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The justice and equity implications of the clean
energy transition
Sanya Carley
✉ and David M. Konisky
The transition to lower-carbon sources of energy will inevitably produce and, in many cases, perpetuate pre-existing sets of
winners and losers. The winners are those that will benefit from cleaner sources of energy, reduced emissions from the removal
of fossil fuels, and the employment and innovation opportunities that accompany this transition. The losers are those that will
bear the burdens, or lack access to the opportunities. Here we review the current state of understanding—based on a rapidly
growing body of academic and policy literature—about the potential adverse consequences of the energy transition for specific
communities and socio-economic groups on the frontlines of the transition. We review evidence about just transition policies
and programmes, primarily from cases in the Global North, and draw conclusions about what insights are still needed to understand the justice and equity dimensions of the transition, and to ensure that no one is left behind.
he urgency of the current energy transition from a fossil-fuel
based global economy to one powered by cleaner, low- to
no-carbon sources has been emphasized in recent reports
from climate scientists1. An important dimension of this transition
is that, without specific efforts made to ensure an equitable transition, not everyone will benefit equally. The need to incorporate
distributional considerations into energy and climate policy has
long been embedded in international climate agreements through
concepts such as common but differentiated responsibilities and
intergenerational equity, and is also reflected in recent proposals,
such as calls for a Green New Deal in the US. The Green New
Deal specifically embeds equity and social justice within climate
change mitigation goals, and emphasizes commitments to job
training and economic development support for individuals and
communities that might be adversely affected by a transition to
new sources of energy.
While one can debate the technical feasibility and
cost-effectiveness of such a proposal, the Green New Deal and similar proposals highlight the need for energy justice to the public.
There are still innumerable gaps, however, in our collective understanding of how deep the inequalities associated with the energy
transition are, exactly who is on the frontlines, what is currently in
place to assist individuals and communities through the transition,
whether everyone has the opportunity to serve as a stakeholder
in decision-making processes and how to design effective programmes. In this way, there is both enormous potential to advance
our collective understanding of the adverse consequences of the
energy transition, and opportunities for scholars to provide basic
scientific research to inform future policymaking.
In this piece, we review the inter-related literatures on energy justice and a just transition, and ask how some communities may be—
and, in many cases, are already—affected by the energy transition.
Our coverage of the topic extends beyond a consideration of those
displaced from the decline of the fossil fuel industry, and is inclusive
of others that are also on the frontlines of the clean energy transition. Our objective is to raise a series of topics that, upon expanded,
continual, rigorous evaluation, can contribute key insights into why,
how and where to design energy justice programmes, and integrate
these programmes into broader energy and climate policy efforts.
Although many of the topics that we raise are present across the
world, the majority of the literature that we draw on is related to the
Global North.
We find that disparities are prevalent in the distribution of benefits and burdens from the energy transition, as well as in the opportunities for engagement and leadership. While those who work in
legacy energy industries will be adversely affected, a demographic
most commonly identified in the just transition literature, the
energy transition will also potentially affect low-income communities and communities of colour by exacerbating energy insecurity,
and fail to extend opportunities for engagement and technological
access to disadvantaged groups. While jurisdictions are beginning
to roll out policies to address these disparities, the literature on such
policy efforts, and the extent to which they mitigate disparities, is
still under-developed.
Energy transition, energy justice and a just transition
An energy transition refers to the shift from one dominant energy
resource—or set of resources—to another. Historic examples
include the replacement of whale oil with kerosene in the late 19th
Century, and the transition from wood to coal during the Industrial
Revolution. The modern energy transition is marked by a decline in
fossil fuels, most significantly coal, to lower-carbon energy resources
such as wind, solar and natural gas. Although energy transitions in
which one resource is completely replaced by another are rare, if not
unprecedented2, it is more often the case that a transition is marked
by one resource starting with a small share and growing to a large
share of the energy mix. One definition is a shift from 5 to 80% of
energy consumption for a specific energy resource or technology3.
The energy transition literature is robust and growing. While
earlier studies focused on the pace of the energy transition3–6, the
literature has evolved to discuss variations in transition pathways7
and both the positive and negative impacts of the transition on
households. As part of this evolution, studies have highlighted that
transitions inevitably produce winners and losers, and a consideration of the inclusivity and distributional aspects of the transition
is paramount.
