Published 12 January 2023

The challenge:

The rapid rise of renewable energy (RE) is critical for our transition to a low carbon economy. RE has the potential to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions, expand access to affordable, clean energy for all, create decent jobs and help economies and societies thrive in the long term. However, the rapid scaling of RE in many parts of the world comes with multiple risks, from land and labour rights and livelihood challenges to toxic waste and unsustainable use of raw materials.

he low carbon generation of RE means that the deployment of the technology is often viewed as inherently good, and these environmental and social risks may not be adequately recognised. This is a critical moment in the development of the sector. With RE scaling rapidly, financing models shifting from public to private, and emerging policy and regulatory mechanisms, now is the time for the sector to harness its potential to create truly responsible energy systems.

Recognising the need and acknowledging the risk
, in 2020, Forum for the Future, with seed funding from the FCDO in India and S&P Global Foundation, along with WRI India and TERI, launched the Responsible Energy Initiative, bringing together stakeholders across the renewable energy value chain to ensure RE achieves its full potential and creates value in a way that is ecologically safe, rights respecting and socially just

Our approach:

The Responsible Energy Initiative (REI) works with the renewable energy sector to adopt business models and value chains with justice, equity, universal rights and resilient ecological systems at their core - thereby contributing to a just transition to clean energy.

We are working with a consortium to run collaborative inquiries
in Asia between 2020-26. Designed as a multi-country, multi-year initiative, we started with REI India in 2020. In 2022, we brought the initiative to Southeast Asia, selecting the Philippines as the region’s initial focus country. While Philippines is at the cusp of an energy revolution, other countries in Southeast Asia are at various stages of accelerating a clean energy transition. Our first inquiry in Philippines will help us to understand what is needed to shape the clean energy transitions in other Southeast Asian countries, and how to engage regional actors, including investors. 

ith plans to establish REI as a global initiative, we are further exploring the feasibility of a collaborative inquiry in the Americas. Read more about each of the regional inquiries below.

What does the project aim to achieve?

Together with pioneering stakeholders from across the RE sector, REI aims to:
  • Collaboratively set a vision of a responsible RE sector, and principles by which to act;
  • Establish a systemic understanding of: the environmental, social and governance risks along the value chain; the implications of inaction; the root causes and barriers to transformative action and; ways of addressing them including opportunities to shift mindsets and behaviours;
  • Identify ways to transform business models, practices, decision-making mechanisms and power dynamics so that the sector is better placed to deliver value for both society and shareholders;
  • Pilot interventions that demonstrate a shift in business models, practices and  other means of influencing the wider system towards the vision. These shifts will be in both how the renewable energy industry responds to its environmental and social impacts, and how it catalyses a sector-wide pivot towards driving a deep positive transformation; and,
  • Support the scaling of approaches that accelerate responsible renewable energy by sharing multi-country learning and insights, and engaging a wider group of stakeholders.
By becoming a responsible renewable energy sector, with an ambition to go far beyond ‘doing no harm’ and champion planetary health and resilient communities, it will be better able to secure its license to operate, ensure consistent access to finance and drive a just transition to clean energy.

Responsible Energy Initiative (India)

The India inquiry is being run by Forum for the Future, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), and World Resources Institute (WRI) India, with expert support from Landesa, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), the Council on Energy Environment and Water (CEEW), the Consensus Building Institute (CBI), Climate Group and WWF India. So far, over 20 organisations have signed up to the participatory inquiry, including some of the largest developers, leading international investors, buyers, manufacturers, and industry associations, as well as think tanks.

Who's involved

As the renewables sector grows exponentially, fueled by an urgent need to meet peoples' energy needs cost effectively and address the planet's climate emergency, it is essential that the RE sector and its allied industries act responsibly. We all need to act in ways that address energy equity, participatory governance, protect the livelihoods and ecosystems of places where RE is sited, and ensure that the full lifecycle of the RE system is safe and secure.” - Dr. Ajay Mathur, Director General, International Solar Alliance (ISA)
The India inquiry continues to gain momentum, and we have reached several milestones to date.
Stage 1: Developing a case for action (2020-21)
In March 2021, we published the initiative’s first report titled Renewable Energy to Responsible Energy: A Call to Action. It draws on the deep and wide-ranging expertise of REI’s coalition partners, including in applied futures and systems change practice (Forum), policy (TERI), research (WRI), land rights (Landesa), and sustainable ecosystems and natural resource management (WWF India). The report provides a broad understanding of the environmental and social impacts being generated by India’s RE sector and the extent to which these impacts are currently being governed, managed and mitigated. It recognises that many of the challenges faced by the RE sector are systemic, affecting multiple sectors and requiring international alliances.

As part of the inquiry, we have established a sub-group called
the Learning Group on Equity and Justice, with a mandate to explore and implement ways to include marginalised and community voices. Through one-on-one interviews and discussions, we have engaged several representatives of civil society organisations that work directly with communities, offering legal support and representing their voices in campaigns, as well as journalists with extensive experience covering these issues, and researchers who run surveys and other research with impacted communities. 
“It is a matter of pride that the historic transition away from fossil fuels is gathering momentum in India. It is essential  that the concerns and interests of all stakeholders who would be affected are well understood, discussed and a consensus on the way to address these are  evolved in a transparent manner. We must have a fair and just transition for all.” - Ajay Shankar, Distinguished Fellow, The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI)
Stage 2: Participatory Inquiry - Launching the Vision and Principles (2021-2022)
Following the Call to Action report in March 2021, we convened and facilitated dialogue among the 24 participating organisations—investors, developers, manufacturers and other actorsto understand the barriers to addressing systemic issues that give rise to problems in the value chain, and the opportunities to tackle them. We know that these barriers are entrenched in our systems, behaviours, relationships and mindsets. Tackling them requires collaborative action from each stakeholder, working on their sphere of control and influence. During this stage, the initiative began receiving support from MacArthur Foundation and SED Fund in addition to continuing support from S&P Global Foundation.

