Energy justice bridges research, policy and social movement

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Energy justice seeks to correct damage done to people in low-income communities who have long suffered from fossil fuel power generation pollution near their homes, lack of access to renewables energy-driven electricity, climate change, and more.

Renewable energy plays an important role in bringing energy justice to disadvantaged communities as clean energy can bring relief in many forms, including community and residential solar as well as energy storage. Many groups and policy makers are working toward bringing energy justice to low- and middle-income residents.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) explore what it would mean to link techno-economic research with energy justice, and to link energy justice with grassroots visions.

The paper Equitable deep decarbonization: A framework to facilitate energy justice-based multidisciplinary modeling introduces an “Equitable Deep Decarbonization Framework” for mapping the tenets of energy justice to the practice of large-scale deep decarbonization pathways modeling. The paper Frontlining energy justice: Visioning principles for energy transitions from community-based organizations in the United States provides a review and thematic coding of visions for a just energy future from frontline communities captured in over 60 documents. Both publications are published in open-access form in the journal Energy Research and Social Science.

Large-scale, deep decarbonization models are often used to understand the monetary impacts of different technologies used to mitigate and adapt to climate change. However, the authors contend that models should consider the vulnerability of those affected, and thus the modeling needs to be reoriented around restorative justice. In the “Equitable deep decarbonization” paper, the authors provide a new framework that maps the steps of model development to the tenets of energy justice, with the restorative justice tenet providing a foundation to each of the steps. The authors say that the result is a model that centers energy justice.

Equitable deep decarbonization framework. The framework maps the steps of model development to the tenets of energy justice, with the restorative justice tenet providing a foundation to each of the steps. The result is a deep decarbonization pathways model that centers energy justice.

The framework is organized in three steps, as shown above. Each step results in decision points in modeling decarbonization pathways, and each involves a process component supported by energy justice.

The authors place restorative justice as a critical piece that informs all three steps. It calls for a repair of harms done to communities and the environment. This is a departure from traditional framework used in decarbonization pathway models that focus on economics and greenhouse gas mitigation metrics. The authors see those models as ignoring the injustices done to underserved and overburdened communities. As an alternative, the modeling approach offered is rooted in energy justice.

Frontline visions

In the second study, researchers looked at over 60 “visioning documents” authored by non-profits and frontline community members in the U.S. These documents contain concrete policy recommendations and connect context, history and place to energy and climate policy. The authors of the “Frontlining energy justice” paper state that the fact that so many of these visioning documents exist points to the insufficiency of current policy approaches. The authors argue that “energy policy has perpetuated cycles of social harm and lacks the transformative approach necessary to address climate change and its uneven impacts.”

 

Links between the six identified principles of a just energy future.

In the paper the authors identify six principles of a just energy future: (1) place-based, (2) addressing root causes and legacies of inequality, (3) shifting the balance of power in existing forms of energy governance, (4) creating new, cooperative, and participatory systems of energy governance and ownership, (5) adopting a rights-based approach, and (6) rejecting false solutions. They discuss how these principles can advance the energy justice literature and be applied across areas of energy policy intervention and geographies.

(Read more: Solar is front and center in the fight for energy justice)

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