Wanted: a democratic and equitable transformation of the energy system

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Image courtesy of Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

This blog is part of a series commissioned by PWYP’s strategy sub-committee (made up of members of PWYP’s Global Council, Africa Steering Committee and Board). The proposals and positions of each guest author are not endorsed by PWYP; rather they have been invited to share them in order to prompt our collective thinking as we envision our next global strategy.

The year 2023 has been the warmest one on record, with a global average temperature 1.45°C above the 1850-1900 average, very close to the limit set by the International Panel on Climate Change in the context of the 2015 Paris Agreements.

The consequences of a heating world are dire, with oceans becoming warmer, arctic ice becoming smaller and thinner, glaciers disappearing and heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires and cyclones becoming more frequent and intense. 

In all cases, the richer countries and richer sectors of the population–with their higher per capita energy consumption and correspondingly high greenhouse gas emissions – contribute most to the problem; while the poorer countries and people contribute less, but suffer the more severe consequences.

In response, a discussion has emerged around the notion of a ‘just’ energy transition to low carbon energy sources: a transition that would offer alternative jobs and incomes to those who, today, depend on the exploitation of fossil fuels for their livelihoods; a transition that would ensure access to energy for everyone, and grant financial assistance to the less developed and fossil dependent countries that will be obliged to leave their resources in the ground to stop global warming. 

The good news is that the energy transition is, in fact, moving ahead, with fewer and fewer investments in fossil fuels, and increasing investments in the generation and consumption of non-conventional renewable energies.

The bad news is that the transition is not moving ahead as fast as needed and that it is far from being just.

A corporate-driven energy transition

We are in fact experiencing a corporate-driven energy transition that sees in the transition a new opportunity for capital accumulation. Decisions to invest in the generation and distribution of new renewable energies depend on the profit rates they offer to investors and the rent they can generate for governments; not on the livelihoods they can offer or improve for those in less developed countries, or even in developed ones. 

In addition, the richer countries are still exploiting their fossil fuel resources and they are not contributing as much as they should to mitigation and adaptation efforts in the Global South. And, if the richer countries are not contributing enough, the richest of the population are not contributing at all since there are no global agreements to tax the higher emitters, both companies and individuals.

In this scenario, urgency and justice are secondary considerations to profit and to maintaining the high but unsustainable levels of consumption of those in the Global North. 

The bottom line here is that those with the power to decide how the energy transition happens do not have the global climate and environmental crisis, or issues of energy sovereignty and social justice, as their main concerns.

And those who suffer the consequences of global heating do not have a seat at the table where decisions are made. As the saying goes, if you do not have a seat at the table, you are probably on the menu.

A mobilised civil society to challenge power structures

To achieve a just and timely transition, we need to challenge the corporate nature of the ongoing one. We need to challenge the current decision-making arrangements and the power structures behind them. 

What is needed is a democratic and equitable transformation of the energy system.

The challenge is to create the conditions for it to happen. And the key is a mobilised and empowered civil society, able to place urgency and justice at the heart of decision making regarding the pace and the very nature of the energy transition.

Are we there yet? No, we are not. But we need to and can start moving in that direction.

We must insist on pressuring governments and companies at the global level, at COPs and other similar venues, to make more ambitious, binding mitigation and funding agreements. 

We also need to exert pressure at the national level, to ensure that mitigation and adaptation commitments and policies are up to the challenge.  

Three critical challenges

Most importantly, we need to bring together the social actors in resource rich territories in response to three critical challenges: how to phase out coal, oil and gas fairly and quickly; if and how to exploit transition minerals; and how to generate and distribute non-conventional renewable energies. 

On that basis, we can build bottom-up national energy matrix transition strategies that have real social support. They would incorporate the local actors that are the most impacted by global heating in decision-making processes, the ones that are currently left behind. 

By doing so, we will effectively transform the energy system, its decision-making arrangements, and its power relations.

PWYP has a unique potential to contribute to a just transition of the energy matrix and to a democratic and equitable transformation of the energy system. And it has begun to recognise this in its energy transition positions endorsed in 2021.

Its internal diversity –an expression of its global reach – could be seen as an obstacle for producing a coherent response to the climate crisis, but it is actually a strength. 

In fact, taking stock of such diversity, we can build a stronger global response to the climate crisis, one that is firmly rooted in the needs of the many, not a small elite.


Carlos Monge, Chair of the PWYP Board

Carlos Monge is a Peruvian anthropologist and Latin American historian, passionate about governance of natural resources, climate change, just energy transitions, and democratic transformation of energy systems. He is the Chair of the PWYP Board, an external consultant at CBC Las Casas in Cusco and an associate researcher at DESCO in Lima. He held key roles with NRGI and served on the EITI board representing Latin American and Caribbean civil society. Carlos has collaborated with Peruvian developmental institutions, including Centro Bartolomé de las Casas and Grupo Propuesta Ciudadana, and has held academic positions at the University of Miami’s North South Center and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. His professional journey includes roles such as Rural Development and Environment Specialist at Peru’s World Bank office, and Head Advisor at various Peruvian government agencies.

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