This week Michael LaBelle is providing a link with the Sustainable Development Goals and the changes we are making to our energy system. Why is this important? Climate change is altering both how we live and the natural resources we rely on. From water shortages, phasing out fossil fuels to the race for rare Earth minerals for fueling the energy transition. How we utilize natural resources is changing not only how we heat our homes, but what powers our cars. The impact – as I will discuss today – is on adapting our energy system to ensure a sustainable development path is built.
The topics that are addressed are:
- Decoupling Energy and Development
- Energy and Sustainable Development
- Energy and Humane Development
The work and these reflections stem from collaboration between Professor LaBelle and with Professors Tekla Szep and Geza Tot. There are different publications coming out over the next year or so on these topics.
Essentially there are two different perspectives on the energy transition we are developing. One lens provides a view through linking the Human Development Index with energy consumption and the second lens links the Sustainable Development Goals with energy consumption. Taken together, as Professor LaBelle outlines today, we reach a deeper understanding into ‘energy well-being’ which defines how our economies grow while delivering the benefits of economic development to people.
Remember it is the energy system that serves humanity, not humans serving the energy system. The energy transition must be about a fair and equitable readjustment for all of society.
About the AuthorDr. Michael LaBelle is an associate professor at Central European University. He holds a joint appointment between the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy and the Department of Economics and Business. He founded the MyEnergy2050 website to change how we communicate and implement the energy transition.
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By Michael LaBelle — 3 months ago
This week we speak with Ana Stojilovska, an energy poverty researcher, who just received her PhD from Central European University, Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy.
And full disclosure before we get going. Michael was Ana’s PhD supervisor.
Ana’s research really goes to the heart of the divisions in Europe around energy poverty. Her thesis, ‘Synergies between heating and energy poverty – the injustice of heat’ tackles how people attempt and afford to heat their homes in North Macedonia and Austria. Her research shows two widely different approaches to assisting – or not – people to heat their homes. She really underscores the role that state institutions play in setting the price of heat, but also assisting homeowners to pay their bills.
As you’ll her from our discussion, the right to heat emerges as a fundamental human right. We first get into Ana’s questioning why her family only heated one room when she was growing up in Skopje. This may sound odd to some, but for many families in former Communist countries, this is still a common practice today.
She decided to pursue a PhD after she was spurred on by her NGO experience and after receiving a Masters in European Studies. Seven years ago, she applied to CEU’s PhD program. And, as they say, the rest is history. For the past six years, Michael and Ana have been working together.
Ana has been a great inspiration for learning new research methods – like phoning up thousands of people in Vienna. As you’ll hear, Ana has a sincere dedication to her research. And for anyone that reads one of her five or six articles she’s published while doing her thesis, there is great depth to her data collection. The outcome of her research is: Energy poverty is representative of deeper misalignments in state institutions and it is the people who bear the social and economic cost of state failures.
By Michael LaBelle — 5 months ago
This week we speak with Raphael Heffron, Professor for Global Energy Law & Sustainability at the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy at the University of Dundee. He is well known for his publications on energy justice.
In October Palgrave Macmillan will be publishing his book, The Challenge for Energy Justice, Correcting Human Rights Abuses. I didn’t know this when asking him about the podcast, but we are treated to a sneak peek into how he is outlining the connection between respect and fulfillment of Human Rights and the energy transition.
Our discussion first addresses the shifts and importance of energy law. Raphael describes how oil and gas law shifted from focusing on building projects to now considering decommissioning of assets. Economic development is viewed both as delivering on societal goals, but not through fossil fuels. In fact, Raphael draws on research to make the point that fossil fuels increase inequity in society, and do not deliver a fair and just transition.
We have an in-depth discussion on the normative framings of law and energy justice being rooted in the historical evolution of fossil fuels, from safety issues to child welfare – all still relevant today.
For those listeners not knowledgeable in the area of energy law or justice, I suggest sticking with us through this discussion, as we do break down what normativism is and how it works in the legal system. The normative stance is connected to universal human rights being respected regardless of where an individual lives.
Raphael is truly a leading thinker on the topic of energy law and justice. He provides us with an in-depth and well-thought-out framing of energy justice. A just energy transition is now in the policy lexicon, but as Raphael describes, there is a strong historical grounding of energy justice in legal framings which enable and require governments to respect human rights. Governments need to assert their responsibility to deliver energy technologies that are clean and provide access to all citizens.