Energy justice is a modern branch of environmental justice,
although distinct in many regards, particularly in its focus on energy
Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA. ✉e-mail: scarley@indiana.edu
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systems and the full life-cycle of energy resources8,9, from extraction
to production to consumption to waste. Energy justice is centred
around the notion that all individuals should have access to energy
that is affordable, safe, sustainable and able to sustain a decent lifestyle, as well as the opportunity to participate in and lead energy
decision-making processes with the authority to make change10,11.
The energy justice literature features three core tenets12,13. First,
distributional justice refers to distribution of benefits and burdens
across populations, and an objective to ensure that some populations do not receive an inordinate share of the burdens or are denied
access to the benefits. Second, procedural justice focuses on who is
included in energy decision-making processes and seeks to ensure
that energy procedures are fair, equitable and inclusive of all who
choose to participate14. Third, recognition justice requires an understanding of historic and ongoing inequalities, and prescribes efforts
that seek to reconcile these inequalities15. Some add a fourth tenet,
restorative justice, proponents of which advocate for using government or other intervention to either avoid distributional, recognitional, or procedural injustices, or to correct for them16. Pulling
from these objectives, a comprehensive energy justice framework
can be said to include energy availability and access, affordability,
due process, accountability and transparency, and both inter- and
intra-generational equity17,18.
The notion of a ‘just transition’—although owing its origins to
the US labour movement in the late 1990s—sits at the intersection
between the energy transition and energy justice bodies of literature, and establishes the importance of equity and justice in the
planning, implementation, and assessment of every socio–energy
system change that shapes the energy transition. In order to pursue a just transition, the literature argues, government and other
stakeholders such as non-profits and private industry must work
to redistribute welfare so as to avoid undue burden on any specific
population and provide sufficient energy services to all, and also to
provide an adequate safety net for all populations, especially those
most marginalized or burdened19,20.
Justice implications of the energy transition
A diverse range of scholars have published studies that highlight
ways in which the energy transition is already affecting adversely
individuals, households and communities across the world.
The effects are typically manifested as the infliction of excessive burden or a lack of access to energy transition opportunities. In this section, we connect this literature, and provide a comprehensive review
of how the energy transition affects individuals, households and communities on the frontlines. Our focus is on the Global North, taking
many examples from the US, although it is important to emphasize
that similar issues, in different ways, exist in the Global South as well.
Disproportionate burden. The environmental justice literature has
provided a detailed account of how the negative externalities of certain facilities, infrastructure or other locally unwanted land-uses disproportionately affect surrounding communities. In both developed
and developing country settings, decades of research has shown that
people of colour and those with lower incomes experience more of
these burdens21. Consider, for example, communities that reside
next to a coal ash pond, and the deleterious consequences for those
communities in the event of a pond spill; or those that reside next to
highways and inhale a much larger concentration of tail-pipe emissions. The energy justice literature features an analogue related to
the energy transition: low-carbon energy technologies also produce
negative externalities that will be borne disproportionately by those
located next to the facilities22,23. Examples include noise disruptions
or ‘shadow flicker’ from wind turbines24 or unpleasant smells, traffic and air pollution from landfill facilities24. Studies have found
that these negative externalities are disproportionately experienced
by certain populations, such as in the case of wind by more rural
and less educated populations, whereas a larger share of the benefits are borne by urban populations. None of this is to discount,
however, the well-established environmental and health benefits of
a shift away from the extraction and use of fossil fuels. The negative impacts of clean energy technology siting on local populations
pale in comparison to communities, often predominantly people
of colour and/or low-income, that experience the disproportionate
effects of fossil fuel operations, such as mining, power plant and
mobile source pollution.
Another consequence of the energy transition is a decline of
carbon-intensive energy resources, as well as the industries that
produce these resources. The coal mining industry and those that
support coal-based electricity production, for example, will lose
market share and employment opportunities. Former coal industry
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Credit: Barcroft Media/Getty Images
employees may be able to find replacement jobs, where they are
offered, but often with a sacrifice: either with a lower salary25 that
introduce skills and wage gaps, or with a requirement to commute long distances to find employment opportunities since coal
jobs and replacement renewable energy jobs26 or other, non-energy
jobs27 may not align geographically. While there is ample evidence
that clean energy industries provide more job opportunities than
fossil fuel industries28,29, a decline of coal and other fossil fuel jobs
nonetheless significantly affects those that held the jobs, as well as
the economies in which they reside30. Meanwhile, pension funds
through the coal industry are severely underfunded due to the economic decline of the industry31.
