Many things have changed in the half century since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. As we prepare for Stockholm+50, a key question to ask is: ‘What is different now?’ Or more explicitly, ‘What is different now compared with Stockholm 1972, Rio 1992, Johannesburg 2002 and, more recently, Rio 2012, Addis Ababa 2015 and Paris 2015?’ While there may be many answers, one fits neatly for our time: we are now in the midst of an energy transition, which was not the case even as recently as 2015.
The energy transition combines different dimensions, such as digitization, electrification and decarbonization. Trends towards digitization and electrification have long been observable and are accelerating, but it is only very recently that renewable energy sources have become the least–cost alternative for electricity generation in most parts of the world, particularly solar and wind (International Renewable Energy Agency [IRENA], 2020a). In the words of the International Energy Agency (IEA), solar power is now ‘consistently cheaper than new coal or gas–fired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest–cost electricity ever seen’ (IEA 2020, p. 18).
Key messages from this paper:
- The energy transition is happening. For it to be sustainable, we must ensure it happens in a just and equitable manner.
- Renewable energy technologies are not inherently just or unjust. In addition to the implications of moving away from fossil fuels, the equity and justice implications of moving to clean energy systems must also be considered.
- A just transition demands that the benefits and costs of the transition are distributed in a just and equitable manner, reducing inequalities rather than exacerbating them.
- A just transition entails respecting human rights throughout the energy supply chain. Companies, governments, investors and civil society all have a role to play.
- Alternative livelihoods must be enabled for peoples and communities adversely affected by energy-related projects, including from all energy sources and technologies.
This paper is part of a series that supports the Stockholm+50: Unlocking a better future report.