HRDD for Ethiopia and Kenya's energy transitions

Anna Triponel

March 18, 2022
Our key takeaway: Leapfrogging to renewable energy is a must as governments seek to implement their Paris Agreement-related commitments. However, this energy transition is not without risks, and can create, or exacerbate, adverse human rights impacts. The Danish Institute for Human Rights has provided a head-start for companies conducting human rights due diligence in the energy sector in Ethiopia and Kenya by highlighting the full range of people who could be impacted, and how, to feed into due diligence and further stakeholder engagement. Companies can’t do it alone: governments and investors also need to step up.

The Danish Institute for Human Rights has released two scoping papers: ‘Human Rights and the Energy Transition in Ethiopia’ and ‘Human Rights and the Energy Transition in Kenya’:

  • Salient human rights for the energy transition in Ethiopia: When it comes to Ethiopia, the scoping paper delves into the country’s strategy (the Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy) which seeks to expand electricity generation from renewable sources of energy for domestic and regional markets. The paper describes the structure of the energy sector, and the renewables potential in Ethiopia, as well as the relevant governance frameworks and actors. It then delves into the salient human rights implications of the energy transition and renewable energy projects. Based on secondary data and in-person interviews, the paper finds that rights-holders at risk include peasants and people living in rural areas, women and girls, pastoralists and Indigenous Peoples, children and youth, and environmental and human rights defenders. Human rights risks include land: “renewable energy projects need to recognise existing gaps in land regulatory and governance frameworks and work towards mitigating associated human rights risks, including risks of corruption in dealings with both urban and rural lands.” The right to health and the right to a clean and health environment can be impacted, in particular through environmental degradation associated with energy projects. Labour rights are at risk, in particular due to the lack of minimum wage and presence of child labour. Finally, because of the security and conflict context in Ethiopia, “renewable energy projects need to conduct political and human rights risk assessment to avoid and mitigate adverse impacts of their operations.”
  • Salient human rights for the energy transition in Kenya: When it comes to Kenya, the scoping paper delves into the government’s approach to energy, emphasising that “the government has placed emphasis on the development of geothermal and wind energy plants, as well as solar-fed mini-grids for rural electrification.” Rights-holders at risk include women and girls, ethnic minorities, Indigenous Peoples, and pastoralists. To help tackle human rights risks associated with the energy transition, the Kenyan National Action Plan “prioritises the development of regulatory frameworks aimed at safeguarding, among other things, human rights abuses in energy projects.” The scoping paper delves into the areas that would merit being strengthened under the State’s duty to protect of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These are: registration of community land, resettlement frameworks, protection of Indigenous Peoples rights, human rights due diligence frameworks and company reporting on human rights impacts. When it comes to companies, the paper delves into the human rights risks that were raised during the interviews including land-based claims, environmental harms, intimidation of rights-holders and human rights defenders, meaningful participation of local communities, labour rights and access to remedy.
  • Roles for the government, companies and investors: The scoping papers emphasize the inter-connected roles of governments, companies and investors and provide distinct recommendations for each stakeholder group in order to advance on expanding the energy sector in a rights-respecting way. In particular, areas of risk identified in the scoping paper should support companies in conducting tailored human rights due diligence, as expected under the UN Guiding Principles, and as complemented by meaningful stakeholder engagement.

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