The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: Sebastián Kind, Founder and CEO of RELP (formerly Greenmap) and Climate Breakthrough Awardee.
I was born and raised in Argentina, a country where nature is important. Nature is lush, it’s everywhere. At the same time, it’s a country with a strong oil and gas sector. Wind and solar resources are super abundant but have been historically left aside.
This contradiction exists because in Emerging Markets and Developing Economies b ringing in international capital for long-term infrastructure development is difficult. So, I decided to dedicate my time to understanding the issue and to changing perceptions of it. I wanted to unlock the huge potential of clean energy here and everywhere in the world.
I’ve worked in renewable energy for more than two decades. In 2013, I was invited to write the renewable energy law for the Congress of Argentina, as an external advisor. The law was finally passed and enacted a couple of years afterwards.
Then in 2016, I was invited to join the executive branch in Argentina, to lead the energy transition and to implement what I had written in the renewable energy law. I took office at a time when the country was immersed in a profound energy crisis and economic crisis. You can imagine how difficult it might be to incorporate a new industry like renewables in a market that has been running on fossil fuels for 100 years.
$9 billion investment
In less than six months, we structured a programme that has since brought about US$9 billion into renewables. This is in a country that hardly had any renewables at all. Now they’re responsible for 32% of peak coverage in the whole electricity sector and an annual average of 16% .
With these results, the country is saving over US$2 billion annually in fossil fuel imports and Renewables have become the cheapest option. This is in a country that has the world’s second-largest shale gas reserve and fourth-largest shale oil reserve.
I’m sure that if we could make it happen in one of the most complex investment places in the world, we can make it happen in many other complex markets as well.
Climate Breakthrough Award
I started RELP in 2019 when I received the Climate Breakthrough Award. It’s inspired by what we’ve done in Argentina. It’s something of which I am extremely proud. I wanted to replicate it as much as I could. We’d proved that something innovative works amazingly well – I was sure it could benefit many other countries. This is something of which we are extremely proud. I decided to promote it everywhere. I wanted to raise my voice, the flag, and the skills my team has, to support other governments in emerging economies to implement renewables as fast as possible, and at scale. My dream is to make RELP the standard for the design and implementation of Renewable Energy programs in Emerging Markets and Developing Economies.
Changing the status quo
I truly believe that the developed world will be decarbonised sooner rather than later. The main problem is what’s going to happen in E merging Markets and Developing Economies. I’m convinced that if we don’t find a solution to incorporate long-term infrastructure investments in renewables, more than half the world will keep on burning fossil fuels.
Renewable Energy is a capital-intensive industry that requires long-term investment and structures. To deploy renewables massively, we need to make them compete with the traditional sources. This happens only in long-term periods. But long-term financial structures and emerging and developing markets are unfortunately almost a contradiction. This is the key problem we need to work urgently to resolve.
We had to bring innovation to change the status quo. We knew that if we wanted to have different results, we needed to do different things. The solution we found and proved is that we can shield renewable investment programmes from country risk and place them into the international capital market, thereby shifting their credit rating, increasing the number of international players, decreasing the prices and increasing the success rate of implementation, even in difficult markets. Voilá, the results are evident.
Beacon of hope
If I could speak at COP28, I would say that climate change is not a distant threat. It’s a present reality. Escalating extreme weather events and different things like rising sea levels and the loss of precious ecosystems are stark reminders of the urgency we face.
We must take responsibility for our actions, recognise the role of greenhouse gas emissions, and commit to substantial immediate reductions. But it’s no longer enough to merely acknowledge the problem. We must act with unwavering resolve.
Renewables stand as a light, as a beacon of hope amidst this crisis. Their potential is vast, capable of transforming our energy systems while preserving our planet’s integrity. It is time for world leaders, and for society, to understand the potential to transform the energy system in favour of the climate.
Policy and financial innovation
For this, we need to foster innovation that leads to affordable and accessible clean energy solutions for all. And I’m not talking only about technology. We need to incorporate policy and financial innovation as the main drivers to tackle the problem.
We need to foster international cooperation transcending borders and politics. We know that climate change knows no boundaries and our response must be collaborative, inclusive, and rooted in science. We also need to strengthen multilateral institutions.
We are running behind the problem, and the clock is ticking. It’s not enough that it’s happening. We need to make it happen fast.
We need to view this crisis not as a burden, but as an opportunity for transformation. I would say, let us seize this moment to build resilient communities, reimagine our economies, and embrace the immense potential of a sustainable future.
Sebastián Kind is Founder and CEO of RELP (formerly GREENMAP), a non-profit organisation created to support governments in emerging and developing markets to unlock renewables at scale. He is an awardee of our partner Climate Breakthrough.
The IKEA Foundation is partnering with Climate Breakthrough because we believe it is vital to enable visionary leaders to develop strategies that will help protect our planet for future generations.