The surge in renewable energy is happening faster than anyone predicted, rapidly transforming our entire energy system. We’re currently building the systems that will power the post-fossil fuels era . But this is not ‘just’ a matter of energy sources and emissions.
The energy solutions we deploy today determine whether we try to mitigate the symptoms of an economic paradigm that is driving climate change and out-of-control levels of inequality; or if we make a fundamental switch to an economy built on principles of justice.
There are countless examples of destructive and exploitative renewable energy projects that perpetuate injustice.
Take some of the renewable energy projects Morocco has proudly showcased as the host of COP22 for instance. A recent report by Western Sahara Resource Watch criticised that these projects are increasingly situated in the occupied territory of Western Sahara, undermining the UN peace process and powering exports of mineral plunder.
German conglomerate Siemens has partnered with the Moroccan government to set up 22 wind mills that generate electricity for Morocco’s phosphate exports from Western Sahara.
Image: Western Sahara Resource Watch
In northern Europe, the livelihoods of the indigenous Sámi people are severely threatened by climate change, mining, infrastructure projects and… mega wind parks.
Sámi communities have been opposing wind farms on traditional land because they present an existential threat to reindeer herders.
Also in the name of renewable energy, 576 trees at the remaining natural forest at Cuernos de Negros in the Philippines were cut due to the expansion of a geothermal energy project. The corporation behind the project awaits approval for further expansion, which would lead to yet again more deforestation.
The project threatens endangered species and a key source of water that the entire southern part of the Negros Oriental province depends on.
Groups in the Philippines report that large-scale renewable energy projects harming local communities and the environment are being increasingly aggressively pushed following the Paris Climate Agreement.
Image: A view deep in the Cuernos de Negros forest
Renewable energy projects like these, which disregard the wellbeing of people and our environment, illustrate why 100% renewables is not enough. If the so-called solutions we deploy perpetuate injustice and inequality, they won’t have a lasting and fast enough impact in tackling climate change – let alone climate justice.
Recent political developments like the election of a climate denier into the White House, Brexit and the rise of far-right populists in various countries in Europe remind us how inequality can create conditions that make it harder to achieve progress on climate change.
The challenge we face is bigger than replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy. The solutions we need have to put people’s well-being at the centre and challenge the status quo of our growth-driven economy and short-term thinking.
That includes letting go off the assumption that our well being will deteriorate if we use less energy or our economy shrinks. It also means looking at fundamental changes to the current way we move, live and work.
The rapid transition to renewable energy has been led from the bottom-up by local communities taking control over their own power, leaving the old world’s fossil fuel giants with an increasingly obsolete business model.
Community-based initiatives that break with business as usual show a sustainable and just path forward.
Climate Justice March Marrakesh COP22. Photographer: Hoda Baraka
Unsurprisingly, fossil fuel companies have been lobbying hard to make it harder for community-based projects to get set up and flourish.
Germany for example passed legislation over the past months that raises the economic risks for cooperatives and citizen-led renewable energy projects to the extent that many fear make the kind of projects that have brought about the country’s dramatic rise of renewable energy increasingly unfeasible.
Or Spain’s ‘sun tax’ that makes households pay for producing their own energy through solar power.
It’s up to us to fight back against these crackdowns, resist injustice and keep pushing the just solutions that are already transforming our world.