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The Political Economy of the Just Transition



This paper explores the political economy of the ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy. The idea of a ‘just transition’ increasingly features in policy and political discourse and appeals to the need to ensure that efforts to steer society towards a lower carbon future are underpinned by attention to issues of equity and justice: to those currently without access to reliable energy supplies and living in energy poverty and to those whose livelihoods are affected by and dependent on a fossil fuel economy. To complicate things further this transition has to be made compatible with the pursuit of ‘climate justice’ to current and future generations exposed to the social and ecological disruptions produced by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Here we seek to identify and analyse the immensely difficult political trade-offs that will characterise collective attempts to enact and realise a just transition. We explore procedural and distributional aspects of energy politics and practice in particular as they relate to the just transition: energy access for those who do not have it; justice for those who work within and are affected by the fossil fuel economy; and attempts to manage the potential contradictions that might flow from pursuing energy and climate justice simultaneously.
The political economy of the ‘just transition’
*Department of International Relations, School of Global Studies, University of Sussex,
Brighton BN1 9SN
San Jose State University, 1 Washington Square, San Jose, CA 95112, USA
This paper was accepted for publication in November 2012
This paper explores the political economy of the ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy.The idea
of a ‘just transition’ increasingly features in policy and political discourse and appeals to the need
to ensure that efforts to steer society towards a lower carbon future are underpinned by attention to
issues of equity and justice: to those currently without access to reliable energy supplies and living
in energy poverty and to those whose livelihoods are affected by and dependent on a fossil fuel
economy. To complicate things further this transition has to be made compatible with the pursuit of
‘climate justice’ to current and future generations exposed to the social and ecological disruptions
produced by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Here we
seek to identify and analyse the immensely difficult political trade-offs that will characterise
collective attempts to enact and realise a just transition. We explore procedural and distributional
aspects of energy politics and practice in particular as they relate to the just transition: energy access
for those who do not have it; justice for those who work within and are affected by the fossil fuel
economy; and attempts to manage the potential contradictions that might flow from pursuing energy
and climate justice simultaneously.
KEY WORDS: just transition, energy justice, climate justice, low carbon economy, political
economy, energy poverty
The UN has declared 2012 the International Year
of Sustainable Energy for All. How can an
unevenly energy insecure world be transformed
into one of clean energy access ‘for all’? Coping with
the problems of energy insecurity, energy poverty and
climate change will require new sources of finance,
novel technologies and substantial reforms to institu-
tions and policy-making processes. None will be easy
to deliver, nor will any, in isolation, be a panacea.
Issues of equity and justice will be intrinsic to which-
ever energy trajectory is pursued, however, and they
need to be better understood and anticipated.
There is now increasing attention to the concept and
practice of climate justice (Bond 2012; Okereke 2010).
But far less attention is paid to the fact that pursuing
climate justice intra and inter generationally, in a
socially just way in a highly unequal world will mean
having to address ‘energy justice’ for the 1.6 billion
people worldwide without access to electricity (Inter-
national Energy Agency (IEA) 2012) that is so essential
to development, as well as the energy injustice that
characterises the distribution of harm and benefit
within the current fossil fuel dependent global
economy. This is so because the intimate relationship
between energy and development on the one hand,
and carbon and growth on the other, remain tightly
coupled. In this context there is increasing interest in
the notion of the ‘just transition’ to a lower carbon
economy that recognises the trade-offs between these
competing needs and priorities and seeks to address
them in an equitable manner (Swilling and Annecke
2012). Pursuing a ‘just transition’ to a low-carbon
economy is proposed, therefore, as one foundation
upon which to build energy justice in a carbon-
constrained world. In this paper we explore the proce-
dural and distributional dimensions of such a transition
and the links between the two since any attempt to
restructure the global fossil fuel economy will face
immense political resistance and institutional chal-
lenges that will test to the full the weak and under-
developed architecture we currently have for global
energy governance which will have to play an increas-
ingly important role in steering the world towards
climate compatible development.
We strike a note of caution about the degree of
capacity, autonomy and willingness many state and
inter-state institutions have to oversee such a ‘just
transition’ in a neoliberal context in which direct
The Geographical Journal, 2013, doi: 10.1111/geoj.12008
The Geographical Journal, 2013 © 2013 The Authors. The Geographical Journal © 2013 Royal Geographical Society
(with the Institute of British Geographers)
control over energy production and consumption is
often either shared with or delegated to the private
sector and in which global bodies notionally charged
with governing energy have been granted few powers
by their member states to strengthen themselves in
ways which might enable them to manage and recon-
cile global trade-offs between tackling energy poverty,
energy injustice and climate justice simultaneously.
What this short exploration of the interface between
climate justice and energy justice suggests, therefore, is
the need to be alert to the political economy of global
environmental justice, characterised as it is by uneven
power relations, conflict and often violence, and
shaped as it is by a global political economy in which
the interests of global elites are more often than not
misaligned with the energy needs and environmental
vulnerabilities of the world’s poorest people.The praxis
of the just transition will be have to centrally address
the key political economy questions of ‘who wins, who
loses, how and why’ as they relate to the existing
distribution of energy, who lives with the side effects of
its sites of extraction, production and generation, and
who will bear the social costs of decarbonising energy
sources and economies (Newell et al. 2011). This
emphasis locates our paper in the more critical strands
of environmental justice scholarship (McDonald 2002;
Cole and Foster 2001) that emphasise the ways in
which uneven exposure to environmental benefits and
harm is often not accidental and unintentional, but
rather a product of a particular way of organising
production and its constitutive social relations. It also
reiterates the importance of comprehending the global
dimensions of the issue in the everyday, increasingly
transnational, organisation of production and con-
sumption through global supply chains (Iles 2004)
rather than though the dramatic, site-specific and more
visible instances of environmental justice conflicts and
mobilisations which feature in much of the literature
(Martinez-Alier 2002).
