/ Access to water and education are recognised as basic human rights; to date, energy is not.
Reporting in support of energy justice
In listening to and collaborating with a wide range of energy actors – or ‘EnActors’ as we like to call them – over the past few years, EnAct has often struggled to find the right words for the situation we report on.
If lack of access to energy were equally distributed globally, 4 of 10 people each of us know would still cook with wood or dung and 1 would be unable to use any electric device in their own home. Many of those would spend up to 50% of household income on inefficient energy sources and also be ‘time poor’ because they have to spend many hours collecting ‘free’ resources. With the current energy crisis, even many of our neighbours would be struggling to pay gas and electricity bills – or choosing to cut back on consumption in ways that might jeopardise their health and well-being.
EnAct believes strong language is needed to convey the scope and scale of effort needed to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7), universal access to clean, affordable, sustainable energy. Boosting access to modern energy sources and services across the developing world is critical. But it must be coupled with a less-talked-about aspect of SDG7, capturing the huge energy efficiency gains possible in emerging and industrialised economies. EnAct concurs with the International Energy Agency in believing that the most valuable unit of energy, particularly in wasteful, polluting societies, is the one not used.
In turn, we’ve sought to be respectful of how individuals talk to us about their experience of daily or, indeed, lifelong struggles that arise from insufficient access to energy sources and services. Speaking of ‘energy poverty’ is, we find, damaging. Often, it negates the reality that people in difficult situations know a great deal about managing energy and are highly resourceful. It also risks narrowly focusing on one element of a complex, systemic barriers that undermine their ability to participate fully in social and economic life.
Energy geopolitics linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will throw millions more people into precarious situations. That some energy companies are making record profits highlights the ways in which current energy systems are failing society and individuals. In parallel, 2022 has served up solid proof that climate change is accelerating, making more urgent the need to radically reduce energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Governments and large corporations need to go beyond net-zero emissions targets and tackle the more difficult challenge of halting unfair practices and reining in excess use. And they need build social justice mechanisms into new approaches.
EnAct aligns with transitions underway
When the European Union announced (in 2020) that the European Green Deal would aim to deliver ‘a just, clean energy transition’, the wording immediately resonated with EnAct. It carries, we believe, stronger recognition that current energy systems – not just the combination of low income, poor-quality homes and energy prices – fail to uphold social contracts with citizens. And, thus, places more responsibility on governments to develop integrated policy frameworks that assign a share of responsibility for finding solutions to all actors.
Over the period 2017-21, EnAct worked closely with ENGAGER (Energy Poverty Action: Agenda Co-creation and Knowledge Innovation, funded by the EU Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) scheme. This network of >200 academics and practitioners from 40 countries substantially enlarged the resource base of knowledge, evidence and policy recommendations while also evaluating the effectiveness of diverse interventions and empowering people to demand change. An overarching question became, “If we believe in the principle of access to energy as a basic human right, what does that look like and who needs to do what?” EnAct recognised the need to explore different aspects of that question, producing a set of podcasts and providing editorial services to the associated ‘Right to Energy Toolkit’ (see below).
Aiming for energy justice requires a different kind of engagement. It moves away from KPIs that count how many clean cookstoves have been distributed and recognises that women in mud huts should have the same right as their wealthy peers to equip their kitchens with multiple devices that serve different needs. It also means taking action to fix homes that were poorly built long before their current occupants began to be driven into poverty and ill-health
Recently, the Government of New Zealand adopted the concept that a citizen’s experience of energy is better reflected by seeking to identify where they fit across a spectrum that ranges from ‘hardship’ to ‘well-being’ – and identifying what interventions are needed to move them closer to the latter.
Aiming for energy justice requires a different kind of engagement. It moves away from KPIs that count how many clean cookstoves have been distributed and recognises that women in mud hats should have the same right as their wealthy peers to equip their kitchens with multiple devices that serve different needs.
A proposed definition for energy well-being
In this area of the EnAct site, we will continue to add content – podcasts, personal essays, publications, etc. – that provokes new thinking and encourages collaboration.