Decarbonisation and its Discontents: A Critical Justice Perspective on four Low-Carbon Transitions
What are the types of injustices associated with low-carbon transitions? Relatedly, in what ways do low-carbon transitions worsen social risks or vulnerabilities? Lastly, what policies might be deployed to make these transitions more just? The presentation answers these questions by first elaborating an “energy justice” framework consisting of four distinct dimensions—distributive justice (costs and benefits), procedural justice (due process), cosmopolitan justice (global externalities), and recognition justice (vulnerable groups). It then examines four European low-carbon transitions—nuclear power in France, smart meters in Great Britain, electric vehicles in Norway, and solar energy in Germany—through this critical justice lens. In doing so, it draws from original data collected from 64 semi-structured interviews with expert participants as well as five public focus groups and the monitoring of twelve internet forums. It documents 120 distinct energy injustices across these four transitions. It then explores two exceedingly vulnerable groups to European low-carbon transitions, those recycling electronic waste flows in Ghana, and those mining for cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The presentation aims to show how when low-carbon transitions unfold, deeper injustices related to equity, distribution, and fairness invariably arise.
Dr. Benjamin K. Sovacool is Professor of Energy Policy at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex Business School in the United Kingdom. There he serves as Director of the Sussex Energy Group.
Professor Sovacool works as a researcher and consultant on issues pertaining to global energy policy and politics, energy security, energy justice, climate change mitigation, and climate change adaptation. More specifically, his research focuses on renewable energy and energy efficiency, the politics of large-scale energy infrastructure, designing public policy to improve energy security and access to electricity, the ethics of energy, and building adaptive capacity to the consequences of climate change.
His research has been endorsed by U.S. President Bill Clinton, the Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland, and the late Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom, among others. He is a Lead Author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), due to be published in 2022, and an Advisor on Energy to the European Commission’s Directorate General for Research and Innovation in Brussels, Belgium.
He has played a leadership role in winning collaborative research grants worth more than $28.2 million in directly managed funds, including those from the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. National Science Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Energy Technology Development and Demonstration Program of Denmark, the Danish Council for Independent Research, the European Commission and the European Research Council. In the United Kingdom, he has served as a Principal Investigator on projects funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
He is the recipient of multiple national and international awards and honors, including the “Distinguished Graduate Alumni Achievement Award” from his Alma Mater Virginia Tech, the 2019 USERN Prize for his work on “Social Justice in an Era of Climate Change and Energy Scarcity,” the “Dedication to Justice Award” given by the American Bar Association, and a “Distinguished Visiting Energy Professorship” at the Environmental Law Center at Vermont Law School. He is also an Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences in the United Kingdom. In 2014, Sovacool became the founding editor-in-chief of Energy Research & Social Science (Elsevier), which explores the interactions between energy systems and society.
With much coverage of his work in the international news media, he is one of the most highly cited global researchers on issues bearing on controversies in energy and climate policy.