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What can we learn as renewable energy changemakers and leaders? 

Rana Adib's picture
Executive Director, REN21
  • Member since 2023
  • 1 items added with 295 views
  • Jan 5, 2023

Le monde change – les héros aussi. The world changes, heroes too. 

Displayed on the walls of the Paris Métro, this teaser for an American superhero movie reminded me of an ageless wisdom: only history will tell. Only history will determine if a hero (e.g., an activist) will be remembered as a resistant, a revolutionary or a terrorist. 

Admittedly, I read this sentence on my way back from Berlin, where climate activists were blocking highways on the occasion of an international climate security summit. At the same time, in Iran, thousands of women and men were also in the streets demanding reforms at the risk of their life or freedom. I was returning from the 12th Arab-German Energy Forum, where a fellow German panellist, referring to the Third Reich, mentioned the way his generation asked their parents and grandparents about their collective silence during that period. Why did they not do anything, even though they knew or could have known what was happening? He also asked the audience: “what does this mean for us sticking to fossil fuel, when we know about the climate situation?” 

I could probably end this editorial here, inviting all of us to reflect on this question. Yet, this would imply that standing “on the right side of history” is a sufficient driver of change. I rather want to invite you to think, investigate and explore what it means and takes to be a “hero”. What makes a person stand up, even if it means a sacrifice? Why do some people enter resistance? How does a movement build up? There are many examples from all parts of the world. 

Many of these “ordinary” heroes are driven by a “just cause”. They stand up for it, ready to risk their own interest (at least in the short term). Often, they have the courage to challenge conventional mindsets. Often, they explore (or are forced to explore) uncommon pathways. And interestingly, they are so deeply convinced of the cause that they are able to connect with others, mobilise them into action and create a movement around it.  

What can we learn as renewable energy changemakers and leaders? 

Importantly, we should remain aware of our many assets – especially at a time when the energy security and the economic crisis seem to justify renewed investments in fossil fuel infrastructure and when it is widely accepted to consider natural gas as bridge fuel. As a movement, we have many things going in our favour: 

We stand up for a cause – actually, for several causes: renewable energy is about building a just, equitable and inclusive energy system (and this is very different from fossil fuels). In addition, renewable energy is better for our health and less harmful for the environment and climate. 

Energy is important everywhere and is relevant for anybody. Within the renewables community, we have the ingredients to develop strong narratives to mobilise broadly.  

Everywhere in the world, we can identify, connect with and complement players and decision makers from civil society, governments and even industry, who stand up for the climate and for social and economic development. This broad support helps to anchor the movement.  

The reality of today also requires exploring more effective, possibly revolutionary, ways to accelerate the shift to renewable energy. It’s not about radical activism. It’s about exploring uncommon pathways. We could, for example, address the massive gap in renewable energy skilling by mandating the military to install heat pumps and PV panels, and to build up grids. We could also build up nationally owned renewable energy technology manufacturing to strengthen supply chains. Ideas abound, and many of them are realistic. All they require is the will to implement them. And to remember that history will look back at us and consider what kind of heroes we were. 


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 5, 2023

Well said, Rana! I've found that when talking to people at any level of the clean energy sector, they definitely seem mission-driven and that leads to more open communications and collaborations as we collectively work towards industry goals. 

Todd Carney's picture
Todd Carney on Jan 17, 2023

Very interesting piece! It helps us remember how many factors and considerations should be at play as we work to secure energy solutions.

Mike Westerman's picture
Mike Westerman on Jan 17, 2023

Perhaps what drives "activists" is their greater fear when they join the dots and see where current trajectories are taking us! I was thinking of this after being challenged about whether anyone of us makes a difference: I realised that I've exchanged tons per annum of CO2 from grid power with several 100kg of silicon and aluminium on my roof that will last 25y. It spurs me to do something but more, to get the grid cleaned up!

Rana Adib's picture
Thank Rana for the Post!
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