Transforming the Future: The Renewable Energy Challenge

Transforming the Future: The Renewable Energy Challenge
Transforming the Future: The Renewable Energy Challenge

Quick summary:

How can Africa’s renewable energy leaders transform the future?

1. There’s a global leadership crisis: Renewable energy leaders have skills and vision that Africa and the world need.

2. Being a leader goes beyond projects, it’s a whole transformation: Change systems, take risks, balance people and nature, communicate the links between climate change and biodiversity loss.

3. There are 4 ways renewable energy leaders can be agents for transformative change: 

Collaborate, share an ambitious vision, make nature plus human well-being the heart of every decision, and go public.

4. 2020 is the year for stepping up to lead change for nature, climate, and people.

  • Governments will agree to a new global biodiversity strategy in Kunming, China in October 2020.
  • This creates opportunities for renewable energy to lead in every nation.


Renewable energy leaders know our world is changing fast and action is the answer. But the December Madrid climate talks were considered a failure as old loyalties to fossil fuels and big corporations appeared to block progress. Ugandan campaigner Hilda Flavia Nakabuye said, “Dear leaders, we need leadership on climate action not talks. For how long will you keep negotiating? You have been negotiating for the last 25 years, even before I was born.”

But where others are divided, set in their ways, and indecisive, renewable energy leaders can be agile and visionary collaborators. This positions them to answer the global leadership crisis by stepping up and transforming our future. 

Last year, while at Cambridge University, I investigated how to achieve transformative change for the future of biodiversity. The planet’s not on a great trajectory. Climate change and nature loss are rapidly becoming worse. These issues are two halves of the same problem, and transforming our energy systems is one crucial solution to that problem. 

Real change requires going beyond planning for individual energy projects to implementing a holistic vision for the future. We should ask questions such as:

  • How should and shouldn’t going renewable change landscapes in 20 years? 
  • How should communities look and function differently? 
  • How should communities help lead change – how will people’s lives be different? 

I believe Africa’s renewable energy leaders have the drive to help create and implement the big, unified vision we haven’t yet achieved.

IPBES Global Assessement on Biodiversity discussions Paris 2019 1024x735 - Transforming the Future: The Renewable Energy Challenge
Figure 1: IPBES Global Assessement on Biodiversity discussions — Paris 2019

What is Transformative Change?

But what is “transformative change”? It’s a term growing in popularity in global policy making forums. It’s used to communicate fundamental shifts to entire systems. An example might be changing our entire energy system to be free of fossil fuels and wood burning fast enough to reduce climate change. The challenge is big enough that it may seem impossible until it actually happens. It’s comprehensive enough that it pushes the limits of our thinking. It’s about solutions that address the deepest roots of our problems. It requires a vision that’s unapologetically bold. And it can’t happen without guiding people to imagine a different future and taking a risk to achieve it. Finally, many feel that transformative change must be just – transitions should be designed so that vulnerable people are not left behind.

Here are four ways Africa’s renewable energy leaders can be agents for transformative change:

1. Make collaboration priority one. Embrace working together as the best way for everyone to succeed. This can be challenging in a competitive market, but by supporting one another you’re much more likely to amplify your voice and achieve buy-in from governments and the public that renewable energy is the way forward. 

2. Share a common vision & values. Renewable energy leaders don’t need to agree on everything, but seek to share a common vision for the future you’re working towards. Don’t just talk about it – make it happen with your own hands. Let go of all the barriers that prevent bold change. Then try building a model of the ideal Africa of the future. What does it look like? How does renewable energy make it possible? How does it support the health of both people and nature?

Malawi Landscape 1024x1024 - Transforming the Future: The Renewable Energy Challenge
Figure 2 – Malawi Landscape

3. Make nature the heart of decisions. Many people, including government leaders, don’t link the health of nature and climate change. Combating climate change is often linked to financial opportunities, but protecting nature can be seen as a bureaucratic burden or even a roadblock to progress. It’s up to renewable energy leaders to make and communicate the connection and implement projects that go beyond reporting requirements: we must place protecting nature at the heart of the future. This doesn’t mean putting people second – it means drawing the connection between healthy ecosystems and human well-being. And, it means advancing renewable energy technologies, designs, and infrastructure that will enhance rather than place a burden on wildlife and ecosystems at every stage from manufacture onwards. This also means critically questioning the impacts of choices like large solar farms, biofuels, and hydropower development and seeking the least impactful alternatives.

4. Go public: There’s nothing so powerful as uniting to get a message to the world. What’s the story of hope that renewable energy leaders can champion? Make sure not only governments but every-day people hear the message, truly understand it, and see a role for themselves in making it a reality.
Renewable energy leaders have the opportunity to be the leaders we need and set the gold standard for the future of energy, people, climate, and nature. As we move forward into the next decade, there’s no time like right now to act. In October 2020, governments world over will convene at the 15th Conference of Parties for the UN biodiversity treaty: the Convention on Biological Diversity. Governments will adopt a strategy to protect the future of nature in each nation. By collaborating as agents of transformative change for society and the environment, renewable energy leaders will be key to implementing that strategy. You will help lead Africa to a bright future.

Author: Rosalind Helfand

Rosalind is an Environmental & Social Policy Advisor who work with government and nonprofit organizations to develop and implement progressive local, national, and global policies.


1. The Guardian:

2. CNN:

3. Cambridge University Conservation Leadership Masters:

4. BirdLife International:

5. IPBES – Transformative Change:

6. UN Convention on Biological Diversity: 



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