Green Energy Transition: An Unjust Burden On Indigenous Communities

by | May 15, 2023 | Green Investments

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As the world turns its attention towards renewable energy sources to tackle the growing climate crisis, the transition to green energy is often hailed as a necessary step towards a sustainable future. However, the benefits of this transition are not evenly distributed, and the burden of implementing green energy solutions falls disproportionately on marginalized communities, particularly indigenous communities.

Despite being stewards of the land and having a deep understanding of the interconnectedness between people and nature, indigenous communities are often left out of the decision-making processes and are forced to bear the brunt of the environmental and social impacts of these energy transitions. This raises important questions about the ethics and equity of the green energy transition and whether it can truly be sustainable if it is not just for all.

The Present Scenario

Indigenous people constitute a small fraction of the world’s population, but they have played an essential part in sustaining the world as we know it. There are over 476 million Indigenous people worldwide, distributed throughout 90 nations and 5,000 diverse civilizations, living in all geographic zones. Much of our world’s non-commercially exploited land and its remaining mineral and timber resources, significant rivers, fossil fuels, and renewable energy sources are found in or near Indigenous communities’ territories.

In its sixth report, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes that empowering Indigenous communities “strengthens climate leadership in many countries and changes broad social norms by increasing knowledge of Indigenous governance systems that have supported sustainable lifeways for thousands of years.” With many Indigenous livelihoods and cultures inextricably linked to their lands, territories, and resources, the IPCC also finds that, globally, Indigenous people bear the brunt of environmental and climate injustices due to their geographical situation in mining and energy “sacrifice zones,” locations prone to extreme weather events, and inequitable energy access.

Green Energy Transition an Unjust Burden on Indigenous Communities

What is Green Energy Transition?

“Green Energy transition” refers to the global energy sector’s transition from fossil-based energy production and consumption systems like petroleum, natural gas, and oil towards renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and lithium-ion batteries. The rising penetration of renewable energy in the energy supply mix, the beginning of electrification, and advances in energy storage are all significant drivers of the energy transition. Although regulation and commitment to decarbonization have been varied, the energy transition will become more critical as investors prioritize environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues.

As more investors and companies seek greater clarity and confidence in accounting for long-term Search climate risks and opportunities, businesses are adjusting to the “energy transition” — the shift of the global energy sector from fossil-based systems of energy generation and consumption to renewable energy sources. The transition from nonrenewable energy sources like natural gas, coal, and oil to renewable energy is enabled by technological developments and a societal push toward sustainability. The energy transition, fueled by structural, long-term changes in energy supply, demand, and prices, also strives to decrease energy-related greenhouse gas emissions through various kinds of decarbonization.

How Green Energy Transition is a Burden on Indigenous Communities?

According to the study of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs 2023, indigenous peoples worldwide face compounding pressures from clean energy mining projects, carbon offsets, new protected areas, and large infrastructure projects on their lands as part of economic recovery efforts following Covid-19. Due to their relationship with the environment and reliance on natural resources, indigenous peoples such as the Saami in Sweden, Norway, Finland as well, and Russia, and the Guarani tribe in Brazil, are among the first and most affected by climate change. Warming weather and sea ice loss, for example, alter the availability of traditional food supplies and raise the risk of travel for indigenous peoples relying on Arctic land and waterways. Deforestation decreased rainfall, and increased droughts threaten indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and access to water in the Amazon.

Many indigenous groups are becoming opposed to substantial renewable energy projects. Colonization in the Americas has resulted in the relocation of indigenous peoples from valuable fertile plains to steep, broken terrain (now suitable for hydropower), infertile uplands (now good for wind), and dry places (now ideal for solar) since 1492. Many of these groups need legal land titles where they live. Still, the government does, and it frequently distributes ownership to renewable energy firms without consultation, approval, or compensation.

This alarming trend is reflected in data from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre’s (BHRRC) work on corporate accountability. Since 2010, there has been an increase in claims of relocation, loss of their livelihoods, and assaults against communities. Corporations have been requested 94 times to respond to allegations made by local and international NGOs against renewable energy projects. More than half of these charges concern operations in Central and South America, with the remaining 28 per cent about operations in Asia.

Impact of adopting renewable energy on rural communities

For example, Indigenous communities in Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec have complained about abuses of their rights due to wind power installations. Communities have criticized the government’s approval of these projects, claiming they were approved without the community’s free, earlier, and informed consent and lacked access to information in indigenous languages. Opponents of these projects have suffered death threats, violence, and detention.

According to human rights organizations, the rush to adopt renewable energy to decrease carbon emissions disproportionately harms rural and indigenous communities. Their lands are stolen for solar, wind, bioenergy, and hydropower projects. While renewable energy has a substantial land footprint, the projects receive government subsidies. They are subject to less scrutiny than fossil-fuel projects such as coal, and few businesses have systems to prevent or mitigate human rights violations.

The good news is that comprehensive human rights due diligence is achievable and appealing for renewable energy enterprises. By implementing human rights policies following the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples- indigenous peoples are not to be illegally removed from their lands or territories, and for with resettlement dependent on free, prior, and informed permission, prior, and informed consent, as well as just and fair compensation—renewable energy companies can enhance the sustainability of their projects, reduce their own and other stakeholders’ risks, and increase their own and other. Indeed, by putting human rights at the heart of their operations and supply chains, ethical renewable energy companies can lead the way to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources, leapfrogging other sectors.

The Bottom Line

Our earth needs a rapid shift to a low-carbon economy. Renewable energy businesses and their investors now have a difficult choice: either obtain the cooperation of impacted people or engage in human rights violations and tolerate the repression of genuine protest and resistance. Forward-thinking renewable energy investors may assist in paving the way by adopting win-win strategies that benefit everyone while supporting indigenous peoples’ answers. Meanwhile, governments must implement national-level laws to ensure indigenous peoples can participate in policy decisions that impact them and benefit from renewable energy initiatives. This includes respecting their collective rights to land and resources, the right to self-determination, and the practice of cultural traditions.

A ‘just transition’ addresses the social and environmental interventions and safeguards required to protect Indigenous Peoples’ rights and livelihoods when economies adapt to sustainable development practices to prevent climate change and biodiversity loss. It guarantees that people most harmed by environmental damages do not shoulder the expenses of this transition, is involved in developing policy solutions, and participate in new economic opportunities.

Also Read: Future of Renewable Energy


  • Dr. Tanushree Kain

    Tanushree is a passionate Environmentalist with a Doctorate in Environmental Sciences. She is also a Gold medalist in Master of Science (M.Sc), Environmental Sciences. She has 6 years of experience as a guest faculty in Environmental Sciences. With her combination of technical knowledge and research expertise, she can create clear, accurate, and engaging content that helps users get the maximum information regarding environmental topics.

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