Raphael J. Heffron – Universite de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour, E2S UPPA, CNRS, TREE, Pau, France
1. Introduction: Solving the Energy Crisis is the Easiest Solution to Tackle Climate Change
As the United Nations COP27 is underway the immediacy of the climate change problem is evident across the world. Extreme weather conditions have been documented worldwide and particularly in Pakistan this year. Indeed, there were devasting floods in Pakistan earlier in 2022 that can be attributed to climate change and almost 10 million children were in need of immediate lifesaving support as a result.
One of the easiest ways to solve the climate change problem is to solve the energy crisis. It needs to be noted and remembered that energy causes the majority of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) (circa 75% of global GHG emissions) and also the majority of carbon dioxide emissions. Hence, changing our energy use is fundamental to solving climate change and in this context all countries and their populations have an obligation to change.
In this short article it is advanced that the solutions are there, but society uses multiple excuses to be risk averse. Society prefers to rely on the same pathways for business and economic growth that are already in place. However, these are insufficient to meet the climate change challenge. There are lots of theories of how society can change its energy use and there needs to be a move to adopt these theories into practice. The current system is not working and therefore society needs to take risks and find the solution via in essence, ‘Darwinism’, i.e., the ‘survival of the fittest’ ideas. In the majority of other sectors in our daily lives this is what happens, such as in healthcare, education and careers. This approach needs to be applied to energy.
2. From Theory to Practice for Energy Justice
A key theory in energy today centres on energy justice. It is utilised across all disciplines and reflects the need for change in the energy sector. For too long the energy sector has been dominated by old traditional technologies and associated business practices. All this needs to be disrupted as new technology and sustainable business practices need support. In particular, there is the drive from heavy polluting energy to clean low-carbon energy sources. The faster this happens the more quickly society will solve the climate change problem.
The key way to achieve the above is to ensure a fairer, more inclusive and an equitable energy system. This is the heart of what energy justice will deliver for society. In brief energy justice concerns ensuring the application of human rights across the energy system (life-cycle), i.e., from extraction to production to operation and supply to consumption to waste management and decommissioning. Energy justice is a normative theory and therefore sets out the way the energy sector should be and involves five key forms of justice which are briefly highlighted below:
- Distributive justice — this concerns the distribution of the benefits and the negatives from the energy sector in terms of costs, financing, revenues and profits. Taxation is a key issue, and how revenues are shared is a vital question. In considering the general inequality in the economy and also in the energy sector the distribution of finance is the key challenge currently faced by the energy sector. In a time of post COVID-19, the resulting and continued financial crisis and the ongoing and increased battle against climate change, the distribution of financial resources poses a problem for all societal stakeholders. Windfall taxes, increased tax rates and carbon taxes are all being discussed globally across the world and they need to be implemented sooner rather than later to achieve increased justice in the energy sector.
- Procedural justice — the focus here is on legal process and the necessary legislation needed to deliver a legal system that meets energy goals.
- Recognition justice — this concerns the recognition of rights of different groups as energy projects develop, such as are we recognising the rights of indigenous communities?
- Cosmopolitan justice — this stems from the belief that we are all citizens of the world and must consider the effects beyond our borders and from a global context. Are we meeting our climate change objectives in the UN COP 21 Paris Agreement 2015.
- Restorative justice — this concerns the belief that any injustice caused by the energy sector should be rectified, for instance that waste management policy and decommissioning should be properly accounted for.
3. Why from Theory to Practice – A Business Strategy Approach
All across business activity theories from management, economics and strategy are employed so that businesses adopt and survive in their industries. There are states of evolution and revolution in each industry sector and business executives make critical decisions on how their business will manage change utilising a variety of theories. It is evident by looking at many of the most successful companies that they have had to take risks to survive and be successful, for example, Apple, Google and Tesla. Different business strategies have been adopted by these companies that started as theories and were then placed into successful practice.
A similar strategic approach needs to be adopted by all the stakeholders of the energy sector, national Governments, businesses and citizens. Current business structures and practices are not delivering on climate change goals and objectives and new strategies need to be adopted. Energy justice presents such a strategic approach and can be adopted in many ways. Researchers all over the world highlighting different strategic approaches which could be utilised to achieve success – and these are presented in leading research journals such as Nature Energy, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Energy and Social Science Research, Applied Energy and Energy Policy to name a few.
A critical question to consider is why the world continues to rely on such old and polluting technology such as oil, gas and coal. These technologies are all remnants of the 19th century and in many cases despite near 200 years of use the pollution problem remains. In no other business sector in the world does society use 19th century technology. Consider for example, the developments in health, phones, computers and even transport. As the world faced the challenge of the flu-like COVID-19 virus, new vaccines supported by technology were delivered en masse to the world. Such problem-solving should be applied to the climate problem as well as the movement of encouraging change within business from an energy perspective.
4. Next Steps – Taking Risks & Changing the BAU Approach
Fundamental questions need to be asked of policy-makers today as they take their seats at COP27. They need to employ a more business strategy perspective to resolving the climate problem. With the sector constituting the major cause of climate change, adopting an energy justice strategy can ensure the sector moves to clean and low-carbon energy sources. An energy justice strategy will ensure climate objectives are realised along with delivering a fairer, more inclusive and an equitable energy system.
Policy-makers need to take more risks to find the solution. Near any change they propose that is consistent with an energy justice strategic approach will deliver more financial, climate and socio-economic gains than can be achieved with continuing with the current business approach. Over time the best solutions from these energy justice strategic choices will emerge with Darwinism survival of the fittest theories emerging as dominant forces for change. Sitting still, continuing current business practices, and utilising old-world traditional technology is going to result in more weather extremes such as Pakistan and the world have suffered in 2022. Today, change is needed and this involves targeting society’s energy use and moving from theory to practice in adopting energy justice strategies to national energy decision-making across the world. COP27 represents an opportunity to voice such a solution for climate change.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent the institute’s policy.