In Quest of an Energy Justice Framework for Bangladesh

 

Energy justice is a concept that has been in use in academia around the world over the last decade. Although there is no universal single definition, energy justice evolved with the objective to ensure universal access to  safe, affordable and sustainable energy for all individuals, across all areas and to protect from the disproportionate share of costs or negative impacts 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 the citizens with the energy-related decision-making process is another crucial aspect of energy justice.

The idea of energy justice comes from the concepts of social justice and environmental justice. According to earlier ideas, energy justice carries three core tenets which were popularly referred to as the triumvirate of tenets, focusing on distributional, procedural and recognitional justice whereas a 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 at a reasonable cost and should pay no more than 10 per cent of their income for energy services;

3. the due process principle requires 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 be able to participate in fair, transparent and accountable forms of the 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 emphasizes 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 the duty of all nations to protect the natural environment and its sustainability as well as diminish energy-related environmental threats.

Nevertheless, as a developing country, maintaining balance among the energy triangle i.e. 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 other nations are committed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the coming years, Bangladesh must confirm affordable and continuous supplies of power to boost its current economic growth on 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 both of these emit massive amounts of CO2. Furthermore, the current gas reserves of Bangladesh are not sufficient for industrialization and power generation concurrently. Consequently, it becomes heavily reliant on the importation of coal, oil and gas from overseas which again creates threats to supply and national security as well, where the global reserves are also reducing quickly. Alternatively, Bangladesh can concentrate on renewable and ecofriendly sources of energy such as solar, wind, biomass, thermal, hydropower and geothermal but those are not as cheap as burning fossil fuels. Thus, Bangladesh needs a comprehensive energy justice framework concentrating on the eight principles to safeguard sustainable development towards the real “Sonar Bangla”.

Conversely, construction of a power plant beside a biodiversity hotspot is a clear threat to the ecosystem. Decisions on where to build nuclear waste repositories may raise severe concerns over the health and agriculture of the marginal rural communities. Moreover, forceful eviction of local communities, including the indigenous, or acquisition of land without proper consultation, compensation an, participation or disclosure of full information, will definitely do an injustice to them. Moreover, 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, due to increasingly higher prices as the costs of subsidies are passed on to consumers.

Although Bangladesh has recently legislated new laws and policies focusing on renewable sources of energy and has established the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority to accelerate the process, it produces about 90 per cent of its electricity from fossil fuels, while the internal reserves are depleting quickly. Additionally, the price of power has become so high for low-income people in the last couple of years. There is also major lack of due process and good governance in the energy sector throughout the country which ultimately obstructs sustainable development. The absence of informed decisions and consent in most of the energy projects makes it more difficult for the local and indigenous peoples 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 emphasizes on 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 injustices occur within energy systems and how these injustices 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.