Before we proceed further, let us first introduce the
concept of the ‘just transition’.
The ‘just transition’
The term ‘transition’ has gained increasing currency
in political parlance amid plans from governments for
transitions to a lower carbon future. In academic
circles the term derives from a set of literatures on
‘socio-technical’ transitions (Geels 2005; Geels and
Schot 2007) that are also increasingly being applied
to questions of energy policy and politics (Scarse and
Smith 2009; Kern and Smith 2008). The term ‘socio-
technical transitions’ refers to deep structural changes
in systems, such as energy, that involve long-term and
complex reconfigurations of landscapes with technol-
ogy, policy, infrastructure, scientific knowledge, and
social and cultural practices towards sustainable
ends. There is an increasing recognition, however, of
both the need to address the politics of transition
(Meadowcroft 2009) and to ensure proposed transi-
tions are (socially) just in a way which goes beyond
the more apolitical and managerial origins of the
concept (Goldthau and Sovacool 2012). We would
add that such transitions also need to be environmen-
tally just by ensuring that existing environmental
inequalities in terms of exposure to ill-health and
localised degradation are not reproduced or exacer-
bated, while aiming to alleviate a global environmen-
tal threat such as climate change.
In policy terms the call for a ‘just transition’ is often
directed to states. Governments will have to play a key
enabling and steering role in improving levels of
support and access to clean energy and mediating the
competing powerful interests at stake in any effort to
transition to lower carbon forms of energy production
and consumption. This raises a whole series of proce-
dural issues about how decisions are taken, options
assessed and trade-offs made between different
energy futures or around what Bradshaw (2010) refers
to as ‘the global energy dilemma nexus’. There was
some discussion at the UN Conference of the Parties
to the climate change convention in Cancún in 2010
around the idea of ‘just transitions’: interpreted as how
to ensure moves towards a low carbon economy are
equitable, sustainable and legitimate in the eyes of
their citizens. It builds on interventions such as that by
the Argentinian government in the Ad Hoc Working
Group on Long-term Cooperative Action, which
called for mechanisms to ensure a fair transition for
workers who might suffer socio-economic impacts of
measures taken to effect climate mitigation. This
implies economic resources and technology transfer
to poorer countries, as well as the strengthening of key
institutions to oversee industrial restructuring in a way
that generates ‘sustainable jobs’ (UNEP et al. 2008;
SecAyDS 2009).
Indeed, one of the earliest formulations of the
concept of a ‘just transition’ was developed in the
1980s by the US trade union movement in response
to new regulations to prevent air and water pollu-
tion, which resulted in the closure of offending
industries. The UK’s Trade Union Congress has cam-
paigned for the same principles to be applied to
industries in the UK that will be affected by low-
carbon restructuring (Trade Union Congress 2008)
and such claims have been reiterated by trade
unions in South Africa anxious about the social
impacts of the restructuring of the world’s most
carbon-intensive economy. The International Trade
Union Confederation (ITUC) at a workshop in
Durban in July 2011, for example, stated:
Climate is also our issue because addressing it implies
recognising the need for a huge transformation in our
societies, in our production and consumption systems,
and therefore also on jobs. And recognition alone is not
sufficient. Leadership by the labour movement is needed
for transforming the system. Unless we fight for making
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this transformation work for the people, ensuring a Just
Transition towards a truly sustainable model, we will only
see superficial changes towards more inequality and
environmental degradation.
ITUC (2011)
In this rendition of the concept, a just transition aims
to take appropriate measures to protect jobs in vul-
nerable industries. This will be important where there
is a risk that job losses would simply mean the transfer
of carbon-intensive activities to other countries, or
where organisations are failing to take sufficient steps
to prepare for the low-carbon transition. Where job
losses are unavoidable, adequate support would be
needed for people and sectors that stand to lose out as
a result of decarbonising the economy through com-
pensation and retraining for new employment oppor-
tunities. It would also ensure that new jobs created in
low-carbon sectors provide ‘decent’ jobs (which pay a
living wage, provide decent working conditions, are
accessible to people with a range of skills and offer
clear career progression opportunities) (Bird and
Lawton 2009).
Aside from calls for ‘just transitions’ in international
arenas and by organised political interests, there have
been movements mobilising around this idea, going
beyond a focus on ‘transition towns’ which have been
initiated in the UK, for example, to prepare for a world
after oil (Bulkeley and Newell 2010), to emphasise the
social justice elements of such a transformation. These
seek to get the support of a broad range of actors
behind difficult policy choices and engage with local
initiatives sharing similar goals. This can be done
either through engagement with a broad-based set of
social movements and community actors in defining
an alternative vision for a region or by seeking to bring
together a coalition of actors to provide and finance
‘just energy’ as has happened in South Africa as we
show below.
