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Just transition to decarbonised energy

August 2020: the energy sector should focus on local labour market conditions, available technology knowledge, geographic resources, and social impact in addition to its financial viability. Without integrating the social and economic dimension of energy transitions, such strategies are at risk of compounding existing inequalities.

Information

Strategies to decarbonise the energy sector and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources often focus on cost and identifying the cheapest transition option. However, such ‘one size fits all’ approach to produce cleaner energy may lead to a compounding of social inequalities in some regions. Instead, the referenced studies suggest a replacing fossil fuels with sustainable energy sources like solar combined with carbon removing technologies such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), based on a country’s current energy economy and industrial strengths. In addition, local communities should be integrated into the development process of sustainable energy projects, such as wind farms. Including local communities in energy transition strategies can provide ‘social licence to operate’ for large energy projects by increasing acceptance in local areas due to benefit sharing programmes and education initiatives, for example.

Implications and opportunities

By strengthening the socio-economic dimension of decarbonisation strategies, energy mixes can be adapted to local context. Accounting for the local context allows energy transitions to be designed based on the local labour market, geographical resources, and its social context. In short – the transition to net zero needs to be localised, technically feasible and socially equitable in addition to financially viable. Such transitions can support long-term growth, productivity, wellbeing, and social cohesion in national contexts.

Limitations

The referenced study provides an in-depth analysis for Spain, Poland, and the UK and its results should be seen within its geographic context. More research will be needed to inform sustainable energy mixes in outside European contexts.


Sources

Patrizio, P., Pratama, Y., Dowel, N., (2020). Socially equitable energy system transitions. Joule, DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2020.07.010

Morton, T., Goodman, J., (2020). Forest wind and Australia’s renewables revolution: how big clean energy projects risk leaving local communities behind. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/forest-wind-and-australias-renewables-revolution-how-big-clean-energy-projects-risk-leaving-local-communities-behind-144675

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.