Just Transition in the Energy Sector – Part 2

by Gianna Compagno

The Energy Sector in The Underdeveloped and Developing World

Today, around 13% of the world’s population still lacks access to modern energy sources [13] and are dependent upon the burning of biomass, including animal waste, firewood, and charcoal [9]. This creates indoor air pollution for these populations and leads to health complications, [9] including cancer, heart attacks, asthma, and premature death [10]. For these populations to experience healthier lives, they need access to clean, modern energy sources.

Underdeveloped and developing countries today have a development opportunity that was not available to the world’s current industrial superpowers when they were developing; these countries can modernize through the use of renewable energy sources. Renewable energy sources create employment opportunities and “free a country from balance of payments burdens”. Since renewable energy is more easily accessible (such as sunlight or wind power), it gives more energy security than fossil fuels. Furthermore, manufacturing costs for technologies needed to generate renewable energy are decreasing [8]. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, “…half of new solar and wind installations undercut fossil fuels in 2019.” Furthermore, in the last decade, it has become 82% cheaper to install new solar photovoltaic projects [14]. Developing and underdeveloped nations should focus on adopting renewable, efficient energy sources [9]. China and India are currently turning towards renewable sources of industrial power [8]. 

Renewables offer the potential for economic prosperity in underdeveloped and developing countries as well. The Desertec Foundation, for example, advocates for the use of deserts to generate renewable energy for the world’s populations. According to their website, “…in only six hours, desserts receive as much energy from the sun as humankind consumes in a whole year” [17]. Countries willing to tap into their deserts as sources of renewable energy will hopefully be able to create greater prosperity for their populations. 

How do Industrialized Countries Impact the Underdeveloped and Developing World?

Industrialized countries need to be more conscious of the effects of their green energy pursuits on less prosperous parts of the world. An example of this can be seen in the case of electric cars. In the United States, cars and trucks contribute about 1/5 of carbon emissions [2]. Such a statistic has led many to make the switch to electric cars, but electric cars are not without environmental impact. The element lithium is essential for electric car (and other types of) batteries, but mining processes are extremely harmful to the deserts in which lithium is found. Since the source of lithium is the brine in salt flats, lithium mining removes large quantities of water. Besides harming the natural landscape, this process also harms local people, their water supply, and their crops. This can be seen in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile; the Tilopozo meadow present there has become barren. Lithium mining also leads to water pollution, air pollution, and soil damage, as well as challenges with recycling the flammable, toxic metal. Certainly, electric cars are less harmful than fossil fuel cars (in 2019 in the UK, driving a Nissan Leaf electric car is estimated to have given off three times lower emissions per kilometer than an average fossil fuel-based car [16]), but with any form of energy, it must be understood that there are costs [2]. When making a just transition towards green energy sources, these costs need to be carefully considered, and the livelihoods of all people impacted by different energy choices must be taken into account.

One of the potential solutions to the problem of lithium batteries is discovering new technologies for recycling them. Very few lithium batteries are recycled today (around 2-3% in Australia, for example), and if recycling capacity could be increased, this would mean less virgin material would have to be mined from mining areas [15]. 

A just transition in the energy sector will involve taking into consideration the social and financial needs of underdeveloped and developing countries. It is of the utmost importance that they are supported by green energy technologies that are affordable and efficient. The comprehensive set of skills needed to operate such technologies also needs to be transferred to underdeveloped and developing countries and their workers [11]. Finally, the effects of the actions of developed countries pursuing their own green development need to be constantly considered. Nevertheless, the possibility for brighter, cleaner futures for underdeveloped, developing, and developed countries alike is certainly offered in the potential of renewable energy technologies that only continue to improve. 

References:

[1] https://climatalk.org/2020/05/21/recovering-from-coronavirus-green-solutions-for-a-brighter-future/
[2] https://www.salon.com/2019/06/17/lithium-mining-for-green-electric-cars-is-leaving-a-stain-on-the-planet/?fbclid=IwAR2YRlK4PNvwnAtJ2YAgjaxupeGhMDa17KspfCeEZWa_gKqTAXpK8_UHoSw#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20side%20effects,and%20can%20cause%20air%20pollution 
[3] https://www.carbonbrief.org/clean-energy-the-challenge-of-achieving-a-just-transition-for-workers
[4] https://climatalk.org/2020/05/21/recovering-from-coronavirus-green-solutions-for-a-brighter-future/
[5] https://www.wri.org/climate/expert-perspective/toward-just-transition
[6] https://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/call_for_dialogue_en.pdf
[7] https://www.wri.org/climate/expert-perspective/developing-and-implementing-just-transition-policies
[8] https://www.oecd.org/dev/developing-countries-and-the-renewable-energy-revolution.htm
[9] http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2012/developing_world/
[10] https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sasha-stashwick/health-groups-congress-burning-biomass-bad-health
[11] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191202105816.htm
[12] https://www.eesi.org/papers/view/fact-sheet-jobs-in-renewable-energy-energy-efficiency-and-resilience-2019 
[13] https://ourworldindata.org/energy-access 
[14] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/renewable-energy-cheaper-coal/ 
[15] https://cen.acs.org/materials/energy-storage/time-serious-recycling-lithium/97/i28 
[16] https://www.carbonbrief.org/factcheck-how-electric-vehicles-help-to-tackle-climate-change 
[17] https://www.desertec.org 
Categories Climate Justice

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