Concrete examples of interventions and mobilisa-
tions aimed at realising elements of a just transition
include the following. The Just Transition Alliance is a
coalition of environmental justice and labour organi-
sations based in California. Together with frontline
workers and community members living alongside
polluting industries, the coalition seeks to create
healthy workplaces and communities. It focuses on
contaminated sites that should be remediated, and on
the transition to clean production and sustainable
economies. For example, on issues such as ‘clean coal’
the Just Transition Alliance voices objections based on
local as well as global impacts, including local air
pollution, working conditions and the detrimental
environmental impacts of mining on local landscapes
and water use (Just Transition Alliance 2011). Mean-
while, more proactively, ‘Just Energy’ is an innovative
collaboration between a development NGO (Oxfam),
an engineering firm (Arup), a legal firm (Simmons &
Simmons), a university (MIT) and consulting compa-
nies (McKinsey and Marmanie). Based in South Africa,
it aims to enable low-income communities to develop
renewable energy (RE) enterprises as a means of gen-
erating revenue and employment opportunities,
aiming to provide ‘a fair return on renewable energy for
local people and investors alike’ (Just Energy 2011). It
has set the following goals to be achieved by 2020: to
develop 20 RE enterprises of 10–80 MW of clean
energy, starting with wind farms in South Africa, then to
develop enterprises across Africa, Asia and Latin
America; to generate income streams of £3 million per
year for social and economic development in low-
income communities; to reduce carbon emissions by
1.8 million tonnes annually; to create jobs and transfer
new business and technology skills to local people;
and to transform RE markets in developing countries so
that low-income communities receive fair value for
what they bring to the project.
Another example of maximising the co-benefits of
clean energy interventions comes from retrofitting
buildings in Los Angeles. Here a grassroots coalition
of community-based organisations, trades unions and
environmental groups (the LA Apollo Alliance) cam-
paigned to ensure that city council programmes to
improve energy efficiency and deploy RE also brought
economic benefits to disadvantaged people living in
the city. This included retrofit of public buildings in
low-income communities, jobs for poorer people and
supporting businesses owned by local minorities and
women. Other ‘just transition’ experiments are aimed
at coping with the flight of fossil fuel-based industry.
Gelsenkirchen, Germany was once renowned as an
industrial hub for coal, steel and glass industries until
the relocation of heavy industry. In the 1990s local
officials decided to regenerate land abandoned by the
industry and set up an energy technology park. Sup-
ported by the European Union, the federal govern-
ment and the utility RWE, solar technology became
the new focus of development. In 2001 the city passed
a voluntary carbon reduction target aimed at trans-
forming it from a ‘city of a thousand furnaces to a city
of a thousand suns’. Similarly, in Australia’s Hunter
Valley, community distress about the cumulative local
ecological and human health impacts of coal mines
and power stations and alarm about global climate
change has given rise to a vocal, growing and globally
linked social movement that is challenging the
primacy of coal, and demanding a transition from coal
dependency to a clean energy economy (Evans 2010).
Key aspects of a just transition include boosting resil-
ience and adaptive capacity, public investment in RE
industries and alliances between the climate justice,
environment and labour movements (Bird and Lawton
The global political economy of a just transition
Whatever these episodes reveal about the potential of
trying to articulate and enact a ‘just transition’ in
The political economy of the ‘just transition’ 3
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practice, there is a larger political economy of energy
justice and injustice that needs to be addressed if a
‘just transition’ is to be realised globally in a world of
high levels of energy interdependence. In other
words, seeking to ensure the uptake of lower carbon
energy is sensitive to the distribution of social harm
and benefit is just one side of the story. Addressing
justice issues in the prevailing global fossil fuel
economy presents an even greater challenge.
Cheap energy is the engine of industrial economies
and the foundation of consumer culture. As Bradshaw
(2010, 276) notes, ‘The fabric of our economy, and
some would argue our political system (‘carbon
democracy’) is dependent upon the plentiful and rela-
tively inexpensive supply of fossil fuels’.Yet people and
places unevenly experience the costs and benefits of
energy extraction, generation, financing, distribution
and consumption (Practical Action 2010). Inequality is
present throughout many energy commodity systems,
most evidently where nations export vast energy riches
yet remain mired in energy poverty. These expressions
of energy injustice are shaped by an array of actors,
institutions and interests whose actions affect interna-
tional flows of energy provision and consumption,
affecting barriers to, and the terms of, energy access.
The everyday governance of energy (or lack thereof)
shapes matters of distributive justice. At the same time,
patterns of uneven development pose key governance
challenges such as providing energy to those living
in poverty (energy access); supplying energy in a
regular, fair and predictable manner (energy security);
and minimising the environmental externalities and
unequal burdens of energy extraction, provision and
consumption (energy and climate justice).
Questions around energy poverty and struggles
over particular sites of energy production and extrac-
tion have been raised in other work on environmental
justice (Seze 2005; Newell 2007), but the global
justice dimensions of energy have received less atten-
tion. Yet the global justice aspects of energy access,
security and the relationship between energy and
climate change deserve greater scrutiny (Caney 2011).
Exploring energy justice forces questions of security,
violence and structures of production centre stage in
debates about global environmental justice. Because
energy relates so closely to economic growth, security
and war, it assumes a prominent place in the geo-
political and economic strategies of ruling elites. This
has implications for the distribution of impacts from
energy production (Who benefits? Who experiences
burdens?) and how this relates to decisionmaking
processes (Who participates and influences policy?).
Hence questions of power are central to any inquiry
into energy justice.
As important as distributive struggles are, issues of
participation and recognition are equally important,
therefore. Indeed, some environmental justice schol-
arships attempt to bring all three concerns together
(cf. Schlosberg 2004 2007). Procedural justice is criti-
cal to energy governance. Decisions to allocate, use
and consume energy in particular ways for particular
purposes are mostly made out of the public eye and
rarely in democratic forums. Whether for reasons of
commercial confidentiality or geo-strategic sensitivi-
ties, public participation and deliberation around
questions of energy governance has traditionally been
very weak. Even when public participation is encour-
aged, it often serves more to legitimate preordained
decisions than to involve stakeholders in shaping out-
comes: inviting consultation on a limited range of
policy choices based on models and forecasts whose
assumptions are not open to scrutiny. The case for
nuclear energy, for example, is often premised on an
‘energy gap’ between demand and supply which takes
little account of the potential for energy conservation
and efficiency, such that demand can only be met by
an energy source such as nuclear which is presented
as the obvious solution. Where energy injustices
occur it is even difficult to hold parties, often powerful
elites or multinational corporations, to account
because energy provisioning is in the private sector.