The economic and social consequences of such labour disruptions are broader than individual job losses32–34. Studies in
Appalachia27 and Australia35 for example have found that, as a result
of coal mining or power plant operation closures, surrounding communities experience a significant loss of other retail and commercial
employment, since laid-off coal industry employees reduce their
demand for other local services and commodities. Power plants and
mining operations are also often located in remote counties or in
isolated locations of counties and are associated with a lower percentage of adults with college education and greater income volatility36. The boom and bust nature of coal mining, paired with the
mono-industrial composition of coal mining regions, may suppress
small business formation and cause people to move away from
such regions37.
Coal industry closures also affect adversely the local tax revenue
base, which can compromise not only the coal industry employees
that lose their jobs but also the entire communities in which the
industries once resided (see, for example, Haggerty et al.36 for evidence of tax revenue erosion in the West and Jolley et al.25 for findings from Adams County, Ohio). In Boone County, West Virginia,
a centre of US coal extraction, about one third of the county revenue is dependent on coal activities. The coal revenue funds their
county commission, trash pick-up, health department, county jail
and public transportation as well as contributing funding statewide
education. As coal mining production decreased from 2012 to 2015
in the region, Boone County’s budget declined by 45% and, between
2012 and 2017, it closed three out of its ten schools, laid off at least
70 teachers, and made cuts to public services such as its solid waste
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programme31,37. Haggerty et al.36 find that communities that are destined to suffer from such circumstances are often unprepared with
alternative plans for retraining, economic development and revitalization. It is important to note, however, that the economic costs of
fossil fuel job and revenue decreases may be offset by the benefits of
cleaner air and water for these communities.
The social implications for communities that lose their main
industrial base are also immense. Research in Appalachia27 and
Utah38 in the US, and Lithgow in Australia34 reveals that loss of coal
and coal employment also compromises the culture and sense of
both place and identity of these regions and their inhabitants. Since
coal mining is a profession that is often passed down from generation to generation, and the coal industry can be such a present
element of day-to-day community events (for example, children’s
sporting events and local parades), the decline of coal represents
for some a loss of either personal or community identity, or both, as
well as an individual’s sense of place. In such regions, families have
been forced to renegotiate their social structures when former, predominantly male coal miners take new jobs that require significant
travel and female and other household members must take new jobs
to help support the family27.
While the majority of discussions about a ‘just transition’ tend
to focus on employment losses in legacy industries—and more specifically coal miners—studies document another form of personal
hardship related to the energy transition: enhanced energy insecurity. It is possible that the energy transition will result in a higher
cost of energy, at least in the short- and medium-term, due to the
need to cover new infrastructure and technology costs, for example,
for smart meters, power lines and battery storage technologies. If
the costs of energy rise, it will disproportionately harm those that
already pay a large share of their income on energy and do not have
extra income to absorb higher bills.
In the US, on average, urban low-income and African American
households, respectively, spend 7.2% and 5.4% of their income on
energy utilities39. Rural US households, on average, spend 4.4%,
while rural low-income, elderly, non-white, and renting populations pay much larger percentages. Rural low-income residents,
for example, pay 9%40. In contrast, urban higher income residents
pay 2.3% and the average for all households is 3.3%39. Other measures of energy insecurity reveal similarly concerning trends. As of
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2015, 31% of Americans reported difficulty paying their household
energy bills or maintaining adequate temperatures in their house;
20% reported that, due to high energy bills, it is necessary to forego
buying other necessary household items such as food; and 14%
reported that they have faced the threat of disconnection from their
electric utility41. Approximately half of all US households that face
energy insecurity—that is, the inability of a household to adequately
meet energy consumption needs—are African American39.
Many studies based in Organization for Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD) countries, such as New Zealand42, present
similar statistics. Some OECD countries such as Greece have much
higher rates of energy insecurity43; and many developing countries
not only have high proportions of their population that have difficulty paying for basic energy services, but also have a portion of their
population that simply lacks access to any modern energy sources
whatsoever. These statistics reveal that energy costs produce a significant financial burden for some households, and require many to
confront difficult trade-offs such as ‘heat or eat’ financial decisions
and an increasing likelihood of electric utility disconnection. All of
these consequences have the potential to compromise mental and
physical health, and lead to further personal hardships42,44,45.
