By Silvia Sartori, Women’s Economic Empowerment Program Manager, ENERGIA International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy.
The just energy transition represents two core sustainable development goals as formulated by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs: access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all; and gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.
For us at ENERGIA International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy, both ensuring universal access to sustainable energy and addressing gender inequalities are at the very heart of our work.
Grounded in the sustainable development goals framework, the just energy transition is more than a technological move from one type of energy to a new, and cleaner one. It is also more than a strategy intended to combat climate change.
A just energy transition implies rethinking the way how societies, economies, political systems, international relations and trade are conceived and functioning in the Global North as well as in the Global South.
While they contribute to – and are impacted by – climate change differently, both industrialised and emerging economies are critically affected by it and no player can afford to ignore the issue or continue operating from a ‘business as usual’ perspective.
In transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energies, elements of social and gender justice are equally important as environmental and technological considerations.
Girls and women are the backbone of the care economy, as the COVID-19 crisis has dramatically highlighted in the Western world.
Women remain the prime carers for young, ageing and most vulnerable family members and represent 70 per cent of the health care workforce.
Looking after the wellbeing of the household is still strongly considered as a women’s responsibility, including procuring food and, in the developing world, energy.
For the more than 2.6 billion people worldwide still lacking access to clean cooking, this translates into hours spent every day to collect firewood and in prolonged daily exposure to hazardous smokes emitted by inefficient cookstoves which are estimated to account for about 2.5 million premature deaths every year, a number that has likely gone up since the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, a significant component of the traditional workforce in climate-sensitive sectors, most notably agriculture, is still accounted for by women.
Nonetheless, despite being at the frontline of energy-related services, girls and women bear the brunt of energy poverty in a world where, before COVID-19, about 770 million people still lived without electricity access, a figure expected to have increased after the pandemic outbreak.