Energy Justice and Just Transition Research

A range of measures such as near-term employment and wage protections,
medium-term retraining and investment in alternative industries, and long-term education and innovation investment are central to ensuring protection and prosperity for people and communities. It is therefore imperative that governments work closely with businesses, local communities and labor representatives to produce just transition plans.

Other examples of energy transitions which incorporate support for vulnerable groups include the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, such as in Ghana where petroleum subsidy removal was accompanied by compensating measures (eliminating school attendance fees, increased healthcare funding, infrastructure support and an increased minimum wage) aimed at the poorest members of society. Outside of the energy sector, the trade literature suggests that well-designed combinations of policies and measures, such as unemployment benefits and retraining policies, are the most effective at minimising the adjustment costs resulting from trade liberalisation.

Common features of successful transitions include

  • Early implementation of policies and strategies to enable a managed decline of industries, supported by a long-term vision to support the growth of new industries
  • Close collaboration and social dialogue between central governments, local government authorities, businesses and labour unions, to ensure procedural justice and buy-in from the major transition stakeholders;
  • Social protections such as wage guarantees, pension rights, healthcare benefits, cash transfers and early retirement packages to mitigate workers’ economic losses in the short-term;
  • Government and business investment in infrastructure, skills and retraining for affected workers and establishment of alternative industries to prevent industrial decline over the medium term;
  • Government and business investment in education and innovation, to support new industries that contribute to longterm regional growth and prosperity.

A central aspect of the transition to a low-carbon economy is that of “just transitions”, a term which arose in the late 1970s when labour unions in the United States sought support for workers in polluting industries whose jobs were threatened by environmental regulations, as well as financial support to invest in alternative industries. Just transition has now become a recognized international norm, as embodied in the United Nations (UN) International Labour Organization (ILO)’s 2015 Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all and referenced in the Paris Agreement. As well as discussing just transitions, this study considers other aspects relating to the distributional impacts of low-carbon transitions, such as the effects on poorer households of removing fossil fuel subsidies, the implications of lost fossil fuel related revenues for particular countries and regions, the potentially adverse consequences of the rapid deployment of low-carbon technologies for some communities, and issues concerning the potential decline of regions which are heavily dependent on carbon-intensive industries.

The ILO’s just transition guidelines reflect many of these features and provide a vital set of principles around which to design transition policies and measures so as to avoid adverse impacts for workers. But there remains a need for further analysis and consideration around many aspects of low-carbon transitions, including their wider distributional implications, their costs and benefits; and effective governance mechanisms which are appropriate to different social and political contexts.

The burgeoning energy justice scholarship highlights the importance of justice and equity concerns in the context of global decarbonization and the transition to a green economy. This paper seeks to extend current conceptualizations of energy justice across entire energy lifecycles, from extraction to final use, to offer an analytically richer and more accurate picture of the (in)justice impacts of energy policy decisions. We identify two key areas that require greater attention and scrutiny in order to enact energy justice within a more democratized energy system. First, we call for greater recognition of the politics, power dynamics and political economy of socio-technical energy transitions. We use the example of the fossil fuel divestment movement as a way to shift energy justice policy attention upstream to focus on the under-researched injustices relating to supply-side climate policyanalysis and decisions. Second, the idea of a “just transition” and the distributional impacts on “and the role of” labor in low-carbon transitions must be addressed more systematically. This focus produces a more directly political and politicizing framing of energy (in)justice and a just energy transition.

During his sabbatical, Noel will also be exploring cross-scalar issues of global energy justice in the shift from coal to natural gas (investigating community impacts of open-pit coal mining in Colombia and hydraulic fracking in Pennsylvania). He is also actively involved in the fossil fuel divestment movement within the US.

