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Active participation of women essential to the global energy transformation

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Yumiko Murakami

By 2050, IRENA projects that there will be around 40 million jobs directly related to renewable energy and energy efficiency worldwide, a more than four-fold increase from today. Women comprise roughly half the world’s population, and their full inclusion is vital to ensuring that the new energy economy is based on the largest pool of talent, knowledge and skills. Moreover, energy poverty has a disproportionate effect on women, and one of the most effective ways to ensure that renewable energy policies and practices consider the gendered impacts of energy is to empower women to shape them.

In 2016, IRENA conducted a survey of renewable energy companies worldwide and found that women represented an average of 35% of the workforce, a share greater than in the traditional energy sector, but lower than in the broader economy. In general, women are severely underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and across the clean energy sector. The disparity is even greater at the management level.  An index by Ernst & Young shows that in 2016, women comprised only 16% of the boards of the world’s largest power and utility companies

The reasons for this are numerous, interwoven and context-specific. One factor is that women spend a disproportionate amount of time in unpaid care work and this constrains their ability to engage in education and income-generating activities. Workplace conditions, such as flexibility of work hours, equal pay, and support for childcare, and a lack of gender-sensitive policies are also important. Energy poverty also reduces the ability of women the participate in the workforce by creating health risks (for example related to indoor air pollution from burning fuels) and lower educational outcomes (for example due to lack of lighting to study by).

In the access context, however, women should not be seen as only beneficiaries but also as agents of change.  For example, in Indonesia, women, who are generally the decision makers on energy issues at the household level, have been empowered as “Wonder Women” through the sale of solar technologies.  Another, in Mali, is activating women as social entrepreneurs by giving them access to renewable-energy-based income-generating activities.

To better understand the challenges and potential solutions to full and equal participation of women in the renewable energy sector, IRENA sat down with Yumiko Murakami, Chief of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development OECD Japan Centre.

Ms. Murakami has been the head of the OECD in Tokyo since 2013. Prior to taking the leadership position, she worked for 18 years as an investment banker in London, New York and Tokyo. Ms. Murakami also has experience within the United Nations, as part of a peacekeeping operation in Cambodia.

IRENA: How do you see the energy sector changing in Japan, and in Asia in general, and what are the implications for women, both as consumers of energy or as those working in the industry?

Ms. Murakami: Japan has just updated its long-term energy policy for 2050, so it is a timely question. One can tell from the energy plan for 2050 that the momentum for the renewable energy sector is stronger than ever now in Japan because the plan specifically calls for the achievements of the goals set by the Paris Agreement as well as the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Japan is not unique in this regard. Many other countries in Asia have started to shift gears toward renewable energy as well.

In this context, implications for women are quite interesting. Japan lags behind many countries when it comes to gender equality. Particularly the energy sector is more male-dominated than the rest of the economy. However, the landscape is changing for women today as there is a stronger need for the economy to have more women at work place due to shrinking work force on back of aging demography. In fact, the female labour market participation rate of Japan has been steadily increasing in the recent years and it is now higher than that of the United States. As more and more women join the workforce, we have a very good chance that many of them will find fruitful careers in the renewable energy sector.

Being a new growth business, it is a very attractive industry for forward-looking individuals, as well as women who may prefer to work in an environment without cultural biases. From the consumer perspective, women also play a critical role to promote clean energy choices. The retail market for electricity has been recently deregulated in Japan, giving consumers more choices for energy source alternatives. Often times, the ultimate decision for various energy options is in the hands of women. It is critical to inform and educate women on long term implications of the choices they make.

IRENA: Last year, three of the four biggest renewable energy lenders in the world were Japanese. What are some of the ways that Japan can use this influence to drive greater gender equality in renewable energy?

Ms. Murakami: There is increasing awareness among investors for the role of finance in many of the areas specified by the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The fact environmental, social and governance (ESG) theme investment is becoming one of the most powerful forces in the global capital markets is very encouraging. Companies in Japan, including financial institutions as well as operational firms, realize they have the fiduciary responsibility to ensure their investments meet all expectations to promote the SDGs. Gender equality is clearly one of the most important areas for them to watch. It is highly desirable for the Japanese lenders to set clear standards and guidelines for gender equality for the projects they finance. It is also important to note that a diverse work place tends to encourage innovations, which can in turn improve productivity, ultimately giving lenders higher return on their investment in a long run.

