Action Needed to Balance Gender Disparity in Renewable Energy Sector

Today is Gender Day at COP 20, which is dedicated to advancing women’s contributions to climate change action. Women are disproportionately affected by climate change, due to social status and gender roles, and can also play a key role in mitigation and adaptation efforts. Despite this, women are severely underrepresented in the decision-making process on climate change issues.

According to IRENA research, women’s talents and insights are also under-utilised in the renewable energy sector.

In all countries, gender stereotypes are a powerful roadblock which continue to restrict women’s participation in, and contribution to, the sector. But the nature of the gender gap is vastly different depending on where you are located.

In developed countries, where everyone has electricity access, women are still a minority in the renewable energy workforce, particularly among technical staff and management. Female employees make up roughly 20-25% of the sector workforce, with most women working in administrative and public relations positions. Among the key constraints are issues related to self-perception, mobility and skills. For example, the low percentage of women who graduate in the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields directly affects women’s participation in the renewable energy sector. Within the industry itself, barriers to women’s advancement relate not only to ingrained views and attitudes, but also to the way that workplaces are organised and influence the work/life balance.

In the majority of developing countries, women face day-to-day challenges related to cooking and lighting their households, especially in rural areas. They are often compelled to spend long hours collecting firewood and other materials for fuel, which markedly limits their ability to pursue education or find employment. In terms of employment, female employees are a minority in most rural renewable energy enterprises, particularly in managerial and technical positions. Limited capital and mobility, as well as socio-cultural restrictions, preclude a larger role for women in many modern renewable energy technologies.

Considering gender in the renewable energy equation can help address skill shortages in the industry while maximising socio-economic benefits. By removing existing barriers and working towards equal opportunity for the employment of women in the sector, the pool of talent can be substantially increased.

In developing countries, renewable energy employment provides an opportunity to address the disparity in poverty between women and men, especially considering that women represent 70% of the world’s 1.3 billion people in extreme poverty.

The inclusion of gender dimensions in renewable energy strategies and the empowerment of women in energy decisions can multiply renewable energy co-benefits, particularly those related to access, household consumption and micro-enterprises, where women are primary actors.

More information

Power to the People: Renewables Can Bring Power to 1.3 Billion With No Access

Great strides have been made in the last two decades to bring electricity to the masses, with 1.7 billion more people connected today than in 1990. Latin America has been a pioneer in this regard, boasting an electrification rate of 95%.

But much more remains to be done.

More than 1.3 billion people (30 million in Latin America) currently live their lives without access to electricity, and 85 million live without clean, modern cooking fuels.

Today, on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima Peru, a conference was held to address the issue of rural electrification. The Conference on Universal Access to Energy and Climate, organized by Acciona, highlighted projects underway to help address this issue and discussed funding, scalability and challenges to be overcome.

DG at Acciona EventIRENA’s Director-General joined the event to deliver a keynote speech, stating:

“There is an urgent need to scale-up development efforts aimed at achieving universal access to modern energy services. To meet the 100% energy access target by 2030, the pace of electricity infrastructure expansion will have to nearly double. In this endeavor, renewable energy has a crucial role to play.”

He argued that renewable energy technologies are cost-competitive, mature, modular, adaptable, environmentally friendly and have been proven to work in off-grid environments from Peru to Bangladesh.

So if renewables are cheap, good for the environment, and work so well, why aren’t they being implemented more? Here are a few reasons:

  • Ideology: In order to scale up deployment, the ideology needs to move from a project to project approach, to a market-level approach with targeted incentives and enabling policies.
  • Finance: We currently invest USD 9 billion a year on energy access, but USD 45 billion is needed to achieve universal access (but funds like ADFD are helping bridge this gap).
  • Capacity building: Adequate training and education are needed to support local implementation and decrease independence on foreign know-how.

Renewable energy technologies offer a pathway to leap-frog traditional energy infrastructure and meet the dual objective of increasing socio-economic development in an environmentally sustainable manner.

More information on providing modern energy access for all with renewables.

Renewable Energy: Saving Lives One Joule At a Time

Climate change is a difficult subject to relate to. We get lost in the science, citing figures on atmospheric carbon dioxide, global temperature trends, and tipping points for climate disaster. Or we get lost in the scale, discussing the enormity of its impact on the environment, global ecosystems, and transcontinental weather patterns.

In all this grandiosity, we lose sight of the most fundamental effect of climate change: decreased human health.

