A just energy transition must not deepen poverty and inequality


A new working paper by Dr Tracy Ledger, A Just Distribution, argues that: ‘A better understanding of the linkages between distribution and socioeconomic development is critical to our ability to design and implement a genuinely just energy system.

If we continue to ignore them, we run the very real risk of restructuring our energy system in ways that will permanently entrench current mechanisms that are deepening poverty and inequality.’

In her paper, Dr Ledger identifies two key gaps in the current national just transition debate that will undermine significant progress towards a genuinely inclusive and socially just energy system.

The first gap is that current proposals for transformation focus on the generation of energy and energy mix. She asserts that, ‘an energy system comprises much more than the generation aspect: it also includes the distribution of that energy to end users. In fact, the end user is more correctly viewed as the central socioeconomic purpose of an energy system, rather than a distant afterthought.’

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The second gap shows South Africa’s just energy narrative as being reactive and limited to generation, thus largely ignoring the existing factors in the energy system that are exacerbating poverty and inequality, particularly those that are linked to distribution.

‘Our initial findings (presented in this report) indicate that, via a number of different and interconnected pathways, the current distribution system is actively and significantly contributing to increased poverty and inequality in a manner that is completely contrary to the intentions of both South Africa’s pro-poor transformation agenda and original policy intentions with respect to the developmental role of energy in a post-apartheid society.’

The full working paper is available for download.

A Just Distribution spearheads a programme of research at the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) in the Energy and Society Programme. Dr Ledger leads this research programme.