How women can contribute to reaching SE4All’s objectives

On January 1, 2016, Ms Rachel Kyte took office as CEO of SE4All and is also Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All. Prior to this position, she served as World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change. Recipient of numerous awards for women’s leadership, climate action and sustainable development, she is a Professor of practice in sustainable development at Tuft’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

For the latest issue of ENERGIA News we interviewed Ms Kyte and asked her about her experiences as a woman working in the international political arena and how women in the energy sector can contribute to energy access.

What have been the major challenges or barriers and opportunities you have encountered as a woman working in the international political arena?

My experience is that of many other women: better decisions are made in diverse teams. This is supported by evidence and data, which have been a powerful driver behind movements to see many more women in senior management in different institutions and services, and to ensure that boards include at least 30% women. I think I have always found it most difficult when I’m the only woman in the room. That has happened a lot and still happens, depending on the subject under discussion. So in the energy sector, in the finance sector, in infrastructure and transport, there aren’t yet enough women in the room to ensure that the decisions we make are robust because of the diversity of the people making them.

That said, my career has been boosted by people who believed in me. They have been men as well as women who have had a commitment to diversity, both personally and in their actions as managers and leaders. I am grateful to them for seeing in me something I may not always have seen in myself.

How did you overcome the challenges and barriers you have encountered in your career?

You have to find allies and champions for what you wish to achieve. Allies and champions can be brought together, and a small group of people, focused and well organised, can have a powerful impact. I think it‘s also important to have networks of supporters and mentors both inside and outside the place where you work. I’ve been grateful to have been part of great networks to whom I could turn for advice, guidance and course-correction.

This year (2016) brings to a close the two years in which the United Nations decade of Sustainable Energy for All has been giving special attention to women and girls. How did SE4All fulfil this obligation?

At SE4All’s core is the basic fact that a lack of clean, affordable energy has a particular impact on women.

Specifically, SE4All has worked closely with ENERGIA and other partners on a campaign to highlight the importance of energy for women, children and health. ENERGIA co-financed two short films for the Clean Energy is Life campaign that have helped raise awareness of the problems and potential solutions.

But as ENERGIA knows very well, there is still much more to do. As we double down on the challenges post-2015, it’s very clear that we need to front-load particularly the energy access part of SDG7 in order to be able to ensure that women and children can enjoy access not only to clean and affordable energy but to the services that depend on it.

SE4All has three objectives to reach by 2030: 

  • Ensure universal access to modern energy services. 

  • Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.

  •  Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

How can women contribute to reaching SE4All’s objectives?

In 2016 it is possible to imagine that we can secure access for all before 2030, given the extraordinary pace with which technology is evolving and the business models that are revolving around that technology. I am not saying it will be easy, but this is an achievable goal. A low-income woman can imagine providing power for her family with a solar home system paid for through a cell phone and a pay-as-you-go plan. Access to super-efficient, clean cookstoves is achievable. Now we need the right public policy to encourage finance so we can roll out the business models that make this possible. Policy and finance have to catch up with technology.

At the same time, we know that most small business owners are women, and we must focus on the finance and business models and policy that will allow micro- and mini-grids to spread further across areas where access is an issue, so that those women small business-owners are not in the last mile but in the first mile of energy supply.

As governments clarify how they will secure their own energy transition to ensure access and low-carbon growth, women’s voices have to be heard so that priorities are clear.

In order to meet the goals, and to kick-start the energy transition necessary to secure what we committed to in the Paris Agreement, we need to start raising the rate of energy efficiency improvements immediately, especially in high energy-consuming countries. In these countries, women can be a force for behaviour change, and their purchasing power, organising power and understanding that this has to be a just transition need to be translated into pressure to speed up the increase in energy efficiency.

So, if you are a woman in a developed country, you can support programmes that help women in other countries to get access to clean and affordable energy, and you can also drive forward the pace of efficiency in your own country.

What concrete progress in energy access for women and girls in developing countries do you expect by the end of 2030? 

The goal is that everybody has access to sustainable energy. It is very difficult to imagine how South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa in particular, where we have the largest numbers of people without energy access, can build inclusive societies where they are able to sustain development if there isn’t energy access. Within SE4All, as we develop our strategy to 2020, we are focused on supporting governments to piece together the policy and finance interventions they will need to allow them to get to their goals for sustainable energy. It is now possible to promote both top-down (i.e. grid-connected, centralised) clean and affordable energy and bottom-up off-grid, mini-grid and micro-grid energy. Both can be feasible and affordable.

We are also conscious that we should not suffer from a poverty of ambition. We will not be satisfied with basic access – a phone charger and a light. For women to prosper, for women to be successful business owners, for women to be successful village leaders, we need to secure clean, affordable energy supplies that can sustain economic activity.

The ENERGIA Research Programme on Gender and Energy is supported through DFID’s Sustainable Energy and Gender (SEAG) Programme that also provides support to SE4All. The output of the research is to contribute to evidence-based policy and practice.

Why is it important for SE4All to have evidencebased research? How will ENERGIA’s research programme help reach SE4All goals? Do you have any specific questions for the ENERGIA Research Programme or other researchers in the field of gender, energy and development?

We have to be evidence-based because we have to know whether we are having any impact and whether we are achieving results. A results framework is essential for Phase 2 of the SE4All strategy, as we move to supporting implementation of our goals in the context of the Paris Agreement. ENERGIA’s research programme is critically important because we have to know exactly who we are serving, where they are, what they need and want, and the best ways of reaching them with the services they need and want.

Coming into SE4All, I am pleased at the extraordinary collaboration amongst partners to ensure that we do have the data and evidence to be able to show Member States our analysis of progress towards the SDG, and at the same time be able to provide support to governments to report under the Paris Agreement. That said, there is still a lot of work to do. Pointing out essential information gaps and mobilising partners to fill them is also important.

I encourage ENERGIA to maintain its emphasis, and I hope that SE4All in the near future will be able to come with specific issues on which ENERGIA can use its expertise to find answers. For example, in my first weeks in the position, it is already clear that we need much more detailed information on financial flows into the energy sector. Many different partners have a line of sight on one or more pieces of the puzzle: what private finance and what public finance, with what quality and conditions, is flowing to whom in the energy sector, and for what. But the overview seems to be missing, and this is one thing where I think SE4All can use its platform and its broad embrace.

Goal 7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, is a milestone for the international community. The Global Facilitation Team played an important role in this achievement. What difference do you expect this to make, particularly as an enabler for all the other SDGs, including on gender equality and women’s empowerment? 

All SDGs are equal – except when they’re not. It’s very clear that one needs energy in order to be able to solve issues of water and food (the nexus), but one also needs energy in order to deliver health services and educationservices. So the achievement of SDG7 has to go handinhand with other SDGs, and in fact has to be front-loaded to achieve success on other issues. The Paris Agreement simply adds urgency to the energy transition, because success means bringing peak emissions forward. So  I feel that the remarkable universal consensus around the SDGs was given a booster in Paris.

Now our work is to translate it into real differences in people’s lives: cleaner air to breathe; the ability to walk safely to public transport under modern street lighting; the meal cooked without losing a whole morning gathering fuel; the warm school to study in in winter; the opening of a manufacturing plant in a city with reliable, clean power, providing jobs and livelihoods.