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West African Ministers Adopt Cleaner Fuels and Vehicles Standards

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The Prime Minister of Burkina Faso opened the meeting, where all 15 countries member of the Economic Community of West African States sent environment and energy ministers or their representatives. photo: UN Environment

With a population of close to 400 million people, the West African region has one of the fastest growing vehicle fleets in the world. As in most African countries, the bulk of vehicle imports into the region consists mainly of used vehicles. Regulation to restrict the quality of cars being imported into the region is weak. This, coupled with poor fuel quality, is one of the leading cause of increasing levels of air pollution in cities in the region, with the population suffering the effects of breathing toxic fumes. Children, who walk to schools alongside busy roads, and informal vendors along these roads are most at risk of the health effects of these toxic fumes. In 2016, the World Health Organization named Onitsha – a city in Nigeria, as the world’s most polluted city in terms of harmful small particles (PM10).

In a major step to reducing air pollution and climate emissions in the region, the environment and energy ministers of all the 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), met on 6 7 February 2020 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and  adopted a comprehensive set of regulations for introducing cleaner fuels and vehicles in the region.

The high level ministerial meeting was organized  by the ECOWAS Commission with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other partners. The regulations adopted by the ministers were a culmination of several years of work by UNEP towards improving the standards of fuels and vehicles in the region.  

The specific regulations adopted by the ministers on cleaner fuels and vehicles are:

A sulfur fuel standard of 50 parts per million (ppm) for petrol and diesel for all imported fuels from 1 January 2021. This is a significant step for the region as some of the countries still have fuel standards that allow import of up to 10,000 ppm diesel fuels. Local refineries will have until 1 January 2025 to upgrade their operations to meet the new requirements as well as comply with other fuel parameters such as benzene and manganese that were agreed by the ministers. This decision will have a significant impact on air quality in the region as only about 20 per cent of fuel needs in the region is locally refined while 80 per cent is imported.

All vehicles that are imported, both new and used, and petrol and diesel, will need to comply to a minimum of EURO 4/IV vehicle emissions standard from 1 January 2021. An age limit forused vehicles of 10 years was also agreed to, with a recommendation of a five-year age limit for light duty vehicles.

A plan to improve the fuel efficiency of imported vehicles was also adopted, with a target to double the efficiency of the fleet from an average of 8 litres per 100 kilometres today to 4.2 litres per  100 kilometres by 2030. An intermediate target of 5 litres per 100 kilometres by 2025 was also agreed. The vehicle fuel efficiency plan or roadmap includes proposals to introduce fiscal incentives to attract low and no emissions vehicles to the region, measures to promote electric vehicles, and a new harmonized label for newly imported vehicles showing the vehicle fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions to support consumer awareness.

These decisions will now go to a Council of Ministers meeting taking place in June 2020, for formal adoption. Once adopted, the legally-binding decisions will become effective on 1 January 2021 at the latest.

“We are very pleased to see the results of a process that took several years,” says Jane Akumu, UNEP expert in clean clean fuels and vehicles. “UNEP supported 11 out of 15 Economic Community of West African States member countries with individual projects and worked closely with the ECOWAS Commission to develop this clean fuels and vehicles regulations. Several partner organizations and non-governmental organizations also supported the process. This work is part of UNEP-led global programmes—the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, the Global Fuel Economy Initiative the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the Electric Mobility Programme.

This is not the end of the process, as several countries are now requesting for implementation support to for example, help to draft national fuel and vehicle standards, or to implement the fuel economy roadmap and introduce electric mobility.

“We plan to continue our work in the region and support countries in the implementation of the decisions,” says Akumu. “Ultimately, the use of clean fuels and vehicles is not only an energy or environmental issue. It is a health issue for the millions of people who live in and around the region’s major cities.”

