At COP28 recently, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched the ‘Empowering Lives and Livelihoods – Renewables for Climate Action’ initiative. The initiative aims to strengthen climate resilience and adaptation in vulnerable communities by transforming agri-food and health value chains with renewable energy.
Energy is inextricably linked to climate change and many other Sustainable Development Goals, including but not limited to food security and healthcare services. Around 2,5 billion people live in households that rely on the agricultural sector for their livelihoods, and about 30% of the world’s energy is consumed within the agri-food systems. The majority of which are fossil fuel-based, making supply chains vulnerable to price and supply shocks.
In the health sector, an estimated 1 billion people rely on health facilities without electricity. A recent study by IRENA, World Health Organisation and other partners found that 12% of primary health facilities in South Asia and 15% in sub-Saharan Africa, have no access to electricity. In both the agricultural and the health sectors, women in particular are disproportionately affected.
Decentralised renewable energy solutions
These challenges call for greater access to reliable, affordable and sustainable energy. Decentralised renewable energy solutions can enhance productivity, raise incomes, enable value addition, reduce losses, improve climate resilience and bridge the energy access gap in a cost-effective and timely manner. They can generate wider benefits to the communities that need them most; rural clinics can preserve life-saving vaccines, and farmers can have access to sustainable irrigation, for example. However, those solutions need to be scaled up.
According to IRENA's Director-General, Francesco La Camera, renewable energy solutions in agri-food and health sectors provide an opportunity to simultaneously advance both energy and food security, while contributing to job creation, gender equality and climate action. Combining powerful networks, robust financial resources and technical knowledge will support progress in bringing the needed fund to realise those benefits in communities that need them most.
This was supported by the UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Mariam Bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, who said that the initiative was aligned with one of the COP28 Presidency’s key pillars that put nature, people, lives and livelihoods at the heart of climate change. The UAE was committed to ensuring a sustainable food system as outlined in the COP28 UAE Declaration on Food Systems, Resilient Agriculture and Climate Action, and signed by 134 countries. The initiative launched at COP28 should bring wider socio-economic benefits to underserved communities, Almheiri added.
Through the Empowering Lives and Livelihoods initiative, IRENA and the UAE would build multi-stakeholder partnerships that combine the resources and expertise of governments, the private sector, development banks, financial and technical institutions, and philanthropy. Partners joining the Initiative could be part of the solution in strengthening the resilience of agri-food and health value chains with renewable energy.
Together, partners would provide and channel tailored financial solutions and programmatic support to countries, with particular emphasis on least developed countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). At the same time, the Initiative sought to drive equity benefits for women and youth, as the groups that are most impacted by climate change and lack access to opportunities and affordable finance.