Energy justice: bringing people back to the heart of energy decisions
Blog ‘Energy justice: bringing people back to the heart of energy decisions posted on the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED) website on 2 March 2018.
This blog is based on conversations with Dr Kirsten Jenkins, who worked on Energy Justice and Transitions with Prof Benjamin Sovacool while at CIED. She has now moved on to a new role at the University of Brighton.
Energy issues are often treated as technical problems with technical fixes. In this context, scientists, economists and engineers are the people expected to deliver solutions to our climate crisis and policy makers rely on them to make decisions.
However, energy provision and use has a human side and a strong social justice dimension. Without a fair energy system for all, we can’t achieve truly sustainable development, which is underpinned by notions of equity and rights. Policy decisions regarding energy production and consumption, like all societal processes, have winners and losers. We need to understand where in the energy system injustices lie, to be able to achieve a fair and sustainable energy future, but how can we do so?
Energy justice: a new research agenda
Energy justice has emerged as a research agenda that seeks to apply justice principles in the areas of energy policy, energy production and systems, energy consumption, energy activism, energy security, the energy trilemma, and the political economy of energy and climate change.
Policy makers grapple day to day with the challenge of creating a sustainable, secure and equitable energy system. They need to deliver policies on energy production and consumption that support economic growth while not leaving anyone behind. Is this possible?
Justice concerns should be at the heart of these decisions but they often end up being treated as technical problems: in the case of fuel poverty, the fuel poor need better insulated homes and support with their energy bills. That is how far considerations of fairness usually extend. As Kirsten pointed out in a 2017 paper, there is a tendency to split our energy systems into small, understandable pieces, but this negated the system-wide nature of the challenge. Furthermore, there is a tendency to not recognise the human side of the problem. Engagement with people who might be adversely affected by energy decisions is lacking.