Studies find that low-income households and households of
colour are more likely to live in energy inefficient dwelling units,
have inefficient appliances, or poorer structural building conditions, all of which requires more energy to heat or cool to adequate
living conditions39,46,47. These conditions both exacerbate energy
insecurity and, where the costs of energy rise as a result of the
energy transition, these populations may be further disproportionately burdened, and potentially face more severe circumstances
such as utility financial burden and the threat of utility disconnection47–50. In addition, as climate change continues to alter weather
patterns, and affect residential thermal conditions, vulnerability
toward energy insecurity may continue to grow51,52. For example,
hotter summers and more excessive heat days will likely increase
the amount of time that people use fans or run their air conditioners, which can in turn increase their energy bills53,54. This example
highlights the possibility that climate change has the potential to
exacerbate energy justice concerns over time.
Lack of access to energy transition opportunities. The justice
implications of the energy transition are not exclusively attributed to
an uneven distribution of burdens. Potential benefits of the transition—including but not limited to new employment opportunities,
involvement in decision-making processes, and access to advanced,
low-carbon and efficient technologies—are also unevenly spread
across populations, as well as across socioeconomic groups.
As discussed above, as the energy transition facilitates a shift
toward more efficient and lower-carbon energy resources, employment opportunities in related fields will increase, including jobs
in manufacturing, construction and installation, operations and
maintenance, sales and distribution, fuel extraction and supply, and
transmission. Although it is difficult to generate accurate potential
‘green economy’ employment predictions, studies from across the
world provide evidence that net employment will increase due to
renewable energy and energy efficiency development55,56, and policies that are in place to facilitate a lower-carbon economy49. Recent
reports demonstrate that employment in low-carbon energy industries is rising. As of 2017, renewable energy industries employed
about 10.3 million people across the world, up from 7.14 million
in 201257. Approximately 33% of these jobs are concentrated in the
solar photovoltaic industry and 19% in the liquid biofuels industry57. In the US, one study estimates that, as of 2016, the energy
efficiency, wind and solar industries represented approximately 1.3
million jobs, whereas the coal industry had approximately 160,000
jobs22. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine service technicians will be the
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two fastest growing occupations in the US over the next decade, and
will far outpace any other occupation58.
Despite this notable growth in employment opportunities in
the clean energy economy, energy jobs are infrequently held by
women and people of colour, as is also traditionally the case with
fossil fuel industries. Within the 2018 US solar industry workforce,
for example, 26.3% were women and 7.6% were black or African
American, both percentages that are well below the national average for all occupations59 (although similar to fossil fuel industries;
for example, 15% of the oil and gas industry workforce is female)60.
Similarly, women and black or African Americans, respectively,
represent 24% and 8% of the US energy efficiency workforce61.
Reports from Europe62, and surveys conducted across the world
by the International Renewable Energy Agency, also confirm that
women tend to hold somewhere between than 30% and 35% of
jobs in renewable energy industries. These female-held jobs tend to
be lower paid, and more administrative, non-technical and public
relations oriented, than jobs in the same industries held by male
As discussed above, one tenet of energy justice is procedural justice, which refers to the fairness of energy processes
as well as equitable opportunities for participation in energy
decision-making processes. Several studies have revealed that
decision-making procedures involving the energy transition are
not currently inclusive of communities that host the new infrastructure, such as in cases of wind turbine siting in Canada64 and
the US23, and indigenous populations and their involvement in
wind energy development in Mexico65,66. These cases persist
despite significant evidence that public participation can lend
important local knowledge, inform policy or other solutions67,
and lead local citizens to perceive the result of decisions more
positively. One study on US wind turbine siting, for instance,
found that when citizens that live near the turbines believe that
the planning process was fair, they are more likely to perceive
positive benefits of the turbines, and vice versa23.
Nor are decision-making processes always inclusive of citizens and consumers writ large, or involve them in the leadership
of and planning for such processes. This is especially the case for
low-income people and people of colour. For an example, consider
citizen involvement in US utility commission and Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission decisions22. Even in those 43 US states that
have a consumer advocate that can participate in public utility commission cases, the role of this representative is typically to advocate
for low rates, not an equitable distribution of welfare22.
