In a year rife with bad news, there are some silver linings. Some of those silver linings are wind turbine blades — at least according to a recent Deloitte report that was bullish on the future of clean technologies such as solar and wind power. According to Deloitte, the renewable power sector will benefit from: a surge in next-gen technologies such as green hydrogen; growth in solar-plus-storage configurations; huge changes in power transmission, which can help integrate clean sources of electricity into grids; supply chains shifts as in the U.S. that allow for more domestic manufacturing; and, green shoots of a circular economy are beginning to emerge within this sector. Indeed, that’s all good news. Such enthusiasm, however, cannot mask the fact that clean energy still has a human rights problem — and this challenge is nothing new.
“As an industry seeking sustainable solutions to one of our most intractable problems, considering the impacts on humans must be part of the equation,” wrote TriplePundit’s Kate Zerrenner two summers ago.
Even if more of the solar power industry’s supply chains needs can be met here in the U.S., much of the manufacturing still occurs in China — notably in the Xinjiang region, notorious for its long history of human rights violations. “Unless drastic action is taken, we will find ourselves at China’s mercy for our energy needs, just as Germany is at Russia’s,” Keith Krach and Kelley E. Currie wrote for 3p last month.
While the U.S. clean energy has its shares of human rights problems with its global supply chain, the toll that such projects can take on local communities across the world — particularly Indigenous peoples — too often hits close to home. As emerging economies seek to do their part to tackle climate change, local renewables projects too frequently are launched without the consent of local citizens. For example, Natalie Bridgeman Fields, the co-founder of the NGO Accountability Counsel, told 3p in May, "These are community-based organizations that are being threatened. Their advocates are being detained, tortured, silenced. Even if it's a renewable project or a solar project, that doesn't mean there's not violence or oppression in that country just because it's a well-intentioned project.”
As the world seeks to avoid any climate catastrophe, the easy response to these problems is to clap back and say that fossil energy companies have long written the book on human rights violations — and such statements are often true. But, as Zerrenner reminds us: “Considering that renewable energy is a sustainable economy industry, in theory, shareholders should be more willing to hold companies to a higher standard for accountability.”
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