This is especially the case where states have either
relinquished control over, or been required to liberal-
ise, energy sectors as part of reform programmes often
overseen by multilateral development banks (Wamu-
konya 2003). What is particularly disconcerting is that
energy’s political and economic sensitivities make
nations reluctant to cede control over energy policy to
global bodies, resulting in the weakness and under-
development of institutions of global or even regional
energy governance: arenas in which key priorities
might be set and pursued, conflicts identified and
mediated, and issues of injustice evaluated and
resolved (Florini and Sovacool 2009; McGowan
2009). The following sections explore challenges to
the pursuit of global energy justice that arise from
efforts to provide energy access and security, while
transitioning to low-carbon energy sources.
Improving energy access in the just transition
A just transition will have to address how decarboni-
sation strategies allow for increased access to electric-
ity for those currently coping with energy poverty.
Alleviating energy poverty is central to achieving the
millennium development goals. A total of 1.6 billion
people in the poorest regions of the world still have no
access to electricity and under most scenarios 1.3
billion people will still lack access to electricity in
2030. Worldwide, 2.7 billion people rely on tradi-
tional biomass for cooking and heating and another
billion are connected to unreliable electricity net-
works (World Energy Outlook 2010). Accordingly, the
goal to halve extreme poverty by 2015 cannot be
achieved without policies specifically designed to
address energy poverty. Yet policymakers have system-
atically neglected energy poverty (Sanchez 2010).
Activists describe this scenario as an ‘injustice’, even
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invoking the language of ‘apartheid’ to highlight the
stark inequalities in energy use (Corbyn 2010).
Attempts to balance developing countries’ right to
develop with the need to decarbonise the global
economy, amid calls for developed countries to pay
‘carbon debts’ and deliver ‘climate justice’, are gener-
ating significant stalemate in international climate
change negotiations (Bond 2012). Such debates are
more complex than the narrative of developed versus
developing countries, as responsibilities and impacts
are distributed unevenly within nations along the lines
of urban/rural, rich/poor as well as gender, race and
class as we discuss further below (Newell 2005).
Attempts to address energy poverty are also replete
with contradictions. China’s development of coal-fired
electricity generation will increase energy access to the
poor, but with severe consequences for environmental
quality and climate change. Likewise, theThree Gorges
Dam increases energy access to millions but results in
environmental refugees displaced by the mega-project
(Tan and Yao 2006). Inter-generational, inter-national
and intra-national trade-offs of this sort strongly char-
acterise the global politics of energy justice.
Addressing energy injustice in the global fossil fuel
Fossil fuel energy resources are unevenly distributed
and commonly implicated in patterns of violence and
insecurity. Rising energy costs and consequences for
economic activities are often invoked as rationales to
mobilise military forces to secure energy supplies, as
seen in recent conflicts in the Middle East and North
Africa. Energy commodity chains linked to zones of
conflict raise questions of basic security and freedom
from violence associated with securing energy sup-
plies to support consumption patterns of the global
North. These create a ‘boomerang effect’ (Beck 1990),
whereby energy procurement creates injustice for
others in ways that come back to haunt consumers
through insecure access, costly military engagements
or price rises. This suggests that energy justice cannot
be delivered by, or contained within, the borders of
the nation state in a globalised economy. A global
justice framework is required.
Conflicts and contradictions between energy secu-
rity and human rights are found throughout global
energy commodity chains. Some claim that develop-
ing nations awash in energy and natural resources –
particularly those heavily reliant on exports for
foreign exchange earnings – are prone to the
resource curse where, as Ross puts it, ‘Countries that
are rich in petroleum have less democracy, less eco-
nomic stability and more frequent civil wars than
countries without oil’ (Ross 2012). The injustices of
petro-violence and human rights abuses by petro-
states are well known features of the global oil com-
modity complex (Watts 2005). The interests of
dominant actors are poorly aligned with those of
marginalised groups who remain without energy or
whose land and livelihoods lay in the path of lucra-
tive state and private revenue. This dynamic is
clearly illustrated by numerous conflicts between
and within indigenous groups and the state, acting
on behalf of state-owned and multinational enter-
prises (Kimerling 1996).
The thirst for steady, affordable and reliable energy
resources is also driving land grabs by wealthy coun-
tries and multinational firms to meet rising and
expected future energy demands. While the World
Bank sees an opportunity for the poor to benefit from
large-scale land acquisitions (Li 2011), others simply
characterise the process as enclosure or accumulation
by dispossession (Harvey 2003; Borras et al. 2010).
Biofuels development is one area where such land
grabs are actively moving forward, but other resources
are undergoing these processes. The natural gas indus-
try experienced a land grab for shale resources in the
USA over the past decade, while Russia is mapping
the Arctic energy frontier to claim untapped mineral
wealth there. Likewise, electrification of automobiles
may set in motion land grabs for territories with new-
found value, such as the Altiplano in Bolivia or
Afghanistan, where there are vast deposits of lithium
(Romero 2009; Risen 2010), leading some to argue
that foreign oil dependency will simply be replaced
by dependence on other imported materials, repro-
ducing energy insecurity.
