CONTRIBUTIONS FOR COLLECTIVE REFLECTION
The energy transition is making the headlines. Interest in energy transition comes from a range of actors including peoples in resistance, workers, academics, and public administrations, as well as large corporations, international institutions, and governments. The energy transition paradigm, if it exists, runs a serious risk of being co-opted by large companies, or being trivialised and used to perpetuate existing power relations.
This handbook lays out the current debates in order to promote a vision of what a just and necessary peoples’ energy transition should look like. The handbook was originally published in Spanish.
Is there a single vision for energy transition?
There are as many views of the energy transition as there are economic, political, ideological, ecological, technological and hegemonic interests. Thus, proposals for energy transition have very different objectives. There are political-economic views from neoliberalism, Keynesianism, and anti-capitalism; from ecological perspectives, from the cult of wildlife or eco-efficiency (cult of technology), or from the environmentalism of the poor – with emphasis on weak, strong or super-strong sustainability; from large multinational corporations in the oil industry; and from small citizen co-operatives.
What is the relationship between food sovereignty and energy transition?
Beyond energy sources, discussing energy transition means discussing resources, public policies, sectoral conflicts, geopolitical alliances, the environment, human rights, gender equality, corporate strategies, technology, diversification of production, the relationship between energy and the distribution of wealth, the relationship between energy and production, and food sovereignty, among others. To discuss a social-ecological transition we must understand the intricate relationships between many factors, and explore diverse conceptualisations (systemic and counter-systemic), as well as existing aspirations.
Where is energy poverty within the energy transition agenda?
There are approximately 1.2 billion people worldwide who lack access to electricity, and more than 2 billion who cook with biomass, kerosene, or coal in conditions that affect their health (International Energy Agency, 2017). Energy poverty undermines quality of life and deepens inequality. Women are especially affected by energy poverty, given the roles generally assigned to them, as those responsible for reproduction of life and other care work.
Can we create a right to energy?
Rights emerge from historical, social, and political struggles. Rights – particularly civil and political rights – used to be assigned only to men (and not all men, as some were excluded due to race, class, or other characteristics). As a result of political and social struggle, some countries’ rights frameworks today include all men, women, boys and girls. The rights of workers, peasants, traditional communities, and the right to express one’s sexual identity may be recognised, among others.
Is having energy resources or reserves the same as being able to use them?
There are technical, environmental, political, and social obstacles, among others, blocking the full exploitation of fossil fuel and uranium reserves. This section will address only one key obstacle: ‘Energy Return On Investment (EROI)’.
Should unconventional fossil fuels have a role in the energy transition?
Information about the existence of so-called ‘unconventional’ oil and gas deposits has been available for a long time. Unconventional fossil fuels are sources of fossil energy other than traditional coal, oil, and gas which are being made (theoretically) available for extraction by new technological developments, or by rising fuel prices which make them profitable to extract despite the high energy, social, and environmental costs of doing so. These deposits can be classified by the method for their extraction.
What is the connection between energy transition and climate change? Does the Paris Agreement contribute to an energy transition?
Not long ago, the terms ‘energy’ and ‘climate’ began to be intertwined. Initially energy production was linked to environmental problems in general. Since the beginning of the industrial era, the negative impacts of coal on human health and air quality, on top of the impacts of mining, became apparent. In the 20th century other fossil fuels and nuclear energy increasingly became the focus of environmental concerns.
What should the main path be, if we abandon fossil fuels?
According to expert Javier A. Prieto (2018), moving towards an energy transition requires three elements: reducing net energy demand, deploying decentralized renewable energies, and improving ecosystem conservation alongside agroecological land management. This process must also take place in a context of democracy and socio-environmental justice.
Can renewable energy sources solve the problem? Are they enough? Can they be developed?
We must abandon fossil fuels. Not just because of scarcity and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also because of the serious socio-territorial conflicts that the fossil fuel economy - large-scale production, agroindustry, and fossil fuel developments - has created.
What does it look like to promote the development of renewable energy sources through a peoples’ energy transition?
Over the last two decades, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has slowly started to develop renewable energies. Governments have passed a series of laws and regulations to promote renewable energy (primarily electricity). In many cases, however, regulations have not been adhered to, and new laws have been passed to reach the same objectives.
How does the trade and investment protection regime impede a peoples’ energy transition?
The trade and investment protection regime can affect the prospects of moving towards a peoples’ energy transition. The volume of goods traded internationally is responsible for a large portion of global energy demand. In many cases, this trade entails the transport of raw materials for manufacturing and later consumption with each stage taking place in different parts of the globe. This ineffeciency drives increasing energy consumption. At the same time, raw materials are generally products derived from mining or agro-industry, which reproduce the same model of extraction and distribution based on unlimited energy use. The trade and investment regime aims to drive the continued (and unsustainable) growth of international trade.
Do local initiatives present an opportunity? Do they have limits?
In response to the systemic socio-environmental crisis, social movements and organisations around the world have been building diverse alternatives to the development paradigm. In relation to the energy sector and the energy transition, there are movements, organisations, and experiences aiming to transform energy policies, although these are not always very visible.
Will jobs be lost? Will there be less employment?
These questions are central in the energy transition. Workers (both men and women), in alliance with other organised social movements, must be the ones to promote, develop and control a peoples’ energy transition. Workers’ organisations including unions are especially critical. The impact of the energy transition on jobs and workers’ rights is a major concern for workers, unions, and federations of all kinds. They express these concerns in the debate regarding the so-called ‘just transition’.
Are agrofuels an alternative?
Agrofuels - fuels derived from agricultural products including soy beans, sugar cane, oil palm, and corn, among others – began to be exploited on an industrial scale in the late 20th century, partially in response to concerns about declining availability (and rising costs) of fossil fuels, and often justified by reference to the environmental costs of burning fossil fuels. This ‘boom’ in agrofuel affected several regions of the Global South. The expansion at the beginning of the 21st century coincided with a global increase in the price of oil. Europe and the United States played a key role in promoting the expansion of agrofuel production by setting targets for renewable energy use, and use of renewable fuels for transport.
How do institutions in the energy sector view the transition?
Many institutions are working on energy scenarios for the future. This includes those associated with governments, corporations, groupings of countries like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), multilateral agencies like the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), and agencies like the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, linked to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Social and labour organisations are also trying to build alternative scenarios.
Can a peoples’ energy transition take place without democratisation?
Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) asserts that a transition to a truly sustainable energy system can only occur if there is a decisive shift in power away from large profit–driven corporations towards ordinary citizens and communities. (Worker Institute at Cornell, 2012).