With greater support to
the collaborative inquiry process, we set an ambitious, collective vision of a responsible renewable energy system, along with principles to guide our action. 

The vision and principles mark
ed a key milestone. They were launched at a high-profile event in May 2022 and amplified in an accompanying communications campaign. Following the release of REI’s vision and principles, we held a discussion on the current state of the RE sector in India with several inquiry participants present at the event, including Axis Bank, British International Investment, EverSource Capital, Fourth Partner Energy, JSW Energy, Renew Power, National Solar Energy Federation of India, Navitas Solar, TPG Investors, Wipro, and the Global Wind Energy Council.

The op-ed
Why RE must try to be responsible energy too, co-authored by Anna Biswas, Managing Director of Forum for the Future India, and Bharath Jairaj, Executive Director of WRI India, was published in Hindustan Times, while the launch secured more than 20 pieces of media coverage in other reputable nationwide media outlets, including the Economic Times. This enabled our insights to reach senior decision makers in the renewable energy sector. 
Stage 3: Action, Evaluation and Dissemination (2022-present)
In Phase 3, we are turning commitment into collective action, in which the Responsible Energy Initiative will continue to work as a space to:  
  • Drive pioneering action through projects towards embedding responsibility across the RE value chain; in areas such as land-use, circularity, finance, decision making
  • Enable greater cross-learning between project ideas, complementary initiatives and with the RE sector keen to learn from pioneering action;
  • Explore policy, regulatory and investment approaches to scale-up adoption of various mechanisms designed to embed responsibility, enhance transparency and increase accountability 
What’s nextTogether with fellow think tanks and peers, along with industry pioneers, we are building collaborative project ideas under that will set the course for action towards greater responsibility and demonstrate the "art of the possible" while championing the responsible energy principles. These projects cover multiple areas of action such as responsible investment and financing, circular renewable energy infrastructure and value chains, responsible land-use and development, procurement standards and practices to encourage responsible renewable energy and  participatory governance and decision making. We welcome like-minded peers and industry pioneers who would like to explore them. Please reach out to us to know more on how to get involved. 

Responsible Energy Initiative (Southeast Asia)

The region is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world. With young and expanding populations, energy demand is expected to grow strongly in the coming decade, likely exceeding current supply capacity. To meet this need alongside the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, regional commitments have been made towards RE growth, and the deployment of renewable energy needs to be commensurate with the ambition. The region also hosts activities across significant parts of the RE value chain, supplying critical transition minerals, manufacturing solar photovoltaic (PV) models; hosting solar and wind farms and hydropower plants; and providing intra-regional financing towards RE development. 

There is
, however, a relative dearth of policy or market incentives to encourage accountability on the part of key stakeholders in addressing adverse ecological and social impacts. This runs the risk of a shallow energy transition that locks in business and investment models in which either deliberate or unintended trade-offs are made in relation to growth priorities versus imperatives around ecological safety, equity or respect for human rights.
Stage 1: Establishing the inquiry
Launched in 2022, REI Southeast Asia aims to catalyse new policy, practice and behavioural norms within emerging renewable energy systems, through collective action by key market actors in collaboration with civil society and policy-makers; with Philippines as the first focal country in the region. An inflection in the Philippines’ RE policy environment, coupled with the dynamism of its energy sector and a robust civil society, create the optimal conditions for REI. 
What’s next: We are building a consortium of partners to develop and delivery the inquiry in Philippines, actively seeking coalition and funding partners. If you are interested, reach out to our team through the contact details below.

Responsible Energy Initiative (Americas)

Renewable energy is the fastest growing energy source in the United States, increasing 42 percent from 2010 to 2020. Meanwhile eight countries across Latin America pledged that 70% of the region would be powered by renewable energy by 2030. Scaling at this pace of change has meant that social and human rights, justice and equity are not being universally respected across the value chain and in some cases, slowing down the growth of the industry. With their unique set of challenges and opportunities, various energy transitions are happening across the Americas we need to ensure they centre social justice, environmental resilience and respect planetary boundaries.

We aim to launch REI in the Americas, and have begun to lay a foundation for this work. Through exploratory conversations, we are gaining insight into the system, particularly the perceived barriers to a transition to responsible energy. We hope to replicate our approach in India and Southeast Asia and meaningfully adapt it to the Americas context, together with a consortium of partners.
What’s next: Following a scoping period to hone our geographical boundary, we will launch a 12-month collaborative diagnosis in which we will conduct interviews, build partnerships, and collectively diagnose what is needed to ensure the RE sector in one of the most influential countries in the Americas reaches its potential in contributing to just and regenerative outcomes. 

Find out more about the Responsible Energy Initiative

If you would like to learn more about the Responsible Energy Initiative India and how you can get involved, please contact Saksham Nijhawan. To get involved with the Responsible Energy Initiative Southeast Asia, please contact Cynthia Morel.

Follow the initiative’s
Medium page for updates and insights on the programme.