In this guest piece Gabrielle Reid, Associate Director of Strategic Intelligence at S-RM considers how the energy transition will impact the agricultural and rural communities.
After a challenging few years of Covid-19, the cost-of-living crisis and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is fair to say that tackling climate change may have slipped down the global agenda somewhat.
But the world is running out of time to address these critical issues and some communities cannot afford delays. In particular, rural communities occupy a risky position, simultaneously facing some of the most pressing risks stemming from climate change and, oddly, some of the most significant opportunities the energy transition presents.
Against such a delicate balance of risk and reward, companies and governments must understand the drivers and consequences of the energy transition on these communities to tip the scales the correct way. But this is not as simple as it seems.
(Energy) Security and conflict
The agricultural sector is heavily dependent on the natural resources of a region, meaning that any vulnerabilities in energy and water supply can present critical risks to food security, impacting the availability, affordability, accessibility, and storage of food.
While separate to the climate crisis and instead linked to poor infrastructure and government mismanagement, the current energy crisis in South Africa offers a timely example of how unreliable energy supply can have real and immediate consequences for food security – in fact, according to some figures, more than 10 million tonnes of quality food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain every year in the country. As a consequence, during these times of electricity shortages, agriculture – and the communities it supports – suffer.
Climate-amplified conflict is another key issue. Rural areas are often most affected by conflict and, according to the International Crisis Group, climate change has been identified as a key amplifier of conflict. Simultaneously, the International Rescue Committee has reported that climate financing per capita for conflict-affected countries was a third of what other countries received.
This double impact prevents the rural areas most affected by conflict and climate change from truly tapping into the opportunities that the energy transition can also provide.
Opportunities do exist
Rural and agricultural communities have a particular advantage over urban areas when it comes to the energy transition: space. Most renewable energy sources require significant amounts of land, naturally positioning them near to rural communities and offering some key opportunities.
Firstly, building renewable energy sources in rural areas increases power accessibility through energy cooperatives and community energy projects. This ‘democratisation’ of power can help insulate rural communities from power shortages.
Introducing renewable energy sources into the power supply mix for the sector can also enhance food security by limiting the impact of power poverty, improving agricultural yields, and reducing harvest losses. That said, many renewable energy sources can too be land-intensive which will naturally need to be balanced with agricultural land use demands.
The risks and benefits must be balanced, but there are measures aimed at ensuring fairness in the transition. Many nations are adopting a ‘just transition’ approach to support rural communities most affected by the transition. For example, shutting down coal mines to reduce fossil fuel power generation means redundancies for the miners. Such businesses are often crucial to the surrounding communities and so new employment opportunities will need to be provided.
Rural communities are some of the most at-risk in the world form climate change, but we need more measures to ensure a just transition to allow them to avoid the risks and reap the rewards of our global energy transition.
Gabrielle Reid (pictured left) is Associate Director for S-RM’s Strategic Intelligence practice. With over 10 years in the industry, Gabrielle has worked closely with our clients to develop tailored solutions that map their precise requirements for intelligence and analysis based on their locations, exposure and objectives, analysing changing (geo)political, security and regulatory landscapes to better inform decision-making. Prior to joining S-RM, she worked for a travel risk advisory firm, and assisted in the planning and coordination of non-medical evacuations.
Gabrielle holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences in Politics and Psychology, a Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honours) in Justice and Transformation, and a Master’s Degree in International Relations, specialising in terrorism threats in East Africa.