As much of the world focuses on the energy transition and lessening its dependence on fossil fuels, while increasing the use of renewable forms of energy, it is shocking that according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) there are still 770 million people in the world without electricity from any source.
Every year, the World Energy Council issues its annual Energy Trilemma Index, which ranks countries on energy security, energy equity and energy sustainability. It isn’t surprising that countries that rank at the bottom overall are also countries that often are named among the worst places in the world to be a woman in terms of rights and equality, with countries like RDC, Niger or Malawi ranking at the bottom of the index.
As the world looks to transition to greener sources of energy, it is important to remember that maintaining and improving access to energy for all, now, is as necessary as planning for tomorrow. If the current energy context has proven something, it is that energy insecurity is a global issue in developed and developing countries. A balanced and realistic approach will be necessary for developing countries so that the transition from fossil fuel to renewables intersects with maintaining energy security and equity without leaving the most vulnerable populations – particularly women – in the cold.
We cannot overlook the fact that women across the world start at a disadvantage and are disproportionately affected by energy poverty and insecurity; these issues are not gender neutral nor are they relegated only to the developing world. While, certainly, the problem is more dire in developing countries, particularly in areas of conflict and those that are prone to natural disasters, it is an issue that women face the world over.
The majority of the people in positions of power – government officials, energy ministers and CEOs – are men. Women’s voices need to be elevated, amplified and included in the decision-making process as they, and their children, are the ones most affected by these policies. UN General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi recognized this when women heads of state and government met in New York in September as part of the newly formed UNGA Platform of Women Leaders.
“Women’s leadership is transformative,” Kőrösi said. “By integrating the views of diverse women – especially at the highest levels – governments can effectively tailor and target solutions to those most in need.”
This needs to happen in the private sector, too. The energy industry has traditionally been male-dominated, but given the extreme impacts of climate change, it has begun to make a conscious commitment to gender equity in addressing the disproportionate impact on women and ensuring women have seats at the table in energy access and climate discussions. Global energy companies are taking a step forward.
The UAE’s ADNOC has committed to 25 percent of women in leadership roles by 2025 and 30 percent female representation in technical roles by 2030, while France’s TotalEnergies has committed to having 30 percent of executive committee and senior positions held by women by 2025. Earlier this year, bp became the first and only major energy company to have a female majority executive leadership team with six women and five men. The company intends to achieve gender parity among its 120 most senior leadership roles by 2025 and have women fill 40 percent of the roles in the next level down.
These commitments are also bolstered by large industry events dedicating time to discuss these issues and empower female leaders across the energy industry. ADIPEC, the world’s largest energy conference, which took place in Abu Dhabi at the end of October, hosts a diversity, equity and inclusion forum each year, which seeks to foster gender parity at leadership levels and address organizational inequalities. With attendees from 160 countries, as well as more than 28 dedicated country pavilions, this year’s ADIPEC was one of the most inclusive and international energy platforms yet, reflecting the sector’s long term trajectory.
Including these items on the agenda at events where global CEOs, industry experts and policymakers are gathering helps emphasize their importance, particularly at a time when we are reassessing the entire value chain in order to deliver an inclusive energy transition.
When heads of state and leaders of the industry come together to discuss ways to make energy secure, affordable, and sustainable, they must also guarantee that it is accessible and available to those who, up to this point, have been left behind. It’s time not just to acknowledge that all people have the right to life-sustaining energy, but to ensure that they do. When the quality of women’s lives improves, so does the quality of their children’s lives, and those benefits have a ripple effect on their communities and society at large.
Currently, there are 28 female heads of state and a number of countries – including Argentina, Colombia, Israel, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, and the United States – have women ministers or secretaries of energy. It should be one of their top priorities, along with their male counterparts, to mandate that women, who make up half of the world’s population, and children, who are the world’s future, are not left in the dark.
Rebecca Ponton has been a journalist for 25+ years and is also a petroleum landman. Her book, Breaking the GAS Ceiling: Women in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry (Modern History Press), was released in May 2019. For more info, go to www.breakingthegasceiling.com.
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