The Multiple Justice Dimensions of Low-Carbon Energy Transitions: Towards a Comprehensive Approach

Friday, 20 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Siddharth SAREEN, University of Bergen, Norway
Håvard HAARSTAD, University of Bergen, Norway
Transitions to low-carbon systems entail environmental benefits through emission reduction. Socioeconomic aspects of sustainability demand further essential characteristics of sustainability transitions: equity, access and affordability. We derive these dimensions by mapping existing framings of justice that comprise variants of distribution, recognition and procedure on to the specificities of energy justice. Equity concerns distributional justice through allocation, access targets universal inclusion through coverage, and affordability attends to justice-in-practice through logistical feasibility. To examine the interplay of these dimensions in recent low-carbon transitions scholarship, we study how they are addressed in the case of solar uptake in Portugal, whose high solar potential complements its impressive hydropower and wind energy profile. Our treatment seeks to capture the breadth and depth of relevant scientific outputs with significance for these aspects of energy justice. We bring forth how the agency of actor networks interfaces with resistance within the energy sector, and how the regional political economy drives its trajectory, drawing on multiple types of sources. This task shows what specification of pertinent attributes remains pending in recent social science research. We then analyse what these shortcomings in addressing energy justice concerns within such a case imply for researchers’ approaches to cases of low-carbon transitions in general. Based on apparent relevance in the energy sectoral context studied, we abstract out numerous sub-factors of equity, access and affordability that must be addressed to enhance scientific contribution to sustainability transitions. Pointing out some common forms of slippage between low-carbon transitions and sustainability transitions, we conclude by arguing for social scientists to help ensure that socioeconomic aspects of sustainability receive sufficient play in informing emergent understandings of low-carbon transitions. The weight of this responsibility is magnified by prevalent inattention to the socioeconomic sub-factors we identify as being energy justice-relevant in the prominent instance of Portuguese solar uptake.