The Ethical Considerations behind the "Just Energy Transition"

The UNESCO Declaration of Ethical Principles in relation to climate change were adopted in 2017 and include notions of equity, justice and sustainable development. These ethical principles are at the core of what a just energy transition should look like, especially for countries in the Global South. While several countries in Southern Africa are still heavily reliant on traditional, pollution-causing fossil fuels for energy generation, considerations of transitioning to renewable energy sources are usually contentious with a plethora of factors to contend with. The primary question is usually one that defies the very right to development as the capacity to generate renewable energy for trade and industry is far beyond the means of many countries in the Global South. The question then becomes: are countries in the Global South capacitated, in all aspects, to successfully transition to low carbon pathways?

Among other things, the UNESCO Declaration advocates that “prevention of harm” is one of the important ethical principles in relation to climate change. To comply with it, people should aim to “anticipate, avoid or minimize harm, wherever it might emerge, from climate change, as well as from climate mitigation and adaptation policies and actions.” Most countries in Southern Africa, like is the case in South Africa and Zimbabwe have taken it upon themselves to enact legislation and policy that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions emitted through using fossil fuels for electricity generation. As such, both countries have robust legislation and policy that is unequivocal about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adopt low carbon pathways especially in the energy sector. However notions of justice, as one of the ethical principles, also demand that those who are the main contributors to greenhouse gas emission increases play a more prominent role in addressing its impacts. Therefore, while legislation and policies supporting a just energy transition are a good starting point for Southern African countries, the Global North must ensure that they offer technical and financial support for this endeavour.

While there is no denying that, for the sake of present and future generations, it is imperative to transition from traditional fossil fuels to renewable sources for energy generation, mitigation and adaptation solutions must be grounded on the UNESCO Declaration of Ethical Principles in relation to climate change. These principles ensure that parties from both the Global North and South play their respective roles in the ensuring that the energy transition is a ‘just’ one.

This blogpost is based on a lecture presented by Ms. Chantelle G Moyo (North-West University) titled “The Just Energy Transition and its Impacts on Energy Governance: Legal Perspectives from South Africa and Zimbabwe” on 27 October 2022 as part of the Afri-Climethics Lecture Series hosted by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Cologne, Germany.