ENERGY justice is a new concept that has been used in the academia around the world for the past decade. Although there is no universal single definition, but energy justice evolved with an object to ensure universal access to a safe, affordable and sustainable energy for all individuals, across all areas and to protect from disproportionate share of costs or negative impact relating to building, operating and maintaining electric power generation, transmission, distribution system and to ensure equitable access to benefits from each system. Nonetheless, representative and impartial involvement of citizens in energy-related decision-making process is another crucial aspect of energy justice.
However, the idea of energy justice comes out from the concept of social justice and environmental justice. According to earlier ideas, energy justice carries three core tenets which were popularly referred to as triumvirate of tenets, focusing distributional, procedural and recognition justice whereas subsequent principle-based approach to energy justice developed eight core principles: (1) the availability principle urges to have sufficient modern energy resources; (2) the affordability principle argues that all people, including the poor, should get energy in reasonable price and should not pay no more than 10 per cent of their income for energy services; (3) the due process principle requires the countries to follow the rule of law and human rights in their production and use of energy; (4) the good governance principle implies that all people should have access to all information regarding energy and environment, and citizens must have participation to fair, transparent, and accountable forms of energy decision-making process; (5) the sustainability principle is an obligation on the state to ensure long-term sustainable energy development with prudent management and to confirm sustainable use and sovereign rights over natural resources; (6) the intragenerational equity principle is a principle which emphasises that people have the right to fairly access a certain set of minimal energy services enabling them to enjoy a basic minimum of well-being; (7) the intergenerational equity principle suggests future generations have a right to enjoy a good life undisturbed by the damage our energy systems inflict on the world today; and finally, (8) the responsibility principle refers to all nations’ duty to protect the natural environment and its sustainability as well as diminish energy-related environmental threats.
Nevertheless, being a developing country, maintaining balance among the energy triangle ie energy equity, environmental sustainability and energy security is the major challenge for Bangladesh where both the economy and demand for energy are growing simultaneously and rapidly. Hence, Bangladesh is in such a tricky situation in the context of the present world while the world is committed to reduce the greenhouse gas emission significantly in coming years whereas it must confirm affordable and continuous supply of power to boost up its current economic growth in one hand and safeguard sustainable development on the other hand.
To ensure this, Bangladesh cannot be fully dependent on its own natural resources such as coal and gas to produce electricity as these are emitting massive amount of CO2. Furthermore, the current gas reserves of Bangladesh are not sufficient for industrialisation and power generation concurrently. Consequently, it becomes heavily reliant on the import of coal, oil and gas from overseas which again creates a threat to supply and national security as well where the global reserves are also reducing quickly.
Alternatively, Bangladesh can concentrate on renewable and eco-friendly sources of energy such as solar, wind, biomass, thermal, hydro-power, geothermal, etc but again those are not cheap like the traditional burning fossil fuels. Thus, Bangladesh needs a comprehensive energy justice framework concentrating on all the eight principles to safeguard sustainable development towards the real ‘Sonar Bangla’.
Conversely, the construction of a power plant beside a biodiversity hotspot is a clear threat to the eco-system. Decisions on where to build nuclear waste repositories may raise severe concerns over the health and agriculture of the marginal rural communities. Moreover, a forceful eviction of local community or the acquisition of land without proper consultation, compensation, participation or giving full information will definitely do injustice with them.
Moreover, a disproportionate distribution of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, may require re-thinking the distribution of energy costs and subsidies in societies that play host to high levels of social stratification and division. For example, a transition to renewable energy systems may deprive low-income households of meeting basic energy demand because of increasingly higher prices as the costs of subsidies are passed on to consumers.
Although Bangladesh has recently legislated laws and policies focusing on the renewable sources of energy and already constituted the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority to accelerate the process, still it produces about 90 per cent of its electricity from fossils while the internal reserves are finishing quickly. Additionally, the price of power becomes so high for low-income people in past couple of years.
There is also major lack of due process and good governance in the energy sector which ultimately obstructs sustainable development for the nation. The absence of informed decision and consent in most of the energy project further makes it more difficult for the people to know their benefits and burdens, and the intention of the corporate entities. Nonetheless, better representation of different marginal and ethnic groups in energy policymaking institutions potentially offers a more proactive approach in achieving justice.
However, energy justice emphases inequalities within energy systems and transitions and advocates for the equitable sharing of both the benefits and burdens of energy system services and for more inclusive decision-making processes. It can also be used as a framework to identify when, where, and how injustice occurs within energy systems and how injustice can be eliminated. Therefore, implementing all aspects of energy justice holistically is the most convenient way to resolve the long-rooted energy trilemma for Bangladesh.
Raisul Sourav is Chevening scholar 2017-18, pursuing his second LLM in international energy law and policy at the University of Stirling, UK.