Why energy justice matters?

Energy is an innate right but access to it is not always guaranteed by conventional energy models and systems, writes Beatrice Ruggieri from the University of Bologna and project GRETA.

According to Daggett (2019), “energy is perhaps the problem of the Anthropocene” and any discussions about energy have to acknowledge its profound entanglements with centuries of domination on life. Thus, to overcome a fossil-fueled global economic system, an energy transition is not only necessary but also identified as the only viable solution.

However, in order to be meaningful for societal transformation, the energy transition must imply a radical change of the current energy systems, strongly dominated by non-renewable sources, extractivism, exploitation and pollution, and increasing amounts of waste.

A meaningful energy transition will necessarily translate into a decentralized, democratic, participatory and just process that will have deep impacts on socio-environmental relations, especially recognising and integrating historically marginalized groups and communities into transformative practices.

So, to achieve the goals of decarbonization, there is a need to address the implications that decentralizing energy systems will have in terms of fairness and justice, especially in relation to those individuals, communities, and territories often neglected in energy politics.

But how to achieve a just energy transition?

One idea is to actively engage citizens in energy-related decision-making processes and actions by enabling the emergence of energy citizenship experiences. And what is energy citizenship? It is a concept generally explained as the real engagement of citizens in behaviours and activities that support decarbonization such as the adoption of renewables and energy efficiency.

Energy citizenship might encourage bottom-up, collective and more sustainable ways of energy management, contextually facilitating the respect of energy justice principles. For example, community energy might positively contribute to fighting the plague of energy poverty or sustain more democratic and gender-inclusive decision-making on energy on different levels of governance.

Any tips for establishing energy citizenship as a just form of participation in energy systems?

A suggestion may be to pay attention to the three dimensions of the justice theory:

  • the distributional (unfairness and inequalities in the process of sharing costs and benefits created by energy development across society),
  • the recognition (consideration of the knowledge, values, and norms of those most affected and often marginalized),
  • and the procedural (the idea of a fair process) aspects.

Considering these dimensions will lead to focus on necessary conditions and processes for a just energy transition as well as on economic and political structures to subvert. To enable energy citizenship as a fair form of bottom-up, participatory energy management, there is an urgent need to multiply collective efforts to resist, reclaim, and restructure energy systems.

Cooperation should be the guiding principle towards a just energy transition

Energy is a fundamental, necessary, crucial element of life. It is also an innate right. However, access to energy as well as fair and equal access to participate in energy-related decisions are not always guaranteed by conventional energy models and systems. In this regard, a cross-sectoral energy revolution is what we need to achieve decarbonization goals while also reducing social inequalities, exclusion, and oppression.

A combination of policies (such as the one of Energy Union), technological development and new societal attitudes will bring socio-environmental benefits. Cooperation instead of competition must be the guiding principle towards a just energy transition, where citizens will participate as active stakeholders and will become fully engaged in the energy system as prosumers (both producers and consumers).

Indeed, only through a radical and cooperative transformation of the current energy systems and policies, it will be possible to provide all individuals, across different areas, with “safe, affordable and sustainable energy”, thus paving the way towards wider and deeper changes.

Read more from our latest vision document on energy citizenship-based Energy Union.

Beatrice Ruggieri works as a research fellow at the department of sociology and business law at the University of Bologna. In GRETA, Ruggieri and her colleagues from the University of Bologna are responsible for leading the research on the emergence of energy citizenship and its relationship with geographical levels.

Additional reading

Daggett, C. (2019). The birth of energy. Fossil fuels, thermodynamics & the politics of work. Croydon, Duke University Press.

Lee, J, Byrne, J. (2019). Expanding the conceptual and analytical basis of energy justice: beyond the three-tenet framework. In Frontiers in Energy Research, 7:99.

McCauley, D., Heffron, R.J., Stephan, H., & Jenkins, K. (2013). Advancing energy justice: the triumvirate of tenets. In International Energy Law Review, 32, 107-110.

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