RCC Research Project: Overcoming Carbon Lock-in: Fossil fuel Divestment and the Delegitimization of Fossil Fuels

Lunchtime Colloqium Video – Limiting Climate Chaos: The Case for Disruptive Climate Politics

Selected Publications:

The burgeoning energy justice scholarship highlights the importance of justice and equity concerns in the context of global decarbonization and the transition to a green economy. This paper seeks to extend current conceptualizations of energy justice across entire energy lifecycles, from extraction to final use, to offer an analytically richer and more accurate picture of the (in)justice impacts of energy policy decisions. We identify two key areas that require greater attention and scrutiny in order to enact energy justice within a more democratized energy system. First, we call for greater recognition of the politics, power dynamics and political economy of socio-technical energy transitions. We use the example of the fossil fuel divestment movement as a way to shift energy justice policy attention upstream to focus on the under-researched injustices relating to
supply-side climate policy analysis and decisions. Second, the idea of a “just transition” and the distributional impacts on “and the role of” labor in low-carbon transitions must be addressed more systematically. This focus produces a more directly political and politicizing framing of energy (in)justice and a just energy transition. Politicizing Energy Justice and Energy System Transitions Fossil fuel divestment and a just transition Rights statement: © 2017 Published by Elsevier Ltd. This work is made available online in accordance with the publisher’s policies. Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.Accepted author manuscript, 187 KB, PDF-document


This summary is based on a report created by Dr Rachel McPherson
Dr Naomi Creutzfeldt University of Westminster
Dr Chris Gill University of Glasgow
Dr Rachel McPherson University of Glasgow
Marine Cornelis Independent Consultant
Carolyn Hirst Independent Consultant
Published November 2018

Energy Justice Background

Energy justice has been defined as a “global energy system that fairly distributes both the benefits and burdens of energy services” (Sovacool et al., 2017). The inter-disciplinary, plural nature of energy justice as an academic subject is widely recognised amongst the literature which discusses it. The importance of energy justice as a concept is widely recognised as is its potentially far reaching scope.

The exact origins of energy justice are the focus of discussion in Heffron and McCauley’s 2017 article and for them, the origins of energy justice as a concept are not entirely clear. They attempt to map the emergence of energy justice as a concept, noting that it has been used in practice longer than academic research. The first time it was used in academic literature was 2010 in an article focused on sustainable development rather than energy justice and they note that it began gaining more attention in 2013 when it became a focused object of study.

Certainly the links between energy justice and environmental justice are widely recognised amongst energy justice literature (although Fuller and McCauley (2016) believe that the connection with environmental justice is less clear in Europe). Indeed, La Belle (2017) considers that the foundation of energy justice draws from the environmental justice movement.

Jenkins (2018) discusses the role of activism in the environmental justice movement, postulating that whilst it initially focused on grassroots activism, it later grew both substantively and theoretically. Indeed, she considers that the origins of energy justice literature are activist accounts of energy issues using environmental justice frame, although she notes that energy justice is not a term explicitly used in activist discourse (Jenkins, 2018, 67). Finley-Brock and Holloman (2016) also posit that energy justice is “an instrumental frame for research and activism alike” although they acknowledge that it is not widely used as an activist frame. It is Jenkins’ (2018) view that the strength of energy justice is in its ‘non-activist’ past and in fact, it is this dimension of energy justice which gives it a clearly defined content and approach. She also comments that energy justice as a concept overcomes the naïve approach of environmental and climate justice – namely the presumption that society will support their ideas. However, she emphasises that we must not negate from the importance of activism entirely since it plays an important role in assessing and directing energy policy.

