Interweaving Energy Poverty and the Just Energy Transition Agenda

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 Nationally 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 just energy agenda in which the poor and vulnerable should not  be further disadvantaged and 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 in 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 sustain able 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 of leave no-one behind and reduce energy poverty.

Exploring and unpacking the just energy transition is the 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 recognizing 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.

Nyasha Frank Mpahlo

Nyasha Frank Mpahlo is the Director for Green Governance Zimbabwe Trust and an independent Advisor on Environmental, Social and Governance issues in Africa.

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