Thirty-four thousand three hundred and sixty one. This is the number of migrants and refugees that have died attempting to reach Europe since 1993, according to the non-governmental organisation United for Intercultural Action.
And, as this number only reflects the number of reported deaths, the real figure would be much higher. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported this week that the number of refugees globally reached 25.4million last year. These are just some of the 68million people worldwide displaced by “persecution, conflict, or generalised violence”.
Sometimes it may feel like this is a crisis too big for any of us to solve, but renewable energy companies can and should play a key role in alleviating this problem. It is too big to ignore.
The crisis has not far been from the news headlines in recent weeks.
Last week, Italy denied permission to dock at its ports to a ship carrying 630 migrants, which spent days running low on food and water before Spain stepped in and granted the survivors entry. Migration is also a big talking point in the US, after President Trump’s announcement in April of a “zero-tolerance” policy towards adults who illegally cross border between the US and Mexico. I expect we’ve all been sickened by images of children in detention centres following Trump’s policy of sending babies and young children away from their parents to shelters in South Texas. Currently, 2,300 children have been separated from their parents.
There are also steps that wind investors can take to help migrants and refugees.
A report published last year by the European Union’s Energy Initiative Partnership Dialogue Facility has shown that the development of renewable energy can be used as a strategy to improve the lives of potential refugees and migrants in their home countries.
The report highlights that displaced populations are not represented in international energy access initiatives, even though energy scarcity is among the major drivers of displacement. Improved access to energy in the home countries of potential refugees and migrants can stabilise populations, so that migration becomes less necessary.
For example, off-grid wind and solar power can improve the resilience of hospitals, schools and businesses. The creation of these projects would not only improve the supply energy locally, but would also create jobs and help populations to move towards self-reliance.
Humanitarian organisations have historically focused on assisting migrants and refugees after they have been displaced. However, this report suggests that renewable energy can be used instead as a way to support these populations before the migration happens, and so provides a longer-term solution. To achieve this, collaboration between governments, humanitarian organisations and private investors is key.
The EU report encourages governments and businesses to create a global revolving fund to support agencies that want to invest in energy projects. This could provide tailored financing solutions to back the construction of renewables energy schemes including wind farms.
Building wind and solar projects in migration hot spots, including African countries, would then contribute to the development of local economies and provide renewables project owners with new long-term customers: businesses, schools and hospitals would sign power deals to buy the clean energy produced by the projects.
But it’s one thing to make recommendations in reports. It’s quite another to turn that into action and start to make a real difference to the lives of refugees and migrants.
There are some steps being taken. The EU’s External Investment Plan last year started working on a strategy to reduce migration from Africa and other locations near Europe by promoting sustainable development. It's a start, but doesn’t address the current problem.
We’re also very aware that this alone won’t solve the migrant crisis. Migration is a complex topic: it happens for a range of reasons, and renewable energy is not the solution to all of them. For examples, renewables can’t be a solution for the 2,300 Mexican children currently separated from their parents by the Trump administration – but it could be an important first step to reduce the toll of migrant deaths on this side of the ocean.
The Inflation Reduction Act has sparked major optimism in the US renewables sector, but wind installations still fell 37% last year.