Today at the UN Climate Change Conference, the World Health Organization highlighted some staggering figures about the effects of climate change on human health:

  • Climate change is already dramatically affecting human health
  • Instances of diarrhea increase 8% for every 1 degree centigrade temperature rise
  • Air pollution has caused more than 7 million deaths (the AIDS pandemic killed 2.3 million people in its worst year)
  • Asthma now affects over 40% of Delhi residents, with air quality amongst the worst in the world
  • Climate change causes death and injury through heat, vector borne diseases, extreme weather events, food and water borne illnesses, and malnutrition

The health impact of emissions from global energy use is significant, but its economic cost is difficult to quantify. A 2013 study conducted by experts from the US Environmental Protection Agency found that the national economic health cost caused by fossil fuels was between USD 361.7 billion and USD 886.5 billion annually. The European Health and Environment Alliance found that emissions from Europe’s coal-fired power plants cost its citizens up to EUR 42.8 billion in health costs every year.

IRENA research estimates that doubling the global share of renewable energy – a goal well within reach by 2030 – could improve health enough to reduce global health costs by up to USD 200 billion. This makes renewable energy so much more than just a way to reduce global emissions. The global implementation of renewables ensures nothing less than the health of humanity.

Now that’s something we can all relate to.

Peru Advances Renewable Energy Plans

“Welcome to the region with the highest renewable energy share in the world (electricity sector).” – Edwin Quintanilla Acosta, Peruvian Vice Minister of Energy at the launch event for the Geothermal Development Facility for Latin America

A new programme designed to support the development of geothermal energy in the Latin American region was launched today on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru. Peru’s involvement in the Geothermal Development Facility is part of its plan to achieve 60% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Earlier this year, the Peruvian Government and IRENA cooperated on a Renewables Readiness Assessment (RRA) for the country. The assessment identifies actions needed to further expand the share of renewable energy in Peru, as well as how to better complement rural electrification and improve on-going efforts to support the development of bio fuel in the country.

The RRA determines that Peru’s vast, untapped, renewable energy resources could play a key role in securing the necessary energy to fuel economic expansion while preserving the environment. It also highlights the need to prepare for renewable energy integration in transmission-grid expansion plans, particularly so that variable sources like solar and wind power can meet future electricity demand.

While the RRA process helps shape appropriate policy and regulatory choices, each country determines which renewable energy sources and technologies are relevant and consistent with national priorities.

More information on the IRENA RRA series.

Legislators Urged To Implement Renewables; Turn the Tide on Climate Change

Today, 60 legislators from 20 national parliaments gathered together to kick start legislative action on climate change. Keynote speakers included IRENA Director-General Adnan Amin, Unilever CEO Paul Polman, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, and the Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal.

With the world watching another typhoon batter the Philippines, and given frustrations regarding the slow pace of the ongoing climate negotiations, the impetus falls on legislators to take action now on climate change.

IRENA analysis shows that it’s possible to double the share of renewable energy in the world energy mix, from 18 to 36%, by 2030. But this won’t happen on its own. IRENA’s Director-General urged legislators to do their part, and offered IRENA’s unique blend of research and technical advise to support them in doing so.

“To drive the rapid uptake of renewables, legislators have to take an urgent and active approach, adopting new policy frameworks at the national and regional levels. There is no fixed formula to make this happen.

Without the support of legislators, we will be unable to turn the tide. I have come to believe this is the biggest moment in all of our political careers. History books will be written about what we do over the next 12 months. I encourage you to come together and embrace the extraordinary opportunities the renewable revolution has to offer.”

Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA Director-General at GLOBE legislator event

IRENA and UNFCCC Discuss “Vital” Role of Renewables in Fighting Climate Change


“Quite frankly, there is no answer to climate change without substantially, dramatically, increasing the amount of renewable energy in the global energy system.” – UNFCCC’s Christiana Figueres during IRENA video interview

Today, IRENA’s Director-General Adnan Amin met with head UN climate chief Christiana Figueres to discuss the key role of renewables in addressing climate change.

More than 80% of human-caused CO2 emissions come from burning fossil fuels for energy. Of that, 44% comes from coal, 36% from oil and 20% from natural gas. As such, energy must be our priority in bringing down global CO2 emissions.

World electricity generation is forecast to grow 70% by 2030. A doubling in the share of renewable energy, from 18% today to 36%, would help mitigate climate change by reducing the global average emissions to the equivalent of a 40% intensity reduction compared to 1990 levels.

For more, read IRENA’s REmap 2030 analysis.

Covering the latest news from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and developments in renewables.