By Richard Kimbowa, Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development
Energy services are essential for sustainable development. How these services, including lighting, cooking, heating and cooling, refrigeration, transportation, and communication, are produced, distributed, and used affects the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of any development achieved. According to the World Resources Institute (2020), energy-related activities accounted for around 73 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 due to emissions from burning fossil fuels in the electricity sector, heating, cooling, transport, and manufacturing.
Hence, separating energy demand from emissions is at the heart of efforts to decarbonize the global economy to meet the Paris Agreement targets. Energy transition – the gradual process of replacing fossil fuels with low-carbon energy sources is a significant structural change in the global energy system regarding supply and consumption.
But a step further is a just energy transition, a negotiated vision, and a process centered on dialogue, supported by guiding principles, to shift energy production and consumption practices. According to IISD / Global Subsidies Initiative (2018), energy transitions are about people - workers, consumers, businesses, communities, taxpayers, and voters - who make decisions that lead to shifts.
The world has seen many transitions, from automation to the decline or relocation of entire industries, which led to job losses and the economic deterioration of regions. This has created a fear of future transitions being similarly painful.
According to KfW Development Bank / IRENA (2020), nearly half of Africans (46 percent) still have no electricity in their homes. Efforts to achieve universal access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable electricity by 2030 must be at the forefront of energy transition strategies to effectively fight poverty, enable new economic opportunities and promote equality.
So what does this mean for Uganda, given that millions cannot access electricity or clean cooking? How can it be rolled out with a human face?
A just energy transition requires fully bringing the poor (those who stand to lose) into the economy through the targeted deployment of modern energy services. First, to improve the position of women in households and societies because the reality is that they do the cooking. This makes them and their children especially vulnerable to indoor air pollution from cooking fires. Secondly, Small and Medium Scale industries (so-called jua kalis) scattered across Uganda which create employment and income for women and youths but currently rely on unsustainable energy.
Furthermore, a just energy transition calls for speeding up the deployment of modern, renewables-based solutions founded on a balanced combination of on-, mini-, and off-grid approaches for unserved and under-served populations. The solutions must also address the security of supply challenges, overall economic viability, and affordable access.
This transition could build on current and new opportunities, including technological advancements, lower costs for renewable energies, innovative approaches, and digitalization which are making a solid business case for renewables.