UN Environment

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Solar PV Employs More Women Than Any Renewables

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Solar photovoltaic (PV) has emerged to be the leading employer in the renewable energy sector, both in global number of employees and in gender balance. In 2021, the solar PV industry employs 4.3 million people—one-third of all renewable energy jobs worldwide. Women account for 40% of this number. It is almost double the share of women employed in the wind industry (21%) and the oil and gas sector (22%). It is also higher than the average share of women employed in all renewables sectors, which is 32%.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)’s new report, Solar PV: A Gender Perspective, finds that women fare best in solar PV manufacturing, representing 47% of the workforce. Service providers and developers follow with 39% and 37%, respectively, while solar PV installers perform the least, with barely 12% of the segment’s workforce.

“A just and inclusive energy transition is not only about energy access. It is about making sure everyone is included and benefits from the process,” says Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA. “The findings of our new report are promising and confirm renewable energy’s great potential as an equal employer, but they also signal the need to step up our efforts to pave the way for more women to lead the energy transition and shape our shared future.”

Presented at the 8th World Conference on PV Energy Conversion in Milan today, the report highlights the need for equal opportunities for women in technical positions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and in other professional fields, where they hold 38% and 32% of positions, respectively. Additionally, there is a wide space for women to take over more decision-making positions, as they currently hold 30% of managerial jobs and barely 13% of senior management posts in the solar PV industry.

Decentralised solar PV, on the other hand, seems to offer significant opportunities, as the off-grid solar PV value chain engages women both in delivering solutions and as beneficiaries. Driven in part by off-grid solar PV deployments, women account for 35% of other non-technical positions such as marketing, sales, distribution, and product assembly and installation.

Based on IRENA’s global survey of some 1,300 individuals and organisations conducted in 2021, the report evaluates the role of women in the solar PV industry, highlighting barriers and opportunities. The most prominent barriers are perceptions of gender roles, lack of fair and transparent policies, as well as cultural and social norms that shape behaviour.

Raising awareness on gender equality, improving national as well as workplace policies, offering more training, networking opportunities and access to mentorships are all critical steps to level the playfield for women in the sector. These efforts are needed not only to increase the participation of women, but also to diversify the workforce by including the visions, talents and skills of all minority groups.

This is the third report in the Gender Perspective series, which is an integral part of IRENA’s extensive research work on the effects of renewable energy deployment during energy transitions. The initial focus on employment creation and skills was expanded over time to cover other socio-economic elements such as gross domestic product, broader measures of welfare, local economic value creation, improved livelihoods and gender-differentiated impacts.

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Renewable energy jobs rise by 700,000 in a year, to nearly 13 million

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Worldwide employment in the renewable energy sector reached 12.7 million last year, a jump of 700,000 new jobs in just 12 months, despite the lingering effects of COVID-19 and the growing energy crisis, according to a new report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in collaboration with the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO).

Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2022, identifies domestic market size as a major factor influencing job growth in renewables, along with labour and other costs.

Solar growing fastest

Solar energy was found to be the fastest-growing sector. In 2021 it provided 4.3 million jobs, more than a third of the current global workforce in renewable energy.

With rising concerns about climate change, COVID-19 recovery and supply chain disruption, countries are turning inwards to boost job creation at home, focusing on local supply chains.

The report describes how strong domestic markets are key to anchoring a drive toward clean energy industrialization. Developing renewable technology export capabilities is also dependent on this, it adds.

‘Just transition for all’

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, said that “beyond the numbers, there is a growing focus on the quality of jobs and the conditions of work in renewable energies, to ensure decent and productive employment.

“The increasing share of female employment suggests that dedicated policies and training can significantly enhance the participation of women in renewable energy occupations, inclusion and ultimately, achieve a just transition for all.”

Mr. Ryder encouraged governments, organized labour and business groups “to remain firmly committed to a sustainable energy transition, which is indispensable for the future of work.”

Resilient and reliable

IRENA’s Director-General, Francesco La Camera, said that in the face of numerous challenges, “renewable energy jobs remain resilient, and have been proven to be a reliable job creation engine. My advice to governments around the world is to pursue industrial policies that encourage the expansion of decent renewables jobs at home.

“Spurring a domestic value chain will not only create business opportunities and new jobs for people and local communities. It also bolsters supply chain reliability and contributes to more energy security overall.”

Joining the renewable revolution

The report shows that an increasing number of countries are creating jobs in the renewables sector – almost two-thirds of them in Asia.

