Respecting the Human Rights of Project-Affected Communities in Wind and Solar Energy Project Deployment

Wind and solar energy are essential for the world to reach net zero global emissions in accordance with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change targets and to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) around the world. In the last ten years, the global installed capacity of renewable energy has more than doubled, with wind and solar energy leading this growth. 

Yet amidst this rapid expansion there have been increasing allegations of wind and solar energy companies’ involvement in adverse human rights impacts, particularly with respect to the rights of Indigenous Peoples, other local communities, and human rights defenders. 

Without proper management of human rights impacts, wind and solar companies may:

  • Cause widespread harm to Indigenous Peoples and local communities, including loss of land, livelihoods, and cultural integrity;
  • Increase their own legal, financial, operational and reputational risks;
  • Threaten the sector’s continued public support, legitimacy and market growth opportunities; and
  • Undermine critical contributions in the fight against climate change.

Seeing the potential for rights-respecting wind and solar energy projects to help drive a just and efficient global energy transition, and noting the need for greater focus on human rights in wind and solar energy development discourses, CCSI has published two resources for businesses highlighting the importance of and strategies for respecting the human rights of communities: 

These resources focus on community-related human rights impacts during project deployment, namely, all activities from project development (feasibility, scoping) through to construction and ongoing operation. The types of communities contemplated by the guide are Indigenous Peoples as well as other local communities, especially vulnerable or marginalized communities, whose internationally recognized human rights are, or risk being, affected by a project (‘project-affected communities’).

Graphic that shows the process of raw material extraction to processing and manufacturing to distribution to deployment and to decommissioning and disposal.

(1) Respecting the Human Rights of Communities: A Business Guide for Commercial Wind and Solar Project Deployment

Companies involved in commercial wind and solar projects are facing heightened scrutiny of their human rights performance. This Business Guide provides companies with information and strategies to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for adverse human rights impacts that they cause, contribute to, or are directly linked to through their operations, products, or services by virtue of their business relationships. It may also be useful for investors, business partners, government actors, civil society organizations, communities, and other stakeholders.

Drawing on the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, the Guide provides practical recommendations, with over 40 examples from peer companies and initiatives, on the core elements of a comprehensive human rights program that should be integrated throughout wind and solar energy companies’ business operations to improve their respect for community-related human rights and manage actual and potential risks both proactively and reactively.

(2) Respecting the Human Rights of Communities: A Legal Risk Primer for Commercial Wind and Solar Project Deployment 

As a companion to the Business Guide, the Legal Risk Primer is geared towards general counsels and corporate legal teams, as well as internal and external stakeholders. It provides an overview of the wide range of potential legal risks for wind and solar energy companies associated with community-related adverse human rights impacts. The legal risks outlined arise from home and host government laws, community litigators, financiers, and power purchase agreements. 

CCSI has also created a short slide deck summarizing the key messages from both the business guide and legal primer to serve as a supplementary communication tool.

Sarah Dolton-Zborowski’s blog overviews the adverse human rights impacts of certain wind and solar projects as well as the operational, financial, and reputational risks wind and solar companies face if they continue their irresponsible practices. She suggests how companies can instead advance a fast and fair transition.

In July 2022, CCSI’s Sam Szoke-Burke was interviewed by Ian Welsh on the Innovation Forum’s podcast episode on the renewable energy sector’s community-level human rights risks. The discussion covers: (1) the impacts of commercial wind and solar project deployment on the human rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities; (2) why governments, companies, and investors cannot ignore the importance of respecting human rights, not only for the sake of impacted local communities but also in order to avoid operational, financial, and reputational risks which can delegitimize the sector and limit its ability to expand responsibly and contribute to meeting our global climate goals; and (3) the key steps renewable energy companies should take to ensure they respect communities’ human rights, which are laid out in the Business Guide and Legal Primer.

Together, these resources support wind and solar energy companies – as well as external stakeholders seeking to influence companies, including investors, civil society organizations, and project-affected communities – in driving a just transition to renewable energy that is fast but fair. 

These resources were produced as part of ALIGN, funded by UK Aid from the UK government.