The relationship with climate change and climate justice is also recognised amongst work which considers the link between energy justice and environmental justice (Jenkins, 2018) .Yet as Jenkins (2018) recognises, the focus of environmental, climate and energy justice are different. Energy justice is concerned with energy systems. However, it is not a superior concept, instead it should be viewed as one which carries the potential to be more strategically impactful (Jenkins, 2018).
Principles of energy justice
Energy justice literature often embeds itself in the eight core principles offered by Sovacool and Dworkin (2015). These are: availability, affordability, due process, transparency, accountability, sustainability, intra-generational equity, intergenerational equity and responsibility. These principles apply six philosophical concepts founds in justice theory: (i) human rights, (ii) procedure, (iii) welfare and happiness, (iv) freedom, (v) posterity, (vi) fairness, responsibility and capacity.
In their 2014 article, Heffron and McCauley posit that restorative justice should also be added to Sovacool and Dworkin’s influential principles of energy justice. They understand restorative justice as a uniting aim of the energy justice concept, since it provides closure to energy-decision-making processes and forces the policy maker to think about what the final outcome will be and how policy will ensure it. In a later article by Sovocool and Hiteva (2017), it is recognised that the original principles of energy justice lack necessary engagement with business literature. Therefore, it could be concluded that Sovacool himself recognises that there exists scope for development of the original principles offered and that they should not be rigidly adhered to as energy justice develops as a concept.
Three form of justice are typically recognised as underpinning energy justice studies (the ‘three tenet energy justice approach’): distributive justice, procedural justice and justice as recognition. Recognition based justice “provides an opportunity to re-orient attention towards identification, looking for instances of misrecognition in policy responses for example” and can shed light on the under-represented in society (McCauley et al., 2016, 142). Heffron and McCauley (2014) have previously used the three tenet framework to propose a new research agenda in energy justice, systems and security. In terms of distributional justice they considered local opposition to wind energy projects (different to the opposition faced by nuclear energy projects in the past) and promote a positive view of such since they allow the opportunity for injustices to be rectified (rather than simply detrimental in terms of causing delay).
The geography of justice
For Banerjee et al. (2017), despite the number of studies which point to the dimensions of energy justice in renewable energy development few are framed in terms of energy justice. They consider some of the dimensions of renewable energy justice: (i) temporal dimensions which may include depleted resources and climate change, (ii) technological dimensions and specifically technologies that can replace fossil fuels and lead to decreased GHG emissions, (iii) economic dimensions since energy poverty can contribute or aggravate income poverty and (iv) socio-political dimensions such as land rights and the social and economic marginalisation of local communities and (v) geographical dimensions.
Bouzarovski et al. (2017) also consider the geographical aspect of energy justice. Similar to Banerjee at al. (2017) their view is that in order to fully understand how injustices are produced in different geographical contexts, socio-material inequalities must be understood. For example, environmental features of a place are crucial to shaping vulnerability to energy poverty (642). Spatially embedded characteristics such as inflexible heating systems, inefficient buildings and a lack of access to suitable energy carriers also play a role. Additionally energy prices and household incomes also play a role. Disparities in bodily health across areas can also be linked to spatial inequalities in how energy is demanded and experienced.
From the point of view of ‘recognition’ justice, stigma can play a role. The stigma associated with poverty is often strongest in countries with the greatest economic inequalities. Bouzarovski et al. (2017) suggest that energy poverty may be especially stigmatising in places such as the US where high levels of energy consumption are normalised and in Scandinavian countries where a high value is placed on having a ‘cosy’ home.
Drawing on a case study of cooking in Sierra Leone, Munro et al. (2017) demonstrate how the UN’S Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) has been problematic. Here one of the underlying assumptions is that ‘traditional’ energy sources such as those used in Sierra Leonne are inferior. This is simplistic as the authors show. They also demonstrate that there is a gendered dynamic to the fuel used; it is mainly women and children who harvest and make use of the fuel. Although the fuel is labour intensive and involves dangerous smoke exposure, policies which reduce or eliminate its production result in socio-economic costs for some of the most economically vulnerable members of society (638). A further important aspect to this is in terms of recognition justice: these polices are drafted by elites and there is little to no input from those directly involved in the trade or consumption of local fuels.
Low-carbon future and energy justice