Researchers have also identified many cases in which access to
low-carbon and efficient technologies that accompany the energy
transition is not universal and, in most cases, is exclusively seized
by higher income households. Scholars have drawn such conclusions about low-emissions and electric vehicles68,69, residential solar
photovoltaic panels70,71, community solar72, smart meters73, efficient
appliances74 and LED lightbulbs75. This lack of technological availability or access across all demographics is typically attributed to
the high upfront costs of these technologies, incentives for purchase
of the technologies that reduce eligibility of those that do not have
strong credit or do not pay taxes, for example, and a misalignment
between required installation and use of the technology with living
conditions (for example, rental properties).
This collective body of literature that documents both the disproportionate burden and the lack of access to opportunities has
significantly expanded our understanding of the justice implications of a clean energy transition; but much is still unknown about
the magnitude and geographic distribution of these problems. In
the US context, several surveys such as the American Housing
Survey and the Residential Energy Consumption Survey, measure
some of these concepts and provide estimates of the magnitude of
energy poverty. However, there exists no comprehensive, annual or
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geographically explicit data collection efforts that enable scholars,
practitioners and policymakers to understand exactly who suffers
from these inequalities, to what degree and where they are located76.
Also, how do these burdens or lack of opportunities affect other
aspects of one’s life, as well as communities at large? In addition to
these questions about vulnerability, important questions arise about
potential solutions. In the next section, we review the literature on
what policies, programmes and other efforts can help address some
of the disparities reviewed above, and to help facilitate an inclusive
and just transition.
Building adaptive capacity
Scholars have made a case for policy and business interventions
to ensure a just transition. There are, at a minimum, five different types of efforts that could address some of the disparities discussed above: workforce and economic diversification programmes;
energy assistance and weatherization; expansion of energy technology access; collective action initiatives; and new business development77. We discuss each in turn, following two important notes.
First, the literature on just transitions tends to feature policies that
directly address adverse outcomes of the energy transition, such as
coal workforce transition programmes. However, a broader set of
policies, including some that are outside traditional notions of a
just transition, are also important to consider given that the energy
transition may exacerbate pre-existing disparities, such as energy
insecurity. Second, pursuit of a just transition does not prescribe a
specific set of policies and processes; rather, it encourages a shared
vision and inclusive planning and decision-making that involve all
affected actors in a way that is tailored to local circumstances78.
Workforce and economic diversification programmes support workforce training, job development and regional economic
transition for those communities that have historically relied on
the fossil fuel industry as the main source of employment. The
US Congressionally-funded Partnerships for Opportunity and
Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative
administered through the Appalachian Regional Commission,
Europe’s Just Transition Mechanism, the US Just Transition Fund
and the Alberta, Canada’s Coal Workforce Transition Fund and
Coal Community Transition Fund are examples of programmes
that seek to provide assistance to coal workers and communities.
Economic diversification programmes may create special economic
zones that provide incentives for new businesses, such as those supported by the Australian Council of Trade Unions79.
Assistance programmes improve the affordability of energy
services, typically through bill subsidies and support for those facing legal challenges with utility companies. Energy efficiency and
weatherization programmes help improve the efficiency of a dwelling unit. Efficiency programmes provide home audits and efficient light-bulbs, for example, while weatherization programmes
improve the overall efficiency of a home through window sealing
and insulation, as two examples. In the US, the federal government
provides energy assistance through the Low Income Home Energy
Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and weatherization support through
the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). Utility regulatory
commissions in most states also mandate utilities to use ratepayer
dollars to fund low-income energy efficiency programmes and bill
assistance programmes; these programmes tend to operate parallel to, if not in coordination with, WAP programmes. Ratepayer
supported programmes such as these account for about half of all
low-income energy assistance, as of 201639. In addition to abiding
by any relevant state-mandated utility shut-off protection programmes80, utilities may also help customers through the provision
of level-billing, by waiving or eliminating late fees, and through
debt-forgiveness or flexible deferred payment programmes50.
