Energy Justice- Is access to clean energy a basic human right?
Energy has become central to almost every aspect of human development, ranging from cooking and heating in the kitchen to lighting and transport. Energy makes modern living possible. Despite this increased use of energy, many people in various regions experience uneven costs and benefits of energy extraction, financing, distribution, and consumption (Tully 2008). With the increased climate change concerns which has brought about clean energy, the issue isn’t just energy anymore, but clean energy given the various shortcoming of conventional energy, especially Green house Gas (GHG) emissions. This therefore begs the question, is access to clean energy a basic human right? This paper holds the negative, that access to clean energy isn’t a human right, at least not yet. This will be discussed through presentation of cases for both sides then draw a conclusion.
Proponents for this motion have attribute clean energy with climate change and the impact thereof hence argue that climate change and human right are one and the same. We all care about both, but often think separately about them. Violation for human right is often associated with brutal regime, inhumane treatment, and violence between people. On the other hand, climate is associated with images of drying rivers, increased desertification, and melting glaciers. Proponents then argue that climate change can contribute to increased or extreme weather conditions (de Hoog 2015) which then impact on human rights like the hurricanes in New Orleans and the typhoons in Philippines. To better tackle these extreme weather conditions, proponents argue that clean energy should be made a human right.
Encompassed in the notion of human rights include clean drinking water, having a home and basic right to life, and having food to eat. However, and as argued by proponents, advance weather conditions have seen millions of people in the Philippines unable to access water (Yadav 2010). The lack of clean water coupled with poor sanitation has resulted to breakout of diseases in parts of the country. During extreme weather conditions for example, the recent intense El Niño rains, farmers in the rural country side experience devastating losses by having their farmers and whatever it’s on them washed away and their houses destroyed. Making clean energy a human right would therefore provide muscle for GHG emissions reduction and thus, combating the menace of extreme weather conditions.
Clean energy has an important place towards realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and improving the lives of people living in poverty across the globe. Clean energy has the potential to contribute to the three pillars of sustainable development – environmental, social, and economic. Clean energy encompasses mechanical power, electricity, heat, and light (Tully 2008). Adoption and making clean energy a human right has the potential to improve the lives of especially women and girls living in poverty. For example, it can free up valuable time used in survival activities like collection of firewood through adoption of solar heated ovens.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol to this Convention both have non-binding references for the requirement to address issues related of efficiency of renewable energy resources as well as the issues related to energy services for sustainable development (Yadav 2010). Even though these two instruments contain detailed provisions for sustainable energy; they are only in soft law and thus not binding pertaining access to energy services. The approach of making clean energy a human right would be a stride towards providing the muscle required for implementation of these two instruments.
The increased adoption of clean energy is a welcome strategy especially in light of the current climate change concerns. However, even though the intention to make clean energy a human right is well meaning, it largely misses the point that, clean energy is more of an enabler of human rights and not a human right by itself. The qualification for anything to become a human right is high (Nakhooda 2010). In loose terms, for anything to pass as a human right, it has to be among the requirements human need so as to lead a meaningful and healthy life. In essence, energy in general is an enabler of the basic human right for example, access to information, access to justice, and public participation among others.
Opponents of this motion argue that, the best way to characterize human right is by identification of the outcomes that are being reinforced. While it is understandable that categorizing clean energy as a human right seeks to highlight to magnitude of climate change and GHG emissions and the effect on human life, it would be agreed that, clean energy is a means to an end and not the end in itself. This is in realization to the fact that, human rights are the end by themselves and not the means to that end (Hamilton et al. 2005).
Human rights are those things that are required by an individual for a day to day living. It is therefore interesting to note that, clean energy is not a necessity for day to day living, even though energy in general is rather debatable. In the modern day energy forms an integral part of everyday living, as earlier mentioned above, however, this is not necessarily clean energy. In developing countries for example, the majority of the people use energy mainly for lighting up their homes, but this is only conventional energy, particularly kerosene in rural Africa (Newell, Phillips and Mulvaney 2011).
For anything to qualify as a human right, it should be inherent and therefore, if denied or removed, result to deprivation of human dignity. Such is the case for the various freedoms and right contained in the bill of rights in the majority of democratic jurisdictions. Clean energy if denied doesn’t and wouldn’t cause any negative effect on human dignity, in any case, majority are leading healthy and meaningful lives even without clean energy, which has not been adopted in large scale (Evans 2010). Even in the backdrop of the increasing climatic change, clean energy doesn’t meet the threshold required to qualify as a human right, at least not yet.
Even though the intention to make clean energy a human right is well meaning, it largely misses the point that, clean energy is more of an enabler of human rights and not a human right by itself. Human rights are best characterized by identification of the outcomes that are being reinforced, and even though clean energy focuses on showing the magnitude of climate change and GHG emissions and the effect on human life, it would be agreed that, clean energy is a means to an end and not the end in itself. Clean energy is not a necessity for day to day living and lastly, for anything to qualify as a human right, it should be inherent and therefore, if denied or removed, result to deprivation of human dignity. Clean energy if denied doesn’t and wouldn’t cause any negative effect on human dignity therefore it doesn’t meet the threshold required to qualify as a human right, at least not yet.
- de Hoog A, (2015), If you believe in human rights, you believe in renewable energy for all, GreenPeace International. Retrieved from http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/climate-change-and-human-rights-amnesty/blog/55062/ on March 22, 2016
- Evans, G. (2010) A Just Transition to Sustainability in a Climate Change Hot-Spot: From Carbon Valley to a Future Beyond Coal. Saarbrücken: VDM.
- Hamilton K, Ruta G, Bolt K, Markandya A, Pedroso-Galinato S, Silva P, Ordoubadi M S, Lange G, and Tajibaeva L, (2005). Where is the Wealth of Nations? Washington D.C.: The World Bank
- Nakhooda, S. (2010) Getting to Work: a Review of the Operations of the Clean Technology Fund. World Resources Institute Working Paper, Washington DC.
- Newell P, Phillips J and Mulvaney D, (2011). Human Development Research Paper 2011/03 Pursuing Clean Energy Equitably, United Nations Development Programme
- Tully, Stephen (2008), The Human Right to Access Clean Energy. Journal of Green Building, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 140-148.
- Yadav, K. (2010) Communities in Nepal exercise right to power: New DTE report, climate email list post, 5 May