China alone accounts for 42 per cent of the global total, according to the report, followed by the EU and Brazil with 10 per cent each, and the US and India with seven per cent each.

Regional trends

Southeast Asian countries are becoming major solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing hubs and biofuel producers, while China is the pre-eminent manufacturer and installer of solar PV panels and is creating a growing number of jobs in offshore wind.

India added more than 10 Gigawatts of solar PV, generating many installation jobs, but remains heavily dependent on imported panels, the report notes.

Europe now accounts for about 40 per cent of the world’s wind manufacturing output and is the most important exporter of wind power equipment; it is trying to reconstitute its solar PV manufacturing industry.

Africa’s role is still limited, but the report points out that there are growing job opportunities in decentralized renewables, while in the Americas, Mexico is the leading supplier of wind turbine blades.

Brazil remains the leading employer in biofuels but is also adding many jobs in wind and solar PV installations. The US is beginning to build a domestic industrial base for the budding offshore wind sector.

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Guterres: ‘Global addiction to fossil fuels’ must end and a ‘renewables revolution’ jumpstarted

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Achieving a just and equitable energy transition is “one of the biggest challenges facing our world,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Global Compact Board meeting on Sunday.

Climate disasters and skyrocketing fuel prices have made the need to “end our global addiction to fossil fuels” crystal clear, he said, underscoring the importance of investing in renewables, building resilience, and scaling up adaptation.

“Had we invested massively in renewable energy in the past, we would not be in the middle of a climate emergency now”.

Renewals: ‘Only credible path’

Renewables are “the only credible path” to real energy security, stable power prices and sustainable employment opportunities, said the UN chief.

He also maintained that the share of renewables in global electricity generation must increase from nearly 30 per cent today to over 60 per cent in 2030 and 90 per cent in 2050. 

“Leaders in business as well as government must stop thinking about renewables as a distant project of the future”, underscored the top UN official.

“Without renewables, there can be no future”.

Key energy priorities

The Secretary-General went on to outline his Five-Point Energy Plan to shift to renewables, beginning with treating the technologies as freely available “global public goods”.

“Identifying patents that can be made freely available – especially those relating to battery and storage capacity – are crucial for a rapid and fair energy transition,” he said.

Next, he highlighted the need to secure, increase, and diversify supply chains for renewable energy technologies, pointing out that supply chains for components and raw materials are “still concentrated in a handful of countries”.

Third, was to level the playing field for renewables.

“We have the technology, capacity, and funds,” said the UN chief, “but we urgently need to put policies and frameworks in place to incentivize investments and eliminate bottlenecks caused by red tape, permits and grid connections”.

Shift subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy was his fourth point, as he noted that each year, governments spend around half a trillion dollars to artificially lower the price of fossil fuels – “more than triple what renewables receive”.

“If we channel these resources and subsidies to renewables, we not only cut emissions; we also create more decent and green jobs,” he argued.

Financing the future

Mr. Guterres’ fifth and final point focused on the importance of tripling public and private investments in renewables to at least $4 trillion dollars a year.

“Upfront costs for solar and wind power account for 80 per cent of lifetime costs – meaning big investments today will reap even bigger rewards tomorrow,” he said.

However, this requires: financing to flow to those who need it most; adjusted risk frameworks and more flexibility to scale up renewable finance; and lowering financing costs for developing countries.

“The cost of capital for renewable energy projects in the developing world can be seven times higher than in the developed world,” flagged the UN chief, flagging that Africa attracts a mere two per cent of clean energy investments despite its vast renewable energy potential.

Walking the talk

According to Mr. Guterres, a just transition to a renewable energy future is everybody’s business, including the private sector to advance science-based targets and Just Transition plans, in partnership with labour organizations and civil society.

Lip service won’t do. We need credible actions and accountability,” he underscored.

Every business and investor; every city and country must “walk the talk” on their net-zero promises to realize the Paris Agreement and rescue the Sustainable Development Goals, added the UN chief.

“The UN Global Compact is poised to help in this vital effort,” he spelled out, urging everyone to accelerate action across industries and regions “to jumpstart the renewables revolution”.

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