Technology access programmes aim to build energy efficient
and renewable energy infrastructure and extend these resources to
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marginalized communities. Jurisdictions—as well as utilities—across
the country are rolling out such programmes. Examples include
the state of Washington’s Solar Plus programme, which applies US
Department of Energy grant funds to deploy community-owned
solar for the state’s low-income communities; the use of earmarking incentives for specific demographics, such as Sacramento,
California’s mandate that 35% of all Volkswagen settlement funds
for electric vehicles go toward a Community Car Share programme
that serves low-income residents; Colorado’s community solar programme, which reserves 5% of all projects for low-income residents;
and San Diego Gas & Electric’s Power Your Drive programme,
which is deploying thousands of charging stations in traditionally
underserved neighbourhoods and locations. Several authors have
noted the importance of providing purchase incentives that are
not exclusively tied to income or property taxes, since low-income
households tend to pay lower taxes, if they qualify for taxes at all68,81.
Others offer community solar as one possible solution, which allows
solar installers to share the cost of the system and avoid the need to
provide a roof on a home that they may not own72.
Collective action initiatives seek to provide community education and awareness about energy issues and the local impacts that
they may produce, as well as engage members of the community
in decision-making processes. An example is Community Energy
Scotland82, which provides support for community energy project development. Another example is the Inclusive Financing for
Energy Savings programme, run by a US non-profit, which provides
financing and hosts stakeholder sessions to build community and
utility demand for energy efficiency upgrades or renewable energy
Business interventions may include energy innovation or new
business model opportunities, especially those that provide energy
efficiency services; appeal to the case that sustainability within business can be profitable; and typically focus on extending access to technologies, jobs and energy services, but rarely on addressing energy
insecurity82–84. To our knowledge, no studies provide an assessment
of, or guidance for, integrated policy and business approaches.
While the literature has started to identify the policies and programmes that help facilitate a just transition, few studies evaluate the
effects and effectiveness of programmes that are already in place83, or
extend lessons learned. In the US context, only a few studies evaluate the efficacy of WAP84–86 or LIHEAP50,87,88. These studies generally confirm that the assistance programmes achieve their desired
outcomes, but typically not as efficiently as they could and often at
the neglect of those that are most in need. In 2008, the most recent
year of analysis, the WAP served 97,965 dwelling units and saved the
average unit 29.3 MMBTUs, for an average cost per unit of US$4,700
compared to environmental and health benefits of US$22,000 and
total savings across all units of US$420 million85,86. Additional benefits reported by WAP participants—and reaffirmed by studies on
weatherization in other countries89,90 —include better health, less
draftiness, less thermal stress and fewer days of work missed86. In
2014, LIHEAP distributed approximately US$3.4 billion across 6.3
million households for heating assistance and winter crisis relief91.
These diverse benefits, however, are accompanied by many challenges to the implementation and impact of the programmes. First,
both the WAP and the LIHEAP are significantly underprovided50,85
Approximately. 35 million households were eligible for the WAP in
2008, but only 0.3% of those benefited from it85; of the approximately
38.5 million households eligible for LIHEAP in 2013, only 16%
received assistance91. Second, WAP participation rates are low due
to the onerous application process, the split incentive between landlords and renters84, distrust of government among homeowners84, a
lack of perceived importance of energy efficiency over other issues84,
the need to meet certain housing safety conditions before WAP
application, and, in the case of those that reside in US Department
of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing, the need for
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Credit: Jeff Hu
residents to secure preapproval81 through HUD. Third, the eligibility requirements of the LIHEAP, and specifically the asset tests
imposed by some states, regressively restrict access87. Fourth, those
that implement the WAP have struggled to ensure health and safety
conditions in homes, maintain consistent work quality85 across those
that weatherize the homes, and avoid fraudulent activities91.
Few studies evaluate the efficacy and implementation of other
types of assistance programmes, and especially those outside of the
US context. The literature is also silent on the distribution of such
efforts, and whether the regions that are most in need have targeted
programmes. Although energy injustices tend to be specific to place,
and one should expect immense variation across space in the nature
of disparities and potential mitigation programmes for frontline
communities, empirical reflection on best practices could provide at
least some general guidance for the practitioner and scholarly communities. The literature is, however, conspicuously void of large or
comparative studies on energy assistance programmes.