What this suggests is that decarbonisation strategies
may well be characterised by similar patterns of
exploitation and dispossession that characterise the
current global political economy unless some of these
social and environmental consequences are taken
into account as part of a ‘just transition’. Technologi-
cal innovation and the search for new sites of accu-
mulation can produce injustice in surprising and
unpredictable ways, including around the develop-
ment of ‘clean’ (low carbon) technologies (Zehner
2012). In 2010, rare earth elements (REEs) – essential
to many clean tech commodities like wind turbines
and electric vehicle batteries – emerged in main-
stream geopolitical discourses on energy security.
China, who supplies 99.9% of REEs, cut off the supply
to Japan and threatened to reduce exports. This set in
motion a World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade suit
and the reopening of a Mojave Desert REE mine that
had previously closed because of water pollution
impacts upon a downstream community.
There is a tendency to treat all clean technologies as
homogenously ‘green’. Yet solar photovoltaic tech-
nologies rely on semiconductor technologies that
require hazardous chemicals, complex global supply
chains, and contract manufacturing (Silicon Valley
Toxics Coalition 2009). The legacy of environmental
injustice in the wake of the semiconductor manufac-
turing in the 1970s and 1980s – toxic waste sites and
occupational health problems in mostly immigrant
women workers – reminds us that all commodities
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come at unequal costs (Pellow and Park 2002). The
embrace of biofuels as a ‘clean’ energy resource is
another example of how attempts to address energy
insecurity produce patterns of injustice in their wake.
Today Brazil is self-reliant in fuel for passenger cars
because of domestic sugarcane ethanol production.
Programmes initiated in the 1970s increased sugar-
cane production and mandated that new cars have
flex fuel engines to run on ethanol. A strong and
coherent policy fostered this technological pathway.
But the industry is continually confronted with accu-
sations of poor working conditions, including slave
and child labour (Dos Santos 2007). In the USA
energy security policies have mandated increases in
corn ethanol production, raising concerns about the
trade-offs between food security and energy security.
Corn-based ethanol demand contributed to rising
global corn prices, causing ‘tortilla riots’ by Mexican
campesinos reliant on corn as a staple food.
Similarly, energy pathways that require intensive
water use may have implications for ‘water justice’.
Whether it is the usurpation of water rights for hydro-
electric power generation, cooling towers or water
quality impacts from extracting natural gas from shale,
there will be emerging conflicts between future
demands for water.
Issues of justice will be intrinsic to whichever
energy trajectory is pursued within and beyond the
fossil fuel economy and they need to be better under-
stood and anticipated by future efforts to secure a ‘just
transition’ around questions of extraction, labour and
the distribution of benefits.
The climate justice dimension
Confronting climate change will require drastic
changes in energy production and consumption. The
political decisions that drive this transition have enor-
mous implications for climate justice. The decision to
stabilise atmospheric concentrations of CO2at 450
parts per million or reduce current concentrations to
350 parts per million will put some communities at
greater risk. But the question of who pays for the
transition is also a matter of justice. Avoiding the worst
effects of dangerous climate change implies radical
change to the current energy order. Developing coun-
tries will not accept proposals to cut back global
carbon emissions that do not take account of their right
to development and need to confront energy poverty.
Patterns of energy use raise issues of energy justice in
the form of responsibility (current versus historical) and
entitlement (whose needs are most pressing and who
decides who can emit how much). Various climate
change policy proposals have sought to address these
issues, each balancing issues of equity, efficiency and
effectiveness differently in their attempts to rapidly
reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Proposals include
‘contraction and convergence’, an idea promoted by
the Global Commons Institute and supported by many
developing nations. This framework aims to ‘contract’
overall carbon emission safely below a threshold
which avoids runaway climate feedbacks and keeps
warming within tolerable limits. At the same time,
overall per capita carbon emissions would ‘converge’
by redistributing emissions entitlements. Others, such
as the Greenhouse Development Rights (GDR) frame-
work, developed by a coalition of NGOs and research
organisations, seek to reconcile the right to develop-
ment with the need to drastically reduce greenhouse
gas emissions on the basis of a metric incorporating
population, GDP and cumulative emissions contribu-
tion. Different justice principles are invoked in each.
Proposals based on ‘grandfathering’ favoured by the
USA take the status quo as the most legitimate starting
point, while contraction and convergence and GDR
proposals place intra- and inter-generational equity
principles more centrally. Pursuing a just transition,
therefore, means having not only to handle trade-offs
between competing actors and interests now, but also
addressing sensitive questions about historical respon-
sibility which impinge upon who has to reduce most
now based on previous inequitable use (overconsump-
tion) of global atmospheric space. In other words, how
should current generations be held accountable for the
emissions generated by prior generations? On the one
hand, the consequences of these emissions were not
known when emitted. On the other hand, current
generations have materially benefited from those
Advancing a ‘just transition’ will also mean dealing
with the potential production of injustice through
existing market-based efforts to tackle climate change,
which can enrol the resources and impact the liveli-
hoods of many poorer people in the global South. As
major industrialised economies fail to significantly
decarbonise their energy sectors they instead search
for low-cost abatement opportunities in the global
South through the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Develop-
ment Mechanism (CDM). The pursuit of ‘clean energy’
through projects supported under the CDM has led to
struggles over land and the distribution of revenues
derived from the carbon credits in countries where
they are hosted (Newell and Bumpus 2012). The
development of wind, biomass and solar power
projects have intensified land pressures, leading to
claims that peoples’ land rights are being usurped and
affected groups have not adequately been consulted
(Böhm and Dabhi 2009). Hence, revenue streams that
support action on climate change can entrench pro-
cedural inequalities in decisions that affect access to
land and livelihoods.
