Interweaving energy poverty and the just energy transition agenda

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THE imperative to tackle climate change and transition to a low-carbon future has brought to the fore the concept of a just transition. Thus, a just transition is about taking care of the environment by rehabilitating and repurposing the whole economy so that it operates in an environmentally-sustainable manner for present and future generations.

Global commitments to address the climate change crisis have forced many countries to commit to lowering emissions and develop climate change mitigation  frameworks as laid out in their Nation ally Determined Contributions (NDCs).  Therefore, most countries have decided to transition to low-carbon energy production and promote renewable energy technologies to mitigate the damage caused by burning fossil fuels  and rising greenhouse gas emissions  (Worrall et al., 2018). This generally includes a coal phase-out strategy, as is already happening in countries such as South Africa and globally.

This has also resulted in development finance institutions starting to divest from coal-based energy systems and supporting renewable energy generation, backed by rapid advances in technology and increasingly cost-competitive renewable energy (Winkler, 2020)

However, within the broader just transition discourse lies the just energy agenda in which the poor and vulnerable should not be further disadvantaged but are fully engaged in not only identifying the challenges but also determining solutions. It, therefore, follows that a just energy transition which largely refers to transitioning  from fossils fuels should happen within  the ambit of an inclusive and informed  framework where consequences are  foreseen and addressed.

The energy transition itself is earmarked to happen  within societies that already have a  massive energy deficit to meet their  household and production needs,  especially those in the global south.

These are societies that are living in energy poverty, whereas it is important to recognise that access to affordable,  clean, reliable and sustainable energy is  generally accepted as a basic human  right.

Energy poverty can be summarised as  the inability to meet one’s energy  needs, especially the needs directly  impacting the household. Policy Brief  08 on accelerating SDG 7 achievement  by the United Nations, defines energy  poverty as lack of access to electricity  and clean cooking fuels or technologies.

Energy poverty also tends to  mainly affect low-income households due to several factors which include but are not limited to lack of income, household power dynamics, distance and lack of transportation, lack of  energy subsidies and low-literacy  levels.

Given the extent of energy  poverty globally and specifically within  sub-Sahara Africa, this cannot be dealt  with as a separate issue.

In the 21st century, far too many people lack  access to electricity and, or cannot  afford this basic right.

A just energy transition that encompasses energy  equity would leverage the much-needed  change within the climate arena.

Among the sustainable development  goals (SDGs), affordable and clean  energy (Goal 7) was included in to  ensure affordable, reliable and sustainable energy for all (UN, 2018). To  accelerate the achievement of Goal 7, sustainable energy for all (SE4All) was established to ensure access to  affordable and clean energy for household use as well as for productive uses.

Activities supported and mobilised by SE4All include a clean cooking programme, energy access in remote rural areas, healthcare improvement,  policy and regulatory frameworks that aim to leave no-one behind and reduce  energy poverty.

Exploring and unpacking the just  energy transition is one of the key  cogs of the climate media collaborative for economic justice and community rights project which Green  Governance Zimbabwe Trust is implementing in Zimbabwe in partnership  with Oxfam southern Africa.

By  recognising local knowledge and  capacity, and scaling up what is already  working, we can support community  rights, shift economic narratives away  from extractives and dirty development,  and strengthen global climate action to  create real and measurable improvements for frontline communities in  Zimbabwe.