The energy transition is commonly framed as a shift from a fossil-fueled to a zero-carbon-fueled energy system (IRENA, 2020). However, climate change is not the only issue that our society faces, as clearly stated by the United Nations with the Sustainable Development Goals. Many societies across the globe face socio-economic inequality issues such as poverty, safety, gender inequality, racism and exclusion of minority groups, lack of access to basic resources and services, among many others. Although the energy system seems to have no clear connection with these issues, as a matter of fact, it does. The energy system is often seen as a network of techno-economic sectors that provide and regulate energy services. However, the energy system is sustained by natural resources and ecosystem services of the environment, and whose ecosystems host people and communities with their own cultures and customs. When looking at the energy system as embedded in societies and ecosystems, it is not difficult to notice that the ecological and societal issues permeate the energy system and vice-versa. Therefore, changes in the energy system have the potential to exacerbate or to help solve societal and ecological issues. To make sure that the energy transition positively contributes to ecosystems and societies, researchers and practitioners must acknowledge the socio-economic inequalities of which the energy system is part.
Below I enlist some examples of socio-economic inequalities, which the energy transitions may help to solve:
- Reduction of poverty. Energy systems can be designed to provide good quality energy services to all. People can be prosumers of the energy system. Clean and affordable energy generation projects can be the seed to many local businesses beyond the electricity market. Special care needs to be taken when there is a risk of job losses due to the energy transition. For example, coal mining communities should have the option to be part of the transformed energy system to avoid unemployment.
- Gender equity. The energy sector lags behind with closing the gender gap with a lack of women participation in leadership positions due to structural and cultural challenges (IEA, 2018). All genders (including non-binary) should be represented in the sector to seek inclusive energy transition pathways.
- Similarly, minority groups differentiated by ethnicity, age, religion, gender, among others, have the right to be included in the energy transition so that the future energy system considers their energy needs. The reconfiguration of the energy system can be sensitive to local’s economic-development views.
Moreover, the energy transition should mitigate any further impact that it may cause such as land use, landscape impact, livelihood impacts, among other environmental and social impacts.
Energy transitions can be used as opportunities to acknowledge and redefine roles and reconfigure the energy system so that the ecological and socio-technological transformation contributes not only to solving climate change but also other socio-economic inequalities.