As indicated above, much of the existing literature on energy justice focuses on the reduction of carbon emissions and transitions to low-carbon systems. Indeed, for Capaccioli et al. (2017) energy justice “has emerged as an attempt to focus the attention around the ethical, philosophical and moral aspects of contemporary energy challenges” and in particular sustainable and renewable energy. When setting the scene to their case study analysis, Mundac et al. (2018) refer to the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) which took place in 2002 and highlighted the essential role of energy transitions in social, environmental and economic domains. They also cite two major scientific developments have also addressed energy system transitions: the World Energy Assessment (2000) which involved key analysis of low-carbon energy systems, and the Global Energy Assessment (2012) which focused on transitional pathways and global changes and challenges and emphasised the importance of modern energy carriers (e.g., cleaner cooking fuel).
However, McCauley (2018) disputes that a low-carbon future will eradicate injustice. For him, the move away from fossil fuels brings with it decentralisation of energy systems resulting in a change of personal responsibility levels. McCauley refers to the work of Iris Marion Young’s model of social connectedness whilst discussing this shift in the model of responsibility (2018, 69). He suggests that more work will be needed to uncover how injustice is expressed in the face of such changes. Similarly, Healy and Barry (2017) emphasise that decarbonisation of the status quo does not equate to energy justice. They authors focus on two areas which they identify as being crucial for the enactment of energy justice: the first is explicit recognition of the political dynamics of energy transitions (since for them, energy justice is intensely political) and the second is the role of labour in low carbon transitions. This included looking at the negative impact on fossil fuel energy workers and communities which are affected by decarbonisation energy transitions. They cite the earlier work of Barry (2012) to say that the starting point should actually be energy injustice-since the fight against injustice is not necessarily the same as outlining what justice is. Injustice should be the priority over justice (452). This is a more radical approach. In discussing low-carbon future, they cite the work of ‘just transition’ advocates who emphasise the need to ensure that new jobs created in low carbon sectors are fairly paid, accessible and secure. They discuss the study by Finley-Brook and Holloman which reported that African American workers are largely being left out of the US solar book (2016, 455). Ultimately they propose ending subsidies to produce fossil fuels that could alter the price of fossil fuels disadvantageously and instead transfer these subsidies to developing nations so “they can skip a whole generation of dirty energy, effectively leapfrogging carbon lock-in”(456). They also support policy actions which would undermine the social legitimacy of carbon socio-
energy systems including economic and cultural practices associated with it- much like with cigarette smoking campaigns.
Mundac et al. (2018) consider the move to low energy transitions in more detail and in particular focus on two case studies where low-carbon energy transitions have been made: one in Denmark (Samsø) and the other in Germany (Feldheim). Although Samsø and Feldheim are portrayed as positive experiences, they were not without conflict and perceived injustice. Both cases were driven by a ”sequence of interwoven events that led to a turning point in the respective communities”. Ultimately, their view is that in order for a low-carbon transition to be successful, it must be rolled out slowly and must give communities the time to adapt.
Community energy justice
Unsurprisingly, given their view on the lack of morality in energy justice decision-making, Jenkins et al. (2018) call for more explicit considerations of agency, power and politics as well as consideration of the role of non-traditional actors in transitions, especially non-users in marginalised groups.
Finley-Brock and Holloman (2016) draw links to campaigns such as Black Lives Matter and ultimately recommend building intersectionality between distinct justice campaigns through things such as peer-to-peer exchanges and training programs to identify and build from connections between campaigns. In this way the importance of recognition justice is emphasised by scholars. McCaluey et al. (2016) propose widening procedural justice to include co-production of decisions. For them, knowledge needs to be complemented with new ways of recognising vulnerabilities of misrepresented and under-represented people. For McCauley et al (2016), part of recognition justice must be letting communities chose for themselves future developments pathways and in the context of the Artic, fishing and reindeer based livelihoods must be respected. McCauley et al. emphasise that land use change is a key challenge for indigenous people (144) and what is required is prior consultation and prior agreement about who is to sit on infrastructure projects. It is justice- rather than stakeholder- centred perspectives which are proposed by the authors.
Referring to his PhD research, Forman (2017) discusses the Ynni’r Fro programme which was developed by the Welsh Government to aid the development of the energy sector. For Forman, energy scholarship has largely ignored the ways in which people and communities might contribute towards an energy just future from the grassroots level. Many of the participants interviewed in his research emphasised the ambition to be able to supply energy locally. Communities involved in the study had interactions with public bodies. Community energy, he says, is often responsive to
determination of local need and there are clear overlaps between community energy and issues of local development.
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