IRENA: The energy economy of the future will be renewables-based, connected, and digital, and this requires a STEM-advanced workforce.  Despite efforts, these fields remain male-dominated. What, in your view, are some of the ways that governments can support the engagement of women in STEM fields?

Ms. Murakami: This is a big challenge in Japan. Less than 15% of engineering students in Japan are female. While there is almost no difference between men and women in their educational attainment today, male students are 10 times more likely to choose technology-related fields compared to female students. Governments need to start gender mainstreaming at a much earlier stage than university or work place. It includes early career education, encouraging both girls and boys to consider STEM fields as well as efforts to eradicate unconscious gender biases, such as introducing female role models in STEM occupations at school and at home. The role of government continues to be important beyond education, too.

In Japan, a new bill was introduced last year to promote female leadership in business. It requires enterprises with more than 300 employees to set goals and action plans to improve gender balance in the work force.  The newly revised Corporate Governance Code also demands listed companies to have at least one female board member. This type of initiative is helping gender equality.

IRENA: You have worked, and excelled, in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as finance and international diplomacy.  What were some of the barriers that you faced and how did you overcome them?

Ms. Murakami: I spent most of my career on Wall Street. Although the investment banking industry is perhaps one of the most male-dominated businesses, I was fortunate to have colleagues and bosses who mentored and sponsored me. When you are minority, you need to step out of your comfort zone and identify people who can support you on your professional growth. They may not find you unless you find them: it is up to you. Another important element is to understand your competitive advantage and make sure you are adding value by differentiating yourself from the rest. Because you are a minority, often the only woman in your team or division, you may bring something unique to the table. This is not the same as using the gender card. This is all about making diversity work.

IRENA: What advice, from your own experience, can you give to other women looking to advance their careers in the energy sector?

Ms. Murakami: As mentioned earlier, women need to realize that they have so much to offer because they are (at least at this point) minority and different from men. The only way for the energy sector to improve productivity is through innovation. Innovation requires diversity. Sometimes women may feel as if they need to behave like men to be accepted by their male colleagues. I think this is a mistake. Women should feel free to be themselves. Their thought process, ideas and feelings maybe different from those of men. That is exactly what work place needs: a wide range of views.

Sourse: IRENA

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Indonesia’s contribution in renewables through Rare Earth Metals

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The increasing of technological advances, the needs of each country are increasing. The discovery of innovations, the production of goods that are increasing, and renewing energy in a country. It causes countries to desperately need an adequate supply of energy to meet these needs. Energy especially mineral is important in the manufacture of raw materials for an electronic product or can be used as a raw material for realizing renewable energy. Entering the Covid-19 Pandemic, the demand for electronic goods is increasing because, amid a pandemic, people spend more time at home and use digital goods in conducting transactions, using electronic devices, both those used in households such as televisions, refrigerators, induction cookers, washing machines as well as those things we use every day, such as cellphones, laptops and other electronic devices that can accompany people’s daily activities during the pandemic. Besides being able to be used as raw material for making electronic goods, energy, especially Mineral Resources, it can also contribute to realizing the renewable energy in the world, which is the increasing greenhouse gas emissions which will have an impact on the environment and will worsen the environmental, social conditions and Worsening human health is caused by CO2 gas released into the air. Based on data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) explained that the concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere increased and reached a record high last year. Therefore, the supply of Mineral Resources is important in a country to meet human needs and realize renewable energy in the future. The Geological Agency of the Indonesian Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources revealed that Rare Earth Metals were found in a Lapindo mud located in Sidoarjo, East Java, Indonesia. (Murdaningsih, 2021) Rare Earth Metal is one of the minerals that have very important content to be used as raw materials for the manufacture of electronic goods, electric vehicles, and as an energy that can be used as a source of realizing renewable energy. Currently, the world’s largest reserves of Rare Earth Metals are in China, which is the main producer of Rare Earth Metals in the world followed by the United States, Australia, and India (Potential of Rare Earth Metals in Indonesia, 2019). The discovery of rare earth metals in Indonesia can be maximized by Indonesia to take advantage of this invention. Maximizing a Rare Earth Metal can be done to meet the needs of society, especially to meet the supply of electronic goods in a country, and participate in producing Rare Earth Metals in the world to maximize international cooperation both in terms of cooperation to meet electronic products, as well as mutual fulfillment the need to work together in realizing the renewable energy in the world.

