Headline: Low Carbon Transition in Developing Countries: New Project Will Generate Proposals to Promote Energy Justice

The international energy transition is already delivering numerous benefits, but it is also creating new inequalities. The risks posed by this transformation will impact especially on developing countries, which lack access to technologies and capital. What, then, can be done to ensure that these countries too can make the transition to a low-carbon economy? This question is the focus of a new project that will study the systemic impacts of the global energy transition. The project has been awarded 1.5 million euros in funding through the Franco-German fellowship programme to support research in the areas of climate, energy and Earth systems science as part of the French initiative “Make our planet great again”. The initiative was founded by French President Emmanuel Macron in June 2017.

Much of the coal sold by these traders at a market in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, will be used in cookstoves. Many developing countries lack adequate access to technologies that play a vital role in the energy transition.
Much of the coal sold by these traders at a market in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, will be used in cookstoves. Many developing countries lack adequate access to technologies that play a vital role in the energy transition. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Working with affected parties to identify solutions

The programme will be funded jointly by the governments of Germany and France (15 and 30 million euros respectively) with the support of the cooperating research partners. Among the thirteen projects funded under this programme, a new research project focusing on the social sustainability of the global energy transition will be hosted at the IASS in Potsdam. The project will be led by Andreas Goldthau, Professor of International Relations at Royal Holloway College, University of London. He will join the IASS in Potsdam from January 2019, where he will lead an interdisciplinary team of four research associates for the four-year term of the project.

The project is embedded in the thematic research area on energy at the IASS. Ortwin Renn, the supervising scientific director for this thematic area, is delighted that the project will strengthen the international dimension of social justice research conducted within this area at the IASS. “This research will complement our social sustainability barometer for the German energy transition by providing an international analysis of the distributional effects of the global energy transition,” explains Ortwin Renn. “Crucially, this project will not merely seek to describe the present situation, but will bring researchers together with affected institutions and groups to identify solutions for socially sustainable outcomes.”

Unequal access to technologies and capital

The energy transition is largely presented in a positive light. This, however, does not tell the entire story, explains Andreas Goldthau: “The energy transition throws up a range of systemic risks that are particularly pertinent to the countries of the Global South: investments in fossil-based sources of energy are no longer likely to be profitable over the longer term, while those holding patents to the technologies vital to a low-carbon economy will be at an advantage in future. However these patents are held almost exclusively by OECD countries and China. This research will highlight the adjustments that need to be made in order to ensure that the gains of the energy transition are distributed fairly.” To this end, the project team will develop recommendations for new governance initiatives, with a view to reconciling conflicting policy goals. 

The researchers will begin by interviewing decision-makers from the finance and insurance industries and government agencies about their views on the systemic risks entailed by the global energy transition. In a next step, the team will conduct scenario analyses, factoring in the relative economic development, quality of institutions, and fossil resource wealth of select countries. These analyses will reveal the type and extent of macro- and socio-economic risks to which countries in the Global South in particular are exposed.

Interviews, scenario analyses, and case studies to inform policy recommendations

Complementing these scenarios, the researchers will also carry out selected case studies in different global regions. These studies will include interviews with decision-makers from local businesses, corporate finance, and development agencies and banks. This will enable researchers to identify welfare effects, development impacts, and distributional effects as well as the financial and trade risks for different types of scenarios. In conclusion, the researchers will develop policy options for addressing the challenges facing developing nations in the context of the global energy transition. The results of this research will be fed into the public debate in France, Germany and across Europe through the publication of policy briefs and articles in media outlets.

In each of the project phases, articles will be published in scientific journals. And finally, the existing global and regional policy initiatives in the public, private and PPP domains will be critically assessed in a comprehensive policy-oriented report that will present a series of relevant policy proposals.

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