In parallel to the JRF research programme on climate change and social justice, I have been involved in running a research council funded interdisciplinary cluster on 'energy and equity’ – a networking initiative involving the participation of academics and non-academics in meetings, workshops, conferences, summer schools, site visits and small pilot research projects.
The activity of the InCluESEV cluster over the last 3 years has shown that the relationship between climate mitigation and justice is truly multifaceted. It is at once global and local; international and intranational; about the here and now as well as about future generations; and about energy production and consumption. In this light some recent policy debate has become distinctly narrow, dominated by how the cost of energy for the fuel poor is being pushed up by subsidies/incentives for low carbon energy.
There is undoubtedly an important justice issue here. The consequences of decarbonising energy could and should be distributed more fairly, rather than simply allowing costs to be passed through to vulnerable energy customers. But there is far more to climate justice and to fuel poverty than this.
Dramatic price increases have hit the fuel poor primarily because of the working of energy markets and the way that the suppliers have been fixing their tariffs. Cold homes and everything that goes with getting into fuel debt are a consequence of decades of neglect of proper building and housing standards, the inequitable costs of prepayment meters and much more besides. So somehow now blaming fuel poverty problems on low carbon energy policy is deeply insufficient and can play uncomfortably into a climate sceptic agenda.
We should also be very aware of the wider equity debates that surround some of the low carbon energy technologies currently being pushed by policy and industry advocates. For example, nuclear power raises questions of justice for communities 'hosting' uranium mines, transport routes, power stations, reprocessing and waste sites, as well as for future generations. Carbon capture and storage similarly open ups a whole raft of procedural and substantive justice issues across its various elements - see the discussion paper we commissioned on this from Duncan McClaren available on our project web site.
This opens up questions about which forms of low carbon energy shift are more or less fair and to whom; going beyond, therefore, a focus on the energy price implications of becoming 'low carbon' in the aggregate. This is not easy territory. Competing or comparative justice claims quickly register e.g. between the interests of the 'future generations' potentially living with climate change, and the 'future generations' potentially living with nuclear waste. But such claims do need to be examined and debated alongside those of who pays for decarbonising energy in the short and medium term.