Based on data from the Indonesian Central Statistics Agency, it explains that China is still becoming the biggest partner to export telecommunication equipment to Indonesia with an amount of US$ 5,002.8 in 2020 (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2021). Not only telecommunications equipment, but Indonesia is also imports machinery for industrial purposes as much as 757.1 tons (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2021). Therefore, this data shows that Indonesia is still completely dependent on China in importing electronic products as well as products for industrial purposes. To minimize this dependence, Rare Earth Metals can be used as a strategy by Indonesia to participate in producing local electronic goods, as well as a reserve energy source in a country. Indonesia can maximize its diplomatic strategy to cooperate with other countries, such as opening a raw material processing industry by bringing in technologies from other countries to manage raw materials to semi-finished materials or finished products. this strategy can be used by Indonesia to maximize its resources and improve Indonesia’s performance so that it is better in the future and can produce its products without having to import from other countries. Electronic devices will always be updated for the sake of updating to be able to keep up with the growing era of globalization. This causes the technology industry market to become one of the most influential for the economy of a country. The electronics industry facing an increase in raw material prices which causes pressure on prices for finished products to also increase. Secretary-General of the Association of Electronic Entrepreneurs (Gabel) Daniel Suhardiman, said that the increase in raw material prices is continuing to soar due to the scarcity of chip or semiconductor components due to the high demand for the technology industry (Ayu, 2021). The high level of use of electronic devices in daily life will have an impact on the high market demand for the technology industry, so the technology industry must be very careful in dealing with the supply of raw materials.

In addition to Rare Earth Metals which have the potential to meet the supply of raw materials for the manufacture of electronic goods, on the other hand, Rare Earth Metals greatly contribute to assisting in implementing renewable energy in the future. Which is realizing renewable energy in a country is increasingly being carried out by the world caused by increasing greenhouse gas emissions that have an impact on the environment. Based on data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) explained that the concentration of greenhouse gases reached a new high. which has levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the air as much as 413.2 parts per million (ppm), methane (CH4) at 1,889 parts per billion (ppb)) and nitrous oxide (N2O) at 333.2 ppb and the increase has continued in 2021 (World Meteorological Organization, 2021). Rare Earth Metals contain minerals in the form of Monazite, Xenotime, and Zircon (Alkalis, 2021). Where these mineral sources can contribute to realizing renewable energy in developing electric vehicles because Rare Earth Metals can also be used as the main raw material for making electric vehicle batteries. The discovery of Rare Earth Metals in Indonesia can also be an opportunity for Indonesia to contribute to realizing a balance in the supply of electronic goods in the world and contribute to realizing the world’s renewable energy in the future.

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Libya’s Energy Puzzle: Every Challenge is an Opportunity

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Libya’s energy sector remains divided between two authorities, the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and the Petroleum Facilities Guard, and three governments namely the House of Representatives in Tobruk, the General National Congress and the Presidential Council in Tripoli. Failure to conduct a fair and expedient election in late December 2021 is expected to prolong division of Libya’s oil wealth between East and West. This would cement the presence of foreign powers and mercenaries in and around Libyan oil and gas installations.

The country’s oil and gas reserves are estimated at approximately 48 billion barrels of crude oil and 52 trillion cubic feet of gas. Libya’s oil production was 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) on average throughout 2020, with plans for oil production to reach up to 2 million bpd within the next five years.

These plans, however, can prove futile because of militant attacks on oil and gas installations, increased number of leaks due to lack of infrastructure maintenance, and the possibility of renewed months-long blockades on energy facilities. The December closure of Shahara field, Libya’s largest oil field in the southwest part of the country, by militants was translated into temporary reduction of oil production by around 350 thousand bpd. That means overall oil production easily decreased at approximately 700 thousand bpd, thus constituting Libya’s lowest production level within a year period.