One of the key challenges for energy justice is how
to reconcile efforts to tackle energy poverty and
climate change simultaneously. The controversial use
of World Bank climate funds to support the construc-
tion of the Medupi coal-fired power plant in South
Africa illustrates these tensions at work. The World
Bank argued that their mandate to tackle energy
6The political economy of the ‘just transition’
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(with the Institute of British Geographers)
poverty meant lending support to large-scale infra-
structural projects (rather than small-scale renewa-
bles), and that supporting cleaner forms of coal
combustion ensured this occurred in a less carbon-
intensive way. Critics meanwhile claimed the project
would mainly benefit large-scale industry rather than
poorer consumers and that the World Bank’s ambi-
tions to serve as a key institution of climate finance
were damaged by offering unwavering support for
conventional fossil fuel projects. So-called ‘clean
coal’ technology might allow some reduction in
carbon emissions, but requires 30% more coal use for
the same amount of energy (Ansolabehere et al. 2007)
and increased coal demand will have far-reaching
implications for coal-producing communities and the
dozen mines that will feed the Medupi coal plant.
The low-carbon electricity produced from nuclear
power plants likewise is often advocated as a response
to the climate challenge. The recent nuclear renais-
sance is largely driven by its reinvention as a clean
energy solution to the climate crisis. Yet, as the Fuku-
shima accident reminded us, it can reproduce crises
of its own. Likewise, presenting nuclear power as
‘clean’ when environmental injustices associated with
uranium/yellow cake mining and long-term nuclear
waste storage problems are taken into account is an
impressive discursive achievement made possible by
carbon reductionism devoid of social context. One
thing is clear from these examples. The burdens of the
transition to a low-carbon economy will be unevenly
distributed, particularly if ‘clean energy’ is pursued
without attention to energy justice.
Towards global energy justice?
Who defines what is just, and for whom, will be
determined by power struggles in particular contexts
as measures aimed at achieving energy and climate
justice are simultaneously deployed. But the global
dimensions, interconnections and spill-overs that
characterise patterns of justice and injustice in the
fossil fuel economy complicate how a just transition
will have to be pursued. The social and spatial dimen-
sions of energy and climate justice force us to con-
sider the scope for stronger forms of energy
governance beyond the state that are able to address
these complex relationships.
A lack of attention to the justice implications of
energy access and the links between climate and
energy justice is, in part, a product of weak and inco-
herent global energy governance (Florini and Sova-
cool 2009; Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen 2010). International
institutions with missions related to energy, including
the International Energy Agency, OPEC (Organization
of the Petroleum Exporting Countries), UN-Energy, the
Global Environment Facility, as well as public–private
partnerships such as the Renewable Energy and
Energy Efficiency Partnership and REN21 do not cur-
rently amount to a substantive, coherent or effective
architecture of global energy governance. The actors
that wield the most power on energy issues are
nations, albeit often beholden to multinational energy
corporations. The geopolitical sensitivity and strategic
importance of issues of energy supply and access
leads most states to prefer to maintain autonomy and
control over energy pathways, even if powerful states
or firms also seek to secure control over weaker and
poorer countries’ energy supplies.
In this regard those chapters of regional and bilat-
eral trade and investment agreements dealing with
energy have proven to be among the most sensitive to
negotiate. The effect of this is that the space for claim-
making around energy justice within global arenas is
highly restricted because few bodies exercise direct
authority over energy resources. Where energy fea-
tures in trade and investment agreements, and when
key decisions about energy access and security
exclude broader publics, NGOs, trades unions and
indigenous peoples’ movements have mobilised to
demand both procedural justice (the right to partici-
pate in deliberations which affect them) and distribu-
tional justice (either defence of their land from energy
exploration and extraction or greater access to the
rents extracted from the resource exploitation), often
forming transnational alliances (such as the Hemi-
spheric Social Alliance) to do so, in an attempt to
open up policy to demands for environmental and
social justice, where it is feared energy sector liberali-
sation will compromise energy security, sovereignty
and access for the poor (Newell 2007).
As calls for universal access to secure, low-carbon
electricity intensify, it is possible that pressures for
stronger institutions to govern energy will increase.
There is a complementary nexus between efforts to
tackle energy poverty, security and climate change
simultaneously (Casillas and Kammen 2010) in spite
of the conflicts and trade-offs described above. But
stronger forms of governance to manage these trade-
offs globally have yet to seriously emerge, despite
energy security long being a feature of G8/G20
agendas. Hence the pursuit of energy justice as part of
a just transition requires strategic reflection about
which arenas are most likely to deliver outcomes ben-
eficial to those living without energy, with the injus-
tices created by the energy choices of others, or with
the effects of climate change generated by existing
and past systems of energy production and consump-
tion. This will be critical to the success of collective
efforts to address the scenario sketched out by the
IEA’s World energy outlook:
It is no exaggeration to claim that the future of human
prosperity depends on how successfully we tackle two
central energy challenges facing us today: securing
supply of reliable and affordable energy; and effecting a
rapid transformation to a low-carbon, efficient and envi-
ronmentally benign system of energy supply
IEA (2008, 37)
The political economy of the ‘just transition’ 7
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(with the Institute of British Geographers)
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... We argue that the concept of just transition can complement existing understanding of green path development. Just transition is concerned with ensuring decarbonization does not entrench new or deeper forms of inequality and injustice, and more optimistically to address existing inequalities (Newell & Mulvaney, 2013). The path development literature has provided important frameworks for understanding processes of industrial change that are useful for considering just transitions in terms of how and where industries will emerge, decline or transform. ...
