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Link between just energy transition and energy poverty

A Just Energy Transition is a chance for economies to start over again with a clean slate and do things differently.

But, as a newly released TIPS policy brief puts it, a change will only be possible if the Just Energy Transition boldly positions energy poverty and access at the heart of any transition.

A just energy transition to facilitate household energy access and alleviate energy poverty report offers an overview of the current understanding of what constitutes a just energy transition and what that means for changing who has access to energy and how by creating a snapshot of the European Union and Sub-Saharan context.

The policy brief starts by explaining there is no one defining explanation for the concept of a just energy transition, which has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent years. A just transition is considered to encompass more than simply changing energy systems to encompass not only mitigation but climate resilience and the whole ecosystem. “Thus, a just transition is also 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.”

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Still, 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.

“Reducing energy poverty and increasing access to energy is a core component of a just transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy and society. Yet it is often overlooked. Despite South Africa’s high electrification rate, it is estimated that 43% of South African households are energy poor, meaning they cannot meet their basic energy needs and are therefore being denied a fundamental human right,” reads the policy brief.

Making the just energy transition about more than just electricity

For the Global North transitioning away from fossil fuels means job losses, but plans are being implemented to mitigate the effects. Generally, unlike countries in the Global South, the Global North has the financial and human capacity and resources to mitigate the impact of energy transitions.

The Global South also has to deal with energy poverty on a much greater scale than the Global North. While there are different schools of thought about the right to energy there is a growing consensus that the right should not depend on an individual or household’s wealth status but on the acknowledgement that lack of access to energy perpetuates poverty and stunts human survival and development.

The policy brief expands on the state of energy access and poverty in South Africa and provides an analysis of the failings of the Free Basic Electricity policy. It points out municipalities are inconsistent in how they manage energy poverty and asks whether a more integrated energy solution approach would not be better in addressing the challenge.

In looking at one aspect of energy poverty the brief illustrates how addressing only part of the just energy transition will be of little effect unless it is part and parcel of a broader plan that looks at how energy access is intertwined with every aspect of human existence.

Written by Nthabiseng Mohlakoana of the Centre for Sustainability Transitions at the Stellenbosch University and Peta Wolpe, Urban Energy and Climate Change Practitioner Peta Wolpe, A just energy transition to facilitate household energy access and alleviate energy poverty is available online.

The Just Energy Transition will be the focus of a roundtable d a Future Energy East Africa roundtable on 14 September. Click below for more information.

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Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a conference producer for Clarion Events Africa.