It is also important to highlight that other social assistance programmes, though not explicitly designed to address issues of energy,
are connected to energy justice through their efforts to improve
general social welfare. For instance, according to Hernández and
Bird, energy insecurity is significantly higher than most policymakers might assume, and a coordinated energy and housing assistance
effort is necessary to target such energy insecurity50. There is also
emerging literature on the intersection between health, housing and
energy efficiency92. Intersections between energy assistance and
other assistance such as through, in the US case, the Supplemental
Assistance Nutrition Program or the Temporary Assistance for
Needy Families programme, and how receipt of such services may
affect energy behaviour and security, is virtually unexplored in the
current literature, especially through systematic empirical analysis
of individual and household wellbeing.
The literature is similarly nascent on the effects, effectiveness
and lessons learned from technology access programmes. Is it better, for example, to target underrepresented groups through one
type of policy instrument over another (for example, earmarks
for financial incentives versus incentives designed exclusively for
low-income residents)? Do carve-out programmes for solar access
in low-income communities successfully reach their target populations? Studies that highlight exemplar programs of renewable
energy and energy efficiency provision programmes93, and key
strategies for successful programme implementation (https://
www.lowincomesolar.org/)94 stress the importance of leveraging
multiple funding streams, building partnerships including those
with the local community, designing predictable policies, seeking
low-hanging and highly cost-effective interventions, and prioritizing quality control and training.
The literature on workforce training and economic diversification programmes argues the importance of both short-term and
long-term interventions, as well as a diversified assistance programme that includes retraining and relocation support, income to
support individuals through retraining, guaranteed pensions and
community-level transition programmes31,79. For example, the state
government of Victoria, Australia, provides both short-term and
long-term assistance: short-term financial relief and psychological
counselling for those that lose their jobs and long-term retraining
and education assistance. It also seeks to attract new business development through business incentives79.
Additional lessons emerge from the literature on workforce
training and economic diversification. First, while programmes
can be run by any level of government, studies have found that programmes are perceived as more successful when they are led by local
stakeholders and are bottom-up, rather than state or national initiatives48,79. Second, and closely related, studies highlight the importance of open dialogue with the affected population in building
solutions and facilitating inclusion in decision-making processes.
Such engagement, in turn, will facilitate trust among stakeholders79.
Third, efforts that involve collaboration and coordination among
different levels of government as well as different stakeholders will
be more successful48,79,95. Finally, studies highlight the importance
of early detection of vulnerability so as to ensure adequate time and
preparation for just transition programmes95.
Moving forward. Scholars from disciplines spanning the social
sciences are increasingly focused on important distributional questions related to the ongoing energy transition. In this Review, we
have taken stock of this emerging research on energy justice and the
just transition, which collectively are advancing our understanding of the nature of disproportionate burdens, gaps in access to
new technologies, and efforts to enhance adaptive capacity to help
Nature Energy | VOL 5 | August 2020 | 569–577 | www.nature.com/natureenergy
Review Article
NaTure EnerGy
burdened frontline communities cope with large economic, social
and cultural changes.
One important theme that emerges is that the adverse effects of
an energy transition toward cleaner sources of energy has implications far beyond the fate of coal miners. This is not to suggest
that attention to coal miners and coal mining communities is unimportant, only that other segments of society are also on the ‘frontlines’ of the transition, and that much of the public and political
discourse tends to have too narrow an emphasis. Often overlooked,
for example, are non-extractive communities that rely on coal, such
as communities that host coal-fired power plants. Although there
are immensely important health and environmental benefits—
both local and societal—of shutting down these power plants, they
have historically provided high-wage jobs and substantial local tax
revenue, and their retirement will likely create economic hardship. Communities whose economies are closely linked to oil may
experience similar economic impacts in the future, including not
just communities reliant on oil extraction, but also those whose
economies and labour forces are based in oil-related industries,
such as manufacturing and assembly plants for combustion engine
automobiles. Also on the frontlines are communities vulnerable to
potential increases in electricity and other energy prices—and with
insufficient energy housing conditions that will only worsen with
the effects of climate change—which will likely exacerbate existing
energy insecurity. These examples illustrate that just transition and
energy justice issues affect diverse populations.
The research described in this Review reveals important existing findings, but additional scholarship is necessary to better identify the nature and extent of burdens and benefits from the energy
transition, and how they vary across different segments of society.
