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Energy Justice

October 28th, 2014 by Raphael Heffron, University of Leeds

In essence, effective and efficient energy law and policy will balance energy economics, energy security and climate change mitigation to deliver the best outcome to society. However, if one examines energy law and policy in more detail often it is just one of these points that dominates the energy agenda; more often than not it is economics.

The energy trilemma is emerging as a key problem for government. There are many variations to what the trilemma entails but they all have the same problems at its core. Energy law and policy is in the centre of the triangle – See Figure 1 – and on the three points (vertices) of the triangle are economics (energy finance), politics (energy security) and environment (climate change mitigation).

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So how can the Energy Trilemma be solved?
It is proposed here that the solution to resolving the Energy Trilemma is through Energy Justice. Energy Justice can achieve a just and equitable balance between the three dimensions of the Energy Trilemma. It is significant that it is a ‘just and equitable’ balance and not an ‘efficient’ balance that is the aim of Energy Justice. This represents a move away from solely having economic thinking drive policy aims.

Energy justice is a relatively new concept but it can deliver more immediate and long-term change. There are three key tenets to energy justice distributional justice, procedural justice and recognition justice. Distributional justice involves the correction of the unequal allocation of financial and environmental benefits and ills, and the uneven distribution of their associated responsibilities, for example exposure to risk. Procedural justice then requires the use of equitable procedures that engage all stakeholders in a non-discriminatory way. Recognition justice should recognise the divergent perspectives rooted in social, cultural, ethnic, racial and gender differences in energy policy. It is not the same as participation and a lack of recognition includes various forms of cultural and political domination, insults, degradation and devaluation.

How will Energy Justice be the Solution to the Energy Trilemma?
As well as energy justice providing a solution to the energy trilemma, there is now a need for the application of the principles of energy justice to this problem. This need emanates from the spread of cosmopolitan philosophy and the limitations of both the law and economics theoretical approach and neo-classical economic thought. This short paper will not go into depth on these but this is part of a future research paper.

Energy Justice has more of a targeted approach than other justice concepts that have been applied to the environment – for example, environmental and climate justice. Energy justice is more targeted and focuses directly on energy infrastructure development. Policy formulation in energy infrastructure needs to move away from being dominated by economists and industry where economic costing is the prime tool used for decision-making. A new research agenda is proposed here that involves the calculation of an Energy Justice Metric. This Energy Justice Metric will influence what new energy infrastructure is built and consequently may mean that society chooses those energy infrastructure projects that satisfy criteria that allocates and distributes the full costs and benefits in a ‘just and equitable’ method for current and future generations.

In the calculation of an energy justice metric it has three aims. First, there will be an individual country energy justice metric. Second there will be an energy justice metric for each type of energy infrastructure, i.e. gas, coal, nuclear energy etc. Third, the cost of energy justice can be weighted and then factored into the economic model cost calculations that compares the price for building different energy infrastructure. It can be weighted similar to other parameters in the economist’s Cost-Benefit Analysis model.

What is the Energy Justice Metric?
The parameters of the Energy Justice metric are listed below in Table 1. This list is not an indicative list but data on all these parameters is available for many countries and energy sources. This paper does not intend to analyse the value and justification for inclusion of each of these parameters. That will be the subject of future research papers in this area. However, what these parameters will allow for is a basic Energy Justice metric to be calculated upon a justification system and for each to be given a weighting figure in the model; again this will be completed in a future research paper. The framework for the parameters is from the Energy Law and Policy Triangle which has at its core economics, politics and the environment, and these are the three categories with which the parameters can be classified.

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The Energy Justice Metric will be modeled using a Ternary Phase Diagram. This enables plotting of the Energy Justice Metric graphically so that comparisons may be made between countries and energy sources. The Ternary plot is generally used in physical chemistry to describe the interaction between three different forms of matter, a gas, a liquid and a solid. This interaction can also then be plotted on an equilateral triangle. This makes it ideal for illustrating the energy trilemma which is also aiming to describe the interaction between three diverse issues (subject matter). It has also been used to plot and visualise the GDP of different countries and in game theory.

Through the calculation of an Energy Justice Metric a solution can be provided for the energy trilemma and balance the competing concerns of the economic, political and environmental challenges. This will enable the formulation of improved energy law and policy which will ensure a more just and equitable distribution of the benefits and ills of energy infrastructure development in the future

The calculation of the Energy Justice Metric involves the parameters set out earlier in Table 1. This allows for energy infrastructure development that is of most benefit to society now and in the future. It involves the calculation of several metrics: (1) a country (national) Energy Justice Metric; (2) an Energy Justice Metric for different energy infrastructure; and (3) the Energy Justice Metric which is incorporated into economic models that derive costs for different energy infrastructure projects. The Energy Justice Metric will be modeled using a Ternary Phase Diagram.

The development of an Energy Justice metric can provide a tool for decision-making on which energy infrastructure is built within a country. The result of energy justice and its incorporation into the costs for energy infrastructure development mean it can impact beneficially upon society and deliver energy infrastructure that balances effectively the competing aims of energy policy. In many countries this will mean an energy infrastructure is built which factors in many of the economic and environmental costs not currently considered in decision-making and ensure a more equitable distribution of the benefits and ills of energy infrastructure development in the future and thus provide a solution to challenge of the energy trilemma.

Raphael Heffron, Research Fellow, Centre for Integrated Energy Research, University of Leeds

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