Reflections on the Berlin conference on ‘Energy for Displaced People: A Global Plan of Action’

12 March, 2018

In January in Berlin, UN agencies, donors, NGOs and the private sector came together to ensure that the humanitarian sector contributes to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 7 on energy access and that energy is considered as part of the Global Compact on Refugees. At the two-day conference titled Energy for Displaced People: Linking Sustainable Humanitarian Response and Long-term Development, 120 delegates agreed to collaborate to lay the foundations for a Global Plan of Action for Sustainable Energy Solutions in Situations of Displacement.

The conference can be seen as a success, as for the first-time humanitarian and energy practitioners united to commit to action in a sector that has struggled to emerge. Several high-level pledges were made, including commitments to improve energy practice and policy in humanitarian settings; involve displaced people and host communities in the new Global Plan of Action (GPA) to reflect their priorities and needs; bolster finance for sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy investments; utilise the skills and capacities of displaced people and ensure they have an active role for future energy interventions; and harmonise and standardise high-quality, usable data and evidence across the sector for monitoring, learning and evaluation.

Despite these successes, this blog offers some critical thoughts and reflections on the development of the GPA and humanitarian energy sector.

The progress made so far has largely been led by deeply committed individuals and sections within organisations. Significantly more staff time and institutional investment is needed to ensure the sector can deliver some of the grand claims committed to at the event. This will require both financial commitments and delivering new ways of working with partnerships between the public and private sectors, humanitarian and energy actors, and emergency response agencies and long-term development organisations. Such partnerships and investment may not come easily to a sector which has traditionally relied on emergency and donor funding for short-term action. However, multiple new business models and ways of working have been demonstrated by the energy access sector in recent years – learning from these new modes of delivery will be essential for delivering good programming on the ground.

Energy seems to finally be on the humanitarian agenda. However, concrete, realisable and practical actions have yet to be enacted by many parts of the sector. Five working groups were set up at the conference to unite communities working on planning and coordination; policy and advocacy; innovative finance; technical skills and capacity building; and data and evidence. One of the aims of the GPA is to provide both a high-level political statement to motivate leaders to prioritise energy, and a working-level roadmap to serve as the base for an effective Global Plan of Action. The roadmap will include targets and indicators, best practice examples, and partnership models to serve as a concrete guideline at the practitioner level. However, this can all too easily be developed by western policy institutions and fail to provide useable guidance for those working in the field and directly on programming issues.

Whilst the conference was a major step forward, and there is the possibility that energy will now be included in global humanitarian policies, many of these discussions are still held in international forums in developed countries. How will the needs and voices of displaced people be directly involved in this agenda and decision-making on programmes that impact their lives? The Global Plan will be presented at the SE4ALL annual forum in May in Lisbon and launched at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July. Ahead of these events how will the priorities of refugees and host communities be included in the plan? Currently, there is little participation from partners from the global south, the needs of field officers and programme managers in the country offices of humanitarian organisations are not included, nor are the national development priorities of host community governments. Inclusive humanitarian energy policy must incorporate these audiences and organisations at the start to be successful. Otherwise we as a community run the risk of a return to the days of top-down donor-imposed humanitarian programming.

Finally, reliable evidence and data need to be at the heart of projects and programmes which deliver long-term sustainable energy to displaced communities. Without detailed evidence, agencies, NGOs and host governments will be unable to respond effectively. The energy needs of refugees and community priorities will not be incorporated into decision-making. Private-sector suppliers will not have the information they need to invest or develop market-based solutions with other partners. Evidence is critical for all these reasons because without good data programmes will struggle to be successful and action on humanitarian energy will not be able to achieve the types of global changes envisaged at the GPA Berlin event. Ultimately, the complexity of humanitarian energy as an issue requires a great deal more knowledge and research. While some institutions have provided initial research work on this area, academic analysis is lacking. There is a need for academics to be involved directly in all the working groups founded by the Berlin event in order to ensure policy-making is evidence-based and rigorous. In the long-term, hopefully the humanitarian energy sector will be able learn from previous research work on energy access and academic analysis on humanitarian technologies. However, to do this academics and researchers will need to be involved from the start of global policy processes such as the GPA.

For those wishing to contribute to the global plan process, there are several routes for doing so: to be notified about major developments relating to the Global Plan of Action, please sign up for the SAFE mailing list. For academics or researchers who would like to be involved in this area, please contact the chair of the working group on data, evidence, monitoring and evaluation.

Sarah Rosenberg-Jansen is a DPhil Candidate in the Refugee Studies Centre at the Oxford Department for International Development where she researches renewable energy for refugees and humanitarian energy policy.

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About the author(s)
Sarah Rosenberg-Jansen
Research Student