework for Measuring Energy Access, available at

[2] While the electricity components will focus on renewable energy, the cooking component will include other affordable, cleaner and safe energy solutions for cooking – including LPG – as transition to renewable energy.