In addition, months-old blockades on energy facilities, throughout the last few years, have led to the halt of significant part of exports. According to the central bank in Tripoli, oil and gas revenues for 2020 plummeted to 652 million dollars from around 7 billion dollars in 2019, which is, practically, a drop by 92 percent.

Overall, militant attacks and blockades prevent oil exports and deprive Libya from revenues that could be otherwise funneled to its reconstruction. It is also noteworthy that the under-funding of the NOC due to failure to pass a national budget has starved it of economic resources, preventing upgrades to the aging or damaged oil infrastructure, and limiting oil and gas production. 

Foreign Energy Investment Flows

Despite the challenges, foreign investment plans continue unabated. French Total, through its subsidiary Total Energies, foresees the execution of a 2-billion-dollar investment plan to increase the production capacity of the North Gialo and NC-98 oil fields.

Concurrently, Total Energies partners with American ConocoPhilips exploration and production company for the acquisition of American Hess Corporation’s 8.16 percent interest in the six Waha oil concessions located in the Sirte Basin in eastern Libya. The commercial deal will increase the French company’s stake in the concessions to 20,4 percent from the current 16,3 percent, thus solidifying the energy footprint of France in Libya.

On a parallel level, Royal Dutch Shell announced its plans not only to re-develop ageing fields like the block NC-174 in the Murzuq basin but also to develop new fields offshore the Cyrenaica basin and onshore the Ghadames and Sirte basins. Shell’s investment plans signal its re-entry in Libya after a decade’s absence attributed to the 2011 first Libyan civil war.

The attraction of substantial international investment in the energy sector of Libya, however, remains dependent on improved security and a stable and united government that is outcome of elections.

Russia and Turkey at the Forefront of Actions

In the meantime, foreign powers persist in their battle for control over Libya’s energy wealth, with Russia and Turkey being at the forefront of the evolving dominance process. Russian security contractors and Russian-aligned mercenaries are stationed in Libya to protect critical energy assets operated by Russian oil companies like Gazprom and Rosneft.  Moscow wants to export Libyan oil to Europe in accordance with the relevant provisions of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Russian major Rosneft and NOC that foresees the sale of Libyan crude oil to third markets, and the signing of additional energy deals that will allow Moscow to maintain its position as a leading supplier of energy to Europe.

Moscow also looks eager to get a piece of the reconstruction pie in Libya with the renewal of a 2.6-billion-dollar contract for a railway that will connect the city of Sirte to Benghazi, and with the execution of other infrastructure projects. On top of that, Moscow maintains military interests in Libya and persistently pursues its bid to gain a permanent naval facility on the 1,900-kilometer Libyan coast that will serve as a Russian gate to Africa.

For its part, Turkey looks eager to collect Qaddafi-era debt owed to Turkish businesses, to participate in the 50-billion-dollar of reconstruction contracts, and to establish a Turkey-Libya axis that would disrupt the alignment between Greece, Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt. This was the specific goal of the Turkey-Libya MoU on the demarcation of maritime boundaries, which is nevertheless invalid for two reasons: Firstly, it was not ratified by the Libyan Parliament and, secondly, it was not approved unanimously by members of the Presidential Council in breach of the UN-sponsored Libyan Political Agreement.

Alarming bells have started to ring in western capitals over the alleged close cooperation between Russia and Turkey on the basis that they have practically divided Libya, on the patterns of Syria, into distinct spheres of influence between them. There are worries that Libya is divided along Islamic lines supported by Turkey. Turkish support of Islamic militias with military equipment is allegedly used to damage Libyan critical energy infrastructure. The ultimate Turkish goal is to control a large portion of Libya’s offshore gas, to disrupt the unimpeded flow of energy, and thus control a significant part of Libyan energy reserves.

