Scaling sustainable energy services for displaced people and their hosts
Coherent Identifier 20.500.12592/6n6h1c

Scaling sustainable energy services for displaced people and their hosts

4 October 2022


A large majority of the 100 million-plus forcibly displaced people worldwide find refuge in low- and middle-income countries. In recent years, the international community has ramped up efforts to better align humanitarian assistance with host-country policy priorities. And in many of these host countries, energy access – more specifically, provision of clean and sustainable energy in displacement settings – has materialized as an important area of focus. Guided by the UN, a coordinated framework to address such energy needs has been developed at the international level. The Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and the widespread adoption of associated country-specific response plans provide an overarching framework for host countries, donors and humanitarian actors to set a coordinated agenda for greater support to refugees. Case studies, presented in this paper, of five countries that have engaged in response plans – Ethiopia, Jordan, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – show the extent to which policy and governance conditions have affected the success of sustainable energy projects. They show that transnational actors involved in humanitarian relief must better engage with the national context in order to play a constructive role in the development of clean energy technology markets. Clear national energy policies and ambitions, including rational price-setting for local fuels, are important enabling factors for clean energy delivery, especially when aiming for scale-up through the market. Equally critical are national legal provisions concerning the right to work and the right to move freely, and humanitarian cash assistance/programming. Numerous initiatives have shown that when refugees have vulnerable incomes and restricted livelihood opportunities, sales of energy are unlikely to scale or be sustainable. If rights to work are restricted, refugees may not be able to benefit from the training and job opportunities that energy projects offer. Projects to bring clean energy access to populations affected by displacement can build on or accelerate national efforts to pursue a low-carbon development pathway that supports national climate commitments and the ambition to provide sustainable energy access to all (in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 7). However, ad hoc humanitarian projects not anchored in institutional processes and designed without long-term maintenance and scale-up considerations will continue to face sustainability challenges. Project champions – national and/or implementing partners – have proved critical to humanitarian energy project success. But typically high rates of staff turnover or rotation within the humanitarian sector represent a significant constraint on durable progress. Country response plans have enabled UN organizations to outline, prioritize and actively fundraise for energy and environment projects through a planned and costed approach that has previously been extremely difficult to achieve. Funding requirements for energy and environment listed in humanitarian response plans, covering 28 per cent of global refugee populations, are estimated to amount to $300 million for 2021. But the success of these country response plans – and their energy and environment agendas – has been mixed. Some have been developed closely with government, and are well-designed and costed, while others lack ambition, overlap with alternative UN-led response plans, or have unattainable levels of ambition. Response plans should: a) aim to move to increasingly longer-term planning (i.e. beyond the current one- and two-year response plans implemented in Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia); b) set more realistic targets and effectively monitor, report and verify progress; and c) be better integrated with national policies. Doing so will allow a more realistic basis for attracting sufficient funding. Sectoral working groups for energy and environmental issues that combine development and humanitarian agency expertise are a component of the energy response in each of the countries studied for this paper. The way these groups are structured and governed varies widely across each of the locations. At their best, such groups can function as a clear, central coordination mechanism that can organize, mobilize and advocate for the humanitarian energy sector. But to achieve this normally requires the engagement of government representatives within the group – which can take years of advocacy and evidence-building. Host governments can use the global Clean Energy Challenge as a platform to encourage donor countries to help develop and finance major energy access investments in low-income refugee-hosting communities, de-risking private investment in what is a new and relatively untested new market segment. Several multilateral investment windows that incentivize and enable integrated solutions are also now available, including the World Bank’s Regional Sub-Window for Refugees and Host Communities. UNHCR and other lead humanitarian agencies have limited technical capacity on issues related to energy and environment, and most do not have accreditation with the Green Climate Fund (GCF) or the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Yet there is a clear need to access global sources of climate finance to help deliver humanitarian sustainability strategies and support the progressive ambitions of refugee-hosting countries. Doing so will require systematic collaboration with relevant UN agencies and, potentially, development banks, offering a long-term operational bridge between the humanitarian agencies and the global climate change architecture.

Published in
United Kingdom


Owen Grafham
Assistant Director, Environment and Society Programme

Glada Lahn
Senior Research Fellow, Environment and Society Programme

James Haselip
Senior Researcher, UNEP Copenhagen Climate Centre


climate policy refugees and migration energy transitions environment and society programme renewable energy for refugees (re4r)