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International Conference Paris, September 2014
10 September 2014 - 12 September 2014
A Fair Energy Transition: A Challenge for Europe
On September 10-12th the tenth SCRIBANI conference, in an organization by CERAS, took place in Paris. It was dedicated to the topic of the need for an energy transition in Europe and started from the premise that, in order to be feasible and sustainable, such a transition calls for a reflection that goes beyond the technical aspects in order to understand the underlying social justice issues at stake.
The conference hosted 250 participants from the academic world, the business world, civic society organisations and policy institutes. They were offered a programme of 3 x 3 parallel workshops on issues such as inequality at the level of housing/ mobility/ alimentation, just policies in the field of labour/fiscal reform/energy technology, new approaches towards transition funding/energy access/European interdependency. Most workshops were moderated by influential media spokesmen and journalists and offered a balanced mix of academic and field insight presented by 4 panelists. The conclusions from the workshop were brought back to the plenary sessions where consumer society, challenges for democracy and global solidarity were discussed. Over 50 speakers were involved, among whom 10 young researchers selected through a call for papers.
The conference opened with a lecture by Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Deputy Director General of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Full Professor of Energy Economics at the Vienna University of Technology, who sketched the contours of the current situation.
Energy, and the provision of energy services, is essential for social progress and is crucial for addressing the most pressing global challenges of the 21st century. These challenges facing us today are in many ways comparable with those that human society encountered at the beginning of the industrial revolution. The changes brought along by the industrial revolution effectively transformed human society into one that exhibited unprecedented levels of affluence and production, but also inequity and unintended impacts on our social and natural environments.
In 1750, the global population of one billion lacked access to the energy services and amenities we take for granted today. Since then, the global population has increased to more than seven billion people and economic world output has increased hundredfold. Yet there are still some three billion people who cook with solid fuels, resulting in an estimated four million premature lives lost annually. This represents three times as many people without access today compared to 1750. The improvement as a result of the industrial revolution, however, was more than impressive as virtually no one had access while today there are more than four billion that do. This was only possible because of the development of fossil fuels, starting with coal and a cluster of associated technologies including steam, steel and railways. These technology systems replaced human and animal labor, eliminated large-scale slavery and freed people to devote more time to productive and leisure activities. This explosive development unfortunately caused numerous adverse externalities and marks the beginning of the so-called “Anthropocene Epoch,” denoted by the fact that humans are decisively affecting many planetary processes. A transformation, or a new revolution, is called for to catapult humanity into the post-fossil age and safeguard a sustainable future.
Fortunately, there exist combinations of resources and technologies that could provide a number of pathways toward achieving sustainable energy for all. All of them imply a fundamental decarbonization of the energy systems through diffusion of renewable and clean fossil energy sources and vigorous improvement of end-use efficiencies. An important co-benefit, among many others, of such a transformation is that it would lead climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.
Thus, all energy supply technologies need to mesh with emerging innovations in energy networks in the direction of smart integration and super grids. This needs to occur at all levels, from local and distributed to centralized systems. At the same time, the increasing complexity of the energy system poses high demands for new and more integrated infrastructures for energy, mobility and information technologies and their convergence in fundamentally new systems and services. Current energy infrastructures are inadequately designed to adapt to the emerging needs to decarbonize energy and integrate different systems across regions.
In a context of economic and financial crisis, governments are hesitant in adding to the burden of already disadvantaged households and businesses. This is true for ‘developed’ and ‘emerging’ countries alike, fearing this will slow down their development. Yet, inaction will not prevent social inequalities from increasing as the growing fuel precariousness in Europe and as marginalized groups’ claims for access to natural resources demonstrate. The context of an ecological crisis, against which the energy transition debate is set, questions our principles of social justice.