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Path development and path creation are prevalent concepts in efforts to understand regional economic change and innovation. A recent focus has been on ‘green’ path development: industrial change associated with environmentally beneficial products and services. This provides a moment to take stock of the path development literature to date and ask: What or who is it for? In this article we use the concept of just transition to explore ways that (green) path development concepts could be more attuned to concerns for human and environmental well-being as opposed to economic growth and innovation as goals in themselves. Building from Geographical Political Economy approaches and injecting complementary cultural economic and sociological perspectives, we generate a conception of green and just path development. This conception builds a more variegated understanding of path development as a theory of change, focusing on negotiation, struggle, inclusion and exclusion in path development processes, and leaning to a stronger orientation towards outcomes for people and places, especially implications for work and communities. This matters for understanding what the purpose of investigating path development is, and what counts as ‘success’ in evaluating path development processes.
... 46 Greenhouse gas emissions are adverse consequences that create external charges and less developed economies are more susceptible to these external charges because they shall not adopt adaptation measures. 47 Pakistan is an ordinary victim, accounting for only 0.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions and ranking 135th worldwide. 48 However, the country faces huge consequences from climate change, ranking in the top 10 most unprotected countries according to an enduring climate risk index. ...
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The study examined the decoupling relationship between industry carbon emissions and economic growth using the most current updated data. We collected data from the industry sector of Pakistan from 1991 to 2018. This study used two techniques, Tapio’s elasticity and fluctuation index, to test the decoupling relationship and the relationship’s stability between industry carbon emissions and economic growth. First, we analyzed the decoupling relationship between industry carbon emissions and economic growth in Pakistan using Tapio’s decoupling model, decoupling the elasticity of technology, scale and structure. Second, the decoupling volatility index was used to determine the stability of the technology, scale and structure elasticity. The Tapio decoupling elasticity technique results confirmed the significant relationship between industry CO 2 emissions, economic growth and added value comes out to be a simple feature of each stage and undergoes expansive negative and strong decoupling processes. The outcomes of elastically decoupled volatility indexes suggest that three out of four indices are high, indicating unstable decoupling conditions. This study concludes that growth and volatility were the crucial characteristics of industrial carbon emissions during 1991–2018. Hence, the industry’s carbon emissions were increased from 16.67 million tons in 1991 to 55.70 million tons in 2018, an average yearly growth of 4.56%.
... Recognition justice acknowledges the intrinsic value and rights of all people equally and seeks to ensure community needs and vulnerabilities are formulated into energy project development, and that access to energy services align with the cultural and social values of impacted communities [69][70][71]. Distributive justice seeks to ensure the fair distribution of burdens and benefits, including "a certain set of minimal energy services which enable them to enjoy a basic minimum of wellbeing" [47, p. 440] as energy systems are decarbonized [72]. ...
... As such, transitions are deeply contested processes, shaped by many heterogeneous stakeholder groups with different ideas and aims (Geels 2010;Elzen et al. 2011;Geels and Verhees 2011;Raven, Schot, and Berkhout 2012;Marsden 2013;Markard, Geels, and Raven 2020). The literature on just transitions grapples with these questions of contested visions, shifting power relations, and changing resource distribution (Newell and Mulvaney 2013;M. Swilling, Musango, and Wakeford 2016;Jenkins, Sovacool, and McCauley 2018;Mark Swilling 2020;Walk et al. 2021), some with a particular focus on agri-food systems' transitions (Lamine, Darnhofer, and Marsden 2019;Rossi, Bui, and Marsden 2019;Kaljonen et al. 2021). ...
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This dissertation explores the transition from conventional agriculture to agroecology in Nicaragua using a socio-technical systems lens. The objectives of the thesis are i) to document Nicaragua's agroecological transition, specifically the involved processes, institutions, and stakeholders and their interactions; and ii) to explore how interactions between processes, institutions, and stakeholders produce and shape the agroecological transition, and which factors enable or limit the development of the agroecological transition. Quantitative and qualitative data was gathered in Nicaragua in 2014 and 2016-2018, using a variety of methods (e.g. semi-structured interviews; participant observation; a closed-question survey; farm visits and walks; participation at local and national agroecology fairs, workshops, and conferences; review of grey and scientific literature and government documents). The overarching conceptual framework of the thesis is based in the multi-level perspective on sustainability transitions, and frames the transition to agroecology as the formation of a new agroecological niche within the conventional agricultural regime. Each of the empirical chapters investigates how the agroecological transition is unfolding at a different location in the framework: at the micro-level of individual farmers; at the micro-meso level of individuals and organizations working in support of the agroecological niche; and at the niche-regime border, where the micro-meso levels interact with the macro level. The synthesis chapter identifies overarching themes that emerge when the empirical chapters' findings are brought together, and discusses these in light of the agroecology and sustainability transition literatures. From the cross-cutting analysis, main issues are identified that have implications for agroecological policy and practice. Recommendations are given for how these issues may be addressed by different stakeholder groups (national governments, civil society, private sector).
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This dissertation examines the phenomenon of securitization of the European energy dependence on Russian natural gas in the European Regional Security Complex and the potentials for its internal and external transformation in the field of energy security. The research time framework covers the period from 2005 to 2019. The main research question is divided into four subsidiary questions tackled with key elements of the securitization process within the European Regional Security Complex (ERSC) and its transformation potentials – reasons for securitization, its dynamics, securitizing actors, consequences of securitization and potentials for transformation of the ERSC, both internally and externally, driven by the securitization of Russian natural gas. In order to obtain answers to research questions and to fulfil defined research goals, the dissertation employs securitization theory and Regional Security Complex Theory, while the methodological framework refers to the critical literature review, secondary data analysis, qualitative content analysis, semi-structured expert interviews and method scenarios. Qualitative research was conducted on two levels, which resulted with insights into the implications that the securitization of Russian natural gas in ERSC generated on the internal and external level of the ERSC. In accordance with the theoretical assumptions, the internal transformation of the European Regional Security Complex was examined within the framework of fragmentation-to-integration, while the external transformation of the complex involved examining the potential for changing the ERSC’s external borders in the direction of approaching neighbouring regional security complexes. It was found that the securitization of the European energy dependence on Russian natural gas has the potential for the internal and external transformation of the ERSC in domain of energy security.
