We need to fight for energy justice

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Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement) have just launched a new report called Rays of Hope – Clean and democratically controlled energy for everyone’. This is an extract from the new report by Christine Haigh, Climate and energy campaigner with Global Justice Now.

Our current energy system is deeply unjust. More than 1.3 billion people living without access electricity – many of them living in countries like Nigeria that exports huge amounts of energy to the global north. Communities across the world are experiencing the disastrous effects of fossil fuel extraction such as land grabbing by coal mines, oil spills and water polluted by fracking.

We urgently need a more just energy system. But what does energy justice look like?

Corporate control of energy has failed to ensure that everyone can access the energy that they need. It is also keeping us locked in destructive ways of producing energy, so it’s clear that fairer, more democratic alternatives are needed. There is no one-size fits all solution to meeting people’s energy needs in a sustainable way and in different places people are using different terms to describe their vision for a more just energy system. But there are a number of common threads.

No one disputes that energy should be provided in a way that gives everyone enough to meet their basic needs. In some parts of the world, this means public investment to provide a physical link for everyone to access electricity grids – something that has been achieved in countries like Costa Rica and Uruguay.

It also means ensuring that everyone can afford the energy that is available. In many places this is done through pricing systems which mean that the poor pay less. For example, in Cuba, the government provides enough energy for people’s basic needs at a very low price, with prices increasing steeply above this level, and the cost of power to run luxuries like air conditioning costing over 50 times that of the basic allocation.

It also requires that the rights of workers in the energy system are respected, and the production process does not cause destruction to other communities. Campaigns by trade unions and climate change campaigners in the UK and elsewhere have highlighted how a million good quality jobs could be created by investment in shifting to a green economy. Globally, the International Trade Union Confederation has estimated that 48 million new green jobs could be created over five years with enough investment.

There is growing consensus that control of energy should lie in the hands of those who produce and use energy, whether this is through public ownership or co-operative structures. In many parts of the world, people are experimenting with different ways of giving people a direct say in the decisions that are made about energy production and use. For example, Spanish energy co-operative Som Energia has pioneered ways of using the internet for decision-making, taking care not to exclude elderly members and those with less experience.

These democratic approaches are also taking care to move towards operating in a way that respects environmental limits: using renewable technologies or planning a phased transition away from destructive fossil fuels.

In Denmark, thanks to government support and tax incentives, wind power provides one-fifth of the country’s energy and three-quarters of the country’s turbines are owned by co-operatives. This model has inspired a similar approach in Germany, where over half of the renewable energy capacity is now owned by individuals or farms, much of it through co-operatives, rather than big energy companies. As a result there is far more support for renewable energy: 90 per cent of Danes support wind power as their favoured source of energy.


Rays of HopI


In Uruguay, the government has adopted an ambitious plan to transition away from fossil fuels and anticipates becoming an exporter of energy to neighbouring Argentina and Brazil.

One advantage of renewable technologies for communities that invest in them is that once the initial costs of buying the solar panels or wind turbine have been covered, the running costs are very low. In many projects, this has enabled the revenues from selling the power produced to be put to other uses. For example, in Zschadrass in Germany, the money generated is used to help cover the costs of running the local kindergarten and pay for free school meals and an annual holiday camp for local children.

The path to renewable, democratically controlled, accessible energy can be long. But if we work together we create an energy system that works for people rather than for profit. At Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement) we work with people across the world to take back control of our energy system. You can read more about the campaign and how you can get involved on our website.

This is an extract from the pamphlet ‘Rays of Hope – Clean and democratically controlled energy for everyone’