The Way Out

To prevent a security breakdown and another round of civil conflict that will negatively impact development and production of energy resources in Libya, a new definite elections date must be declared. The UN can serve as valuable vehicle in this direction by ensuring that Libyan presidential and parliamentary elections are held as soon as possible, while enabling the resolution of pending matters that postponed them in the first place. Failure to meet a new elections’ deadline would trigger a constitutional crisis, undermine the legitimacy of the political system, create an opening for domestic spoilers, and provide a pretext for foreign powers to maintain their malign military presence in Libya.

Evidently, time is of essence. But still, there is a window of opportunity for Libya to escape the vicious cycle of instability and uncertainty that prevents the realization of its full energy potential. It is beyond the shadow of a doubt that the international community can play a constructive role to this end.

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Energy transition is a global challenge that needs an urgent global response

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COP26 showed that green energy is not yet appealing enough for the world to reach a consensus on coal phase-out. The priority now should be creating affordable and viable alternatives 

Many were hoping that COP26 would be the moment the world agreed to phase out coal. Instead, we received a much-needed reality check when the pledge to “phase out” coal was weakened to “phase down”. 

 This change was reportedly pushed by India and China whose economies are still largely reliant on coal. The decision proved that the world is not yet ready to live without the most polluting fossil fuels. 

 This is an enormous problem. Coal is the planet’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, but also a major source of energy, producing over one-third of global electricity generation. Furthermore, global coal-fired electricity generation could reach an all-time high in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

 Given the continued demand for coal, especially in the emerging markets, we need to accelerate the use of alternative energy sources, but also ensure their equal distribution around the world.

 There are a number of steps policymakers and business leaders are taking to tackle this challenge, but all of them need to be accelerated if we are to incentivise as rapid shift away from coal as the world needs. 

 The first action to be stepped up is public and private investment in renewable energy. This investment can help on three fronts: improve efficiency and increase output of existing technologies, and help develop new technologies. For green alternatives to coal to become more economically viable, especially, for poorer countries, we need more supply and lower costs.

 There are some reasons to be hopeful. During COP26 more than 450 firms representing a ground-breaking $130 trillion of assets pledged investment to meet the goals set out in the Paris climate agreement. 

 The benefits of existing investment are also becoming clearer. Global hydrogen initiatives, for example, are accelerating rapidly, and if investment is kept up, the Hydrogen Council expects it to become a competitive low-carbon solution in long haul trucking, shipping, and steel production.

 However, the challenge remains enormous. The IEA warned in October 2021 that investment in renewable energy needs to triple by the end of this decade to effectively combat climate change. Momentum must be kept up.

 This is especially important for countries like India where coal is arguably the main driver for the country’s economic growth and supports “as many as 10-15 million people … through ancillary employment and social programs near the mines”, according to Brookings Institute.  

This leads us to the second step which must be accelerated: support for developing countries to incentivise energy transition in a way which does not compromise their growth. 

Again, there is activity on this front, but it is insufficient. Twelve years ago, richer countries pledged to channel US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020, to help them adapt to climate change. 

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that the financial assistance failed to reach $80 billion in 2019, and likely fell substantially short in 2020. Governments say they will reach the promised amount by 2023. If anything, they should aim to reach it sooner.

There are huge structural costs in adapting electricity grids to be powered at a large scale by renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. Businesses will also need to adapt and millions of employees across the world will need to be re-skilled. To incentivise making these difficult but necessary changes, developing countries should be provided with the financial support promised them over a decade ago.

The third step to be developed further is regulation. Only governments are in a position to pass legislation which encourages a faster energy transition. To take just one example, the European Commission’s Green Deal, proposes introduction of new CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans, incentivising the electrification of vehicles. 

This kind of simple, direct legislation can reduce consumption of fossil fuels and encourage industry to tackle climate change.

Widespread legislative change won’t be straightforward. Governments should closely involve industry in the consultative process to ensure changes drive innovation rather than add unnecessary bureaucracy, which has already delayed development of renewable assets in countries including Germany and Italy. Still, regardless of the challenges, stronger regulation will be key to turning corporate and sovereign pledges into concrete achievements. 

COP26 showed that we are not ready as a globe to phase out coal. The priority for the global leaders must now be to do everything they can to drive the shift towards green energy and reach the global consensus needed to save our planet.

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