Environmental accountabilities span the full range of societal commitment to rapid low-carbon transitions or lack thereof. This realist understanding can be applied to ‘just transitions’. Societal commitment to just transitions is underpinned by the degree to which the socio-economic conditions and political entitlements of ordinary people influence the governance of carbon-intensive sectors like energy. The sustainability transitions literature has largely focused on cases of low-carbon transition frontrunners in well-resourced contexts, less on economically constrained transition contexts. This chapter seeks to advance our understanding of environmental accountabilities through two cases of solar energy transitions in the financially constrained contexts of Portugal and Rajasthan—two political jurisdictions where ambitious solar rollouts are shaped both by higher-level authorities (i.e. the European Union and India, respectively) with low-carbon transition imperatives, and by social justice pressures from below. Based on pre-pandemic fieldwork and desk study during 2021–2022, the cases examine how issues such as energy poverty, energy ownership and control over energy infrastructure manifest over multiple scales and within financially constrained contexts characterised by different developmental trajectories. We identify dynamic accountability pressures, mechanisms and relations in these rapidly evolving solar sectors, to highlight the salience of societal commitment and political legitimacy alongside transition policies.
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This introduction frames key questions on biofuels, land and agrarian change within agrarian political economy, political sociology and political ecology. It identifies and explains big questions that provide the starting point for the contributions to this collection. We lay out some of the emerging themes which define the politics of biofuels, land and agrarian change revolving around global (re)configurations; agro-ecological visions; conflicts, resistances and diverse outcomes; state, capital and society relations; mobilising opposition, creating alternatives; and change and continuity. An engaged agrarian political economy combined with global political economy, international relations and social movement theory provides an important framework for analysis and critique of the conditions, dynamics, contradictions, impacts and possibilities of the emerging global biofuels complex. Our hope is that this collection demonstrates the significance of a political economy of biofuels in capturing the complexity of the 'biofuels revolution' and at the same time opening up questions about its sustainability in social and environmental terms that provide pathways towards alternatives.
Global climate change is one of the most daunting ethical and political challenges confronting humanity in the twenty-first century. The intergenerational and transnational ethical issues raised by climate change have been the focus of a significant body of scholarship. In this new collection of essays, leading scholars engage and respond to first-generation scholarship and argue for new ways of thinking about our ethical obligations to present and future generations. Topics addressed in these essays include moral accountability for energy consumption and emissions, egalitarian and libertarian perspectives on mitigation, justice in relation to cap and trade schemes, the ethics of adaptation and the ethical dimensions of the impact of climate change on nature.
People around the world are confused and concerned. Is it a sign of strength or of weakness that the US has suddenly shifted from a politics of consensus to one of coercion on the world stage? What was really at stake in the war on Iraq? Was it all about oil and, if not, what else was involved? What role has a sagging economy played in pushing the US into foreign adventurism? What exactly is the relationship between US militarism abroad and domestic politics? These are the questions taken up in this compelling and original book. In this closely argued and clearly written book, David Harvey, one of the leading social theorists of his generation, builds a conceptual framework to expose the underlying forces at work behind these momentous shifts in US policies and politics. The compulsions behind the projection of US power on the world as a "new imperialism" are here, for the first time, laid bare for all to see.
Governing Climate Change provides a short and accessible introduction to how climate change is governed by an increasingly diverse range of actors, from civil society and market actors to multilateral development banks, donors and cities. The issue of global climate change has risen to the top of the international political agenda. Despite ongoing contestation about the science informing policy, the economic costs of action and the allocation of responsibility for addressing the issue within and between nations, it is clear that climate change will continue to be one of the most pressing and challenging issues facing humanity for many years to come. The book: evaluates the role of states and non-state actors in governing climate change at multiple levels of political organisation: local, national and global, provides a discussion of theoretical debates on climate change governance, moving beyond analytical approaches focused solely on nation-states and international negotiations, examines a range of key topical issues in the politics of climate change, includes multiple examples from both the north and the global south. Providing an inter-disciplinary perspective drawing on geography, politics, international relations and development studies, this book is essential reading for all those concerned not only with the climate governance but with the future of the environment in general.
'Frank Geels's book gives us a new perspective on how society moves from one technological regime to another. Understanding these transitions is essential if we are to get to grips with what we need to do to switch our societies to more sustainable states and how technologies figure in that switch.' - Ken Green, Institute of Innovation Research, The University of Manchester, UK This important book addresses how long term and large scale shifts from one socio-technical system to another come about, using insights from evolutionary economics, sociology of technology and innovation studies. These major changes involve not just technological changes, but also changes in markets, regulation, culture, industrial networks and infrastructure.
The basic task of this book is to explore what, exactly, is meant by ‘justice’ in definitions of environmental and ecological justice. It examines how the term is used in both self-described environmental justice movements and in theories of environmental and ecological justice. The central argument is that a theory and practice of environmental justice necessarily includes distributive conceptions of justice, but must also embrace notions of justice based in recognition, capabilities, and participation. Throughout, the goal is the development of a broad, multi-faceted, yet integrated notion of justice that can be applied to both relations regarding environmental risks in human populations and relations between human communities and non-human nature.