Decarbonisation may create energy injustices in the world’s poorest regions. Is real climate justice achievable?

Posted On: 
1st November 2019

A recurring argument for radical climate action is that climate change will affect the world’s poorest regions the hardest. However, what is seldom considered is how efforts towards decarbonising the UK, could perpetuate energy injustices in these same economies, writes Dods Monitoring's, Alexandra Goodwin.

Dods Monitoring's, Alexandra Goodwin asks if the UK achieve decarbonisation without creating further energy injustices in some of the world’s poorest regions?
Credit: 
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Net Zero and the UK’s Ambitions

Disagreement surrounding the newly legislated 2050 Net Zero target has centred around the proposed deadline for such a transition, rather than the need for ambitious targets. Whilst Labour have committed to a 2030 target under their proposed Green New Deal, there is unanimity of opinion, across the political spectrum that significant and manifold actions must be taken. Indeed, the recent introduction of Ultra Low Emissions Zones and the phasing out of coal by 2025 can be interpreted as examples of nascent political will.

Elevating the Debate

However, at this year’s Labour Conference, shadow secretary of state for international trade, Barry Gardiner sought to raise the bar for environmental policy makers during an IPPR Environment fringe event, advocating Government’s be held accountable for global energy injustices, an area currently neglected in debates.

Gardiner’s argument poses a number of difficult questions for domestic and global governance, and challenges one to consider:  can the UK achieve decarbonisation without creating further energy injustices in some of the world’s poorest regions?

A recurring argument for radical climate action, advocated by MPs like the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, is that climate change will affect the world’s poorest regions the hardest. However, what is seldom considered is how efforts towards decarbonising the UK, could perpetuate energy injustices in these same economies.

Catch-22: Decarbonising requires natural resource mining

Resource and mineral extraction for cobalt, lithium and copper – all of which are essential for solar energy, battery technology and wind power – come with significant baggage. Earlier this year, a report produced by the UN Environment Programme and the International Resource Panel highlighted that 50 percent of the world’s carbon emissions is caused by natural resource mining. This unfortunately includes resources necessary for decarbonisation.

The Head of Earth Science’s at the Natural History Museum, Professor Richard Herrington, wrote to the Committee on Climate Change to sound alarms on the narrow view of resource mining encompassed in the UK’s net zero target. Mr Herrington’s letter outlined that 207,900 tonnes of cobalt - just under twice the annual global production – would be needed for all cars in the UK to be electrified. It would also require three quarters the world's production of lithium carbonate and more than half of the world’s 2018 copper production levels.

Firstly, this means that on the path to a net zero economy, the UK risks becoming responsible for an increased percentage share of global emissions through the amount of minerals mined. Secondly, the figures show that the UK’s plan to consume the majority of finite resources necessary for clean energy production is unsustainable.

Ultimately, the Government could…To read more and view a 2-week look ahead at key events related to Climate Justice, click here.