Today, more than 90% of refugees living in rural areas have very limited access to modern, reliable, and clean sources of energy. Yet access to sustainable electricity means refugees can work, study and run a business. It is essential for connectivity. Having cleaner cooking fuels means refugees don't have to compromise their health by inhaling harmful smoke. And if they no longer need to walk for hours to collect firewood, they have more time in a day to be productive and contribute as active members of the societies that host them.
Programs that benefit both refugees and host communities are often more inclusive, more productive, and more resilient to climate change. The Clean Energy Challenge is part of a systemic change to enhance refugees’ self-reliance and reduce their dependency on humanitarian aid, support local economies and boost local infrastructure and bring more smart and sustainable support to refugees and the communities that host them.
People who flee conflict often find safety in densely populated and ecologically fragile environments that already experience the adverse effects of climate change. New arrivals of refugees or internally displaced persons can exacerbate these effects, for example, the increased need for firewood for cooking enhances deforestation and contributes to environmental degradation in the areas where refugees live.
What’s more, clean energy to light up communal facilities enhances safety and security in the settlements, particularly for women and girls who are often exposed after dark.
We all have a responsibility to act, both by reducing our own emissions and by ensuring that refugees and the communities hosting them have clean and renewable energy.
What is the Clean Energy Challenge?
The Challenge is an effort by individuals, governments, businesses and organisations across the world to replace costly and unsustainable sources of energy – such as petroleum, coal or biomass such as firewood - with clean and modern energy sources to power households, schools, clinics and humanitarian operations.
We have committed to achieving the ambitious goal of bringing affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy to all settlements of forcibly displaced people and nearby host communities by 2030.
The Clean Energy Challenge is an ambitious goal that supports UNHCR’s Global Strategy for Sustainable Energy (2019-2024) and aligns with UN Climate ambitions including SDG7 to bring clean and affordable energy to all.
The Clean Energy Challenge targets four key areas for development. They are:
Providing energy in these 4 areas supports refugees and displaced people’s meet their families’ energy needs, maintain their dignity and become more resilient.
Read here how clean cooking solutions are already transforming the lives of refugees in Sudan.
How you can help
Achieving the Clean Energy Challenge goal requires creating a new market for clean energy that has not existed before. It needs coordinated action from all sectors of society.
Everyone can play their part to make this a reality:
- Individuals everywhere can support the Clean Energy Challenge through donations. Your help is critical to successfully deliver on this goal.
- Private sector can provide financial or in-kind support and share know-how and technical expertise. Businesses can support market development and contribute to data analysis at local level; they can leverage their market presence and expertise by piloting market-based approaches for clean energy for refugees.
- Foundations can contribute with supporting new innovative approaches with their vision, advocacy and the necessary early stage de-risking and funding.
- Civil society organisations and NGOs can ensure the refugee and host communities they support are included in the design of local clean energy solutions. They can also develop and implement energy programmes with livelihoods and climate action components.
- Energy experts can collect local data on the energy needs of displaced populations and design bottom-up energy projects.
- Governments hosting refugees can include refugees in their national energy and development frameworks and planning. They can create a favourable environment for investment and support private sector decentralized renewable energy (DRE) solutions through enabling policies and programmes.
- Donor governments can provide financial support to energy programmes in refugee settings or help match the energy pledges made at the Global Refugee Forum. Donor governments can ensure energy planning is fully integrated in their development and humanitarian programmes; they can improve the availability of data through feasibility studies and promote investment.
- Development actors can include refugees in the energy programmes they support in host countries.
- International Financial Institutions can support national governments with investments to build a clear energy sector and advise on a regulatory environment to enable private sector to operate through their normal business models. IFIs can also help de-risk local and international private sector energy access companies to deliver energy services in displacement contexts.
Join the Action Group
The Clean Energy Challenge Action Group is a multi-stakeholder forum of over 250 donors, private sector partners, government officials, business networks, research institutes and UN agencies, and is open to all. Together, we work towards realising the four key energy outcome areas through joint approaches, focusing on boosting self-reliance of displaced populations in line with the Global Compact for Refugees.
Climate Action is led by UNHCR’s Special Advisor Andrew Harper. The CEC is co-chaired by Jaime de Bourbon de Parme, UNHCR’s Senior Advisor on Private Sector Partnerships, and Thomas Fohgrub, Team Leader of the coordination unit Global Plan of Action for Sustainable Energy in Displacement Settings (GPA).
Learn more about how you can contribute to the Challenge and what has been achieved so far in this December 2020 update (external link).
To join the Clean Energy Challenge, please contact the secretariat
Note: Participating in the Clean Energy Challenge or collaborating with other participating entities do not imply an exclusive collaboration or partnership, nor endorsement or promotion of, or preference for, any other entity or its products or services. Communications from other entities on the Clean Energy Challenge and views expressed therein do not necessarily reflect each other’s views, nor that of UNHCR or the United Nations.
- The second meeting of the Clean Energy Challenge was organized on December 1st 2022. The event presented some success stories about how sustainable energy programs transform the lives of refugees and local populations and presented opportunities for further support leading to the Global Refugee Forum in 2023. Click here to see the presentations.
- On 3 June 2021, a high-level event took place in Geneva, bringing together governments, businesses and aid organizations to discuss ways of supporting clean energy solutions for refugees and host communities.
Click here to watch the recording of the event on YouTube.
- Learn more about the Challenge’s guiding principles and how it links with national plans and existing initiatives.
- Global Plan of Action - Website (external link).
- UNHCR’s Global Strategy for Sustainability Energy 2019 – 2024.
- Find out more about the Global Refugee Forum.
- Read more about UNHCR’s partnership with UNEP DTU, the UN Environment Program and Technical University of Denmark Partnership, co-chair of the Research and Evidence Working Group of the Global Plan for Action (external link).
- Energy and Environment - Technical guidance for humanitarian COVID-19 response (Version 1, April 2020) (external link).
- Sustainable Development Goal 7 (energy) and COVID-19 situations of displacement: A briefing note (external link).
- Clean Energy Challenge LinkedIn Group (external link).
- More on energy access in displacement: Global Plan for Action webinar series (external link).
- Learn more about setting up the global structures and processes for implementation (external link).
- Check out this story map on “Clean Energy for refugees and host communities in Tanzania”.
- An inspiring story about solar cooperatives in Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado area, supplying clean, affordable energy to their communities