In general, it is vital that analyses of climate change mitigation and
adaptation policies, as well as other initiatives intended to hasten
a global energy transition, comprehensively evaluate distributional
impacts. Typically, such analyses focus on questions of efficiency
and cost effectiveness, with distributional issues, if addressed at all,
done only in a secondary manner.
Among the key research questions that require further attention is how to make renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies more widely-accessible, especially to those with limited
income? Of specific need is the identification and evaluation of
promising models, including public and non-profit programmes
and public-private partnerships, that specifically aim to expand
access to these technologies. In addition, there exist few formal,
careful evaluations of energy assistance efforts to mitigate energy
insecurity. Important inquiries that remain include what ways and
to what degree can energy assistance, legal support and weatherization programmes help alleviate energy poverty; how the design
of such programmes can be improved to reach a greater number
of households in need; and how energy programmes can best be
coupled with housing and health programmes to target common
causes of material hardship and personal health. Similarly, there has
not been careful analysis of the efficacy of workforce development
and training programmes aimed at workers displaced by the energy
transition, as well as efforts to diversify the economies of communities dependent on the extraction of what will be legacy energy
sources. For example, we know little about which specific economic
diversification approaches work well in regions that formerly relied
heavily on coal mining or power plant operations as a source of
employment. More extensive and cross-disciplinary research can
help address these issues, as well as inform decisions about how to
prioritize efforts and how to manage trade-offs.
Changes of the scale that come with an energy transition inevitably create winners and losers. As countries and the international
community continue to devise strategies to transform their energy
economies as part of efforts to address climate change, it is imperative
that such efforts incorporate justice considerations. The scholarly
Nature Energy | VOL 5 | August 2020 | 569–577 | www.nature.com/natureenergy
community has an important role to play in assuring that efforts
are evidence-based and grounded in the experience of individuals,
households and communities that will be most affected. This is a
big challenge that will require multi- and inter-disciplinary research
employing varied research designs conducted at different scales.
The magnitude of the challenge is large, but so too are the opportunities for moving scholarly inquiry and policy forward.
Received: 27 November 2019; Accepted: 21 May 2020;
Published online: 12 June 2020
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This project was supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, funded by Indiana
University’s Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge initiative.
Competing interests
The authors declare no competing interests.
Additional information
Correspondence should be addressed to S.C.
Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in
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© Springer Nature Limited 2020
Page |1
Student Worksheet: Analyzing a Journal Article
Identify a journal article and answer the following questions. Review the “Paraphrasing” module as
needed to help you understand how to paraphrase to avoid plagiarism.
Your name: _____________________________________________ Date: __________________________
Journal article title: ___________________________________________________________
Step 1. What is the purpose/hypothesis/aim/objective of the study?
a. Write down the exact statement in which the
authors describe what they were testing. (Hint:
This information may be provided in the article as
a purpose statement or as a hypothesis). Include
quotation marks around the exact wording, and
indicate page number(s).
b. Now describe the purpose of the study (as you
understand it) in your own words.
c. What was the “gap” in the research that the
authors were trying to fill by doing their study?
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Step 2. What is/are the major finding(s) of the study?
a. Make some notes about the authors’ major
conclusions or findings as written in the article.
Include quotation marks whenever you use their
exact wording, and indicate page number(s).
b. Now write those conclusions (as you
understand them) in your own words.
Step 3. How did the authors test their hypothesis?
a. Briefly summarize the main steps or
measurements that the authors used in their
methods. Try to explain in your own words as
much as possible.
b. Do the authors suggest any problems or
limitations with their methodology? Do you see
any problems or limitations with their
c. How did the authors analyse their data? What
test/s did they use?
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Step 4. How reliable are the results?
a. Do the authors suggest any problems with the
study that could lead to unreliable results?
Step 5. Based on your analysis, are the claims
made in this journal article accurate?
a. Do the conclusions made (about the results) by
the author make sense to you? Are the
conclusions too broad or too narrow based on
what was actually done in the study?
b. Based on the accuracy of the methodology and
the reliability of the results as described in Steps 3
and 4, do you think the conclusions can be
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Step 6. What is the importance of this scientific work?
a. Write (in your own words) the significant
contributions of the experimental work in this
journal article as reported by the authors.
b. Re-read your notes and explain why you think
this is
o a strong or weak scientific article
o a strong or weak scientific study
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