/ Access to water and education are recognised as basic human rights; to date, energy is not.

Reporting in support of energy justice

In listening to and collaborating with a wide range of energy actors – or ‘EnActors’ as we like to call them – over the past few years, EnAct has often struggled to find the right words for the situation we report on.

If lack of access to energy were equally distributed globally, 4 of 10 people each of us know would still cook with wood or dung and 1 would be unable to use any electric device in their own home.

We believe strong language is needed to convey the scope and scale of effort needed to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7), universal access to clean, affordable, sustainable energy. Boosting access to modern energy sources and services across the developing world is critical. But it must be coupled with a less-talked-about aspect of SDG7, capturing the huge energy efficiency gains possible in emerging and industrialised economies. EnAct concurs with the International Energy Agency in believing that the most valuable unit of energy, particularly in wasteful, polluting societies, is the one not used.

In turn, we’ve sought to be respectful of how individuals talk to us about their experience of daily or, indeed, lifelong struggles that arise from insufficient access to energy sources and services. Speaking of ‘energy poverty’ is, we find, damaging. Attaching any sense of being ‘poor’ negates the reality that people in difficult situations often know a great deal about managing energy and are highly resourceful. It also risks narrowly focusing on one element of a complex web of circumstances that undermine health and well-being while making it impossible to participate fully in social and economic life.

The current energy crisis will throw millions more people into precarious situations. That some energy companies are making record profits highlights the ways in which current energy systems are failing society and individuals. In parallel, 2022 has served up solid proof that climate change in accelerating, making more urgent the need to radically reduce energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Governments and large corporations need to go beyond net-zero emissions targets and tackle the more difficult challenge of halting unfair practices and reining in excess use.

EnAct aligns with transitions underway

When the European Union announced (in 2020) that the European Green Deal would aim to deliver ‘a just, clean energy transition’, the wording immediately resonated with EnAct. It carries, we believe, stronger recognition that current energy systems – not just the combination of low income, poor-quality homes and energy prices – fail to uphold social contracts with citizens. And, thus, places more responsibility on governments to develop integrated policy frameworks that assign a share of responsibility for finding solutions to all actors.

Over the period 2017-21, EnAct worked closely with ENGAGER (Energy Poverty Action: Agenda Co-creation and Knowledge Innovation, funded by the EU Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) scheme. This network of >200 academics and practitioners from 40 countries substantially enlarged the resource base of knowledge, evidence and policy recommendations while also evaluating the effectiveness of diverse interventions and empowering people affected to demand change. An overarching question became, “If we believe in the principle of access to energy as a basic human right, what does that look like and who needs to do what?” EnAct recognised the need to explore different aspects of that question, producing a set of podcasts and providing editorial services to the associated ‘Right to Energy Toolkit’ (see below).

Recently, the Government of New Zealand adopted the concept of that citizen’s experience of energy is better reflected by seeking to identify where they fit across a spectrum that ranges from ‘hardship’ to ‘well-being’ – and identifying what interventions are needed to bring them to the right.

Also vitally important is recent work by SELCO Foundation (India) to deliver technical solutions, through the Sustainable Energy Led Climate Action Programme (SELCAP), to truly empower local communities. Across four areas – agriculture, animal husbandry, last-mile healthcare and cooling – SELCO has considered how decentralised renewable energy (DRE) across entire supply chains will allow marginalised communities, some of whom are already facing the impacts of climate change, to thrive. A pioneer in energy access for more than 20 years, the experience of SELCO Foundation demonstrates the creating the ecosystem for uptake of technology solutions is often the most challenging aspect – and the most difficult to fund.

Aiming for energy justice requires a different kind of engagement. It moves away from KPIs that count how many clean cookstoves have been distributed and recognises that women in mud hats should have the same right as their wealthy peers to equip their kitchens with multiple devices that serve different needs.

In this area of the EnAct site, we will continue to add content – podcasts, personal essays, publications, etc. – the provokes new thinking and encourages collaboration.

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EnAct is a project of ACT 4, a non-profit association registered in France (No. de Siret: 805 036 936 00013) that supports cultural initiatives that raise awareness of and engagement in social issues.


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