Putting people at the centre of the clean energy transition

News 27 March, 2024

Dr Gesche Huebner attended a workshop organized by the International Energy Agency (IEA). In this blog, she reflects on her two days spent in Paris.

In order for the clean energy transition to be successful, it needs to be fair and inclusive. This bold statement set the scene for the recent IEA workshop on ‘Measuring the Affordability and Social Impact of the Clean Energy Transition’. Around 30 researchers and representatives from international and EU institutions and national authorities were invited to share examples of what a fair transition could look like. We considered the challenges involved in distributing the benefits and burdens of moving to a clean energy systems. We also looked, crucially, at how we could measure progress on delivering an equitable transition. The verdict in a nutshell: It is complicated – but we need to get it right!

Gesche and Iska Brunzema (Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI) outside the IEA building in Paris.

For me, what the workshop really brought home was how many areas are of relevance when it comes to realising a clean, inclusive and fair transition. There are the more obvious aspects such as energy access and affordability. However, there are many other issues to consider such as ownership of energy assets, exposure to pollution resulting from fossil fuel burning, the opportunity cost of hours spent collecting firewood, the need to provide jobs in areas historically heavily reliant on fossil fuels, land ownership and access to public spaces.

My presentation raised questions around characteristics for indicators. For example, when looking at exposure to pollutants resulting from the burning of fossil fuels, is a relative metric (e.g. percentage in reduction) more appropriate or an absolute metric? What do we need to consider to ensure that an indicator is long-lasting in a rapidly changing context? How can we create global indicators in the context of huge regional disparities?

It may be challenging to find a balance between the need to give a meaningful voice to those affected most, while also addressing the need for quantitative indicators that allow tracking over time and enable comparisons between countries. Access to data is crucial and being able to use routinely collected data could be beneficial.

Despite the complexity of these issues, I left the workshop feeling invigorated. It was great to meet so many knowledgeable people from all over the world who are passionate about a clean energy transition. The IEA’s commitment to a people-centred clean energy transition has the potential be a powerful lever for meaningful change.