By Michael LaBelle — 5 days ago
This week Michael LaBelle provides a rough description of why the EU has lost its soft power.
Rising gas prices, the military aggression of Russia, and rule of law breaches in former Communist states are heralding a new era for the EU. This ‘post-acquis’ era is marked by rising nationalism and populism which undermine the foundation of the EU’s soft power.
The question that needs to be answered is, ‘Why did the EU lose its soft power?’ This question cannot be answered without including the hard power of NATO.
The Post-Cold War environment saw NATO’s eastern expansion, which is now questioned by the hard military might of Russia. The expansion of democracy in former communist countries, once represented by EU membership, represents a new socio-political system expressing soft power. At the same time, the hard power of NATO also went East. Jointly, these institutions now are perceived to threaten the borders and sovereignty of Russia.
The EU has been slow, and even incapable of acting against its own member states who have discounted the democratic norms which are the foundation of the European Union. The EU’s soft power derives from a descriptive cultural experience of individual liberty and respect for human rights. The Cold War-era institutions of the Helsinki Commission, European Court of Human Rights, and others symbolize a common pursuit of both the Soviet and Western countries to establish common rights within Europe. Now, these institutions are sidelined as nationalists and populists reclaim sovereignty given over to these Cold War institutions, including the EU.
The EU’s Single Energy Market (SEM) was built and functioned as a place for companies and governments to ‘come and play’ (as Goldthau and Sitter state). Money could be made by neighboring countries selling gas and electricity by the rules within the SEM. However, over time, as competition and neoliberal rules took over from national governments’ long-term agreements with Russia, participation in the EU’s SEM was not a favorable place to play.
Gas is now near-enough, thanks to LNG and new pipelines, a global commodity. Russian gas is breaking the Soviet gas bridge and finding alternative buyers. For most companies and countries wanting to play in the SEM, there are other places to sell their gas. During the Cold War, gas was more than a commodity, it was a tool to build relations between the Soviet Union and Western (and even Eastern) countries. And to transfer money and technology. This was soft power at play. The Western European countries were attractive for their cash, knowledge, and business relations that could be developed over time (as described by Thane Gustafson in his book, The Bridge). Thus, gas, while a commodity was also a relational tool creating trust and commerce between two different political-economic systems.
The downgrading of gas to a mere commodity overseen by market rules and regulations favoring consumers, means producers are no longer incentivized to participate in a market that has strings attached. The SEM is described by scholars Goldthau and Sitter, as a soft power tool with a hard edge. Meaning the market is attractive to foreign and domestic entities who will play in the market, but there are hard rules and regulations which dictate how participation is done. For Russia in 2021 and 2022, participation is defined as satisfying contractual commitments, but not sending higher levels of ‘free’ gas to participate in the market.
The EU’s soft power is also undermined from within by member states. The growth of populism and nationalism delivers scathing blows against the legitimacy of the European project. NATO was a product of the Cold War – expressing hard power. But the EU is a product produced from World War Two seeking stability and being founded on a common platform of not only economic union, but also political and social union to prevent war between European countries. Therefore, the EU cannot be defined only through rules, regulations, and legislation, but through social and political norms that perceive democracy and individual liberty as foundational to society.
Breaches of the rule of law perceived to be happening in Hungary and Poland, and staggered efforts by the EU to reclaim a semblance of democratic norms in these countries, demonstrates an overly prescriptive governance system unable to have soft social and political norms genuinely accepted by these governments. For these two countries and others, negating the acquis that guided their EU membership by conforming legislation and social systems to an EU norm, meant sacrificing Communist practices of non-market economies and social control. Clearly, these historical practices have not disappeared.
In a post-acquis era, returning to Communist top-down political management appears to be the best way to deliver low-cost energy and societal control. There’s little space for fair elections or expression of individual rights. While the hard power of Russia may not appeal to the Polish government, the nationalistic and populistic tendencies are a return to a form of governance that the parties in power in both Hungary, Poland, and Russia appreciate. And, depending on how you count, over fifty percent of voters support this form. Legitimacy from the ground-up or from the top-down? For nationalists, there is no question. Why should the state be second to a multilateral governance organization preaching liberty with high energy prices? The soft power benefits that attract all three of these countries to the EU, whether the SEM or development funds, is not enough for them to give up historical practices of a nationalistic sovereign state.
The soft power of the EU, to be attractive while also persuading partners to be democratic and neoliberal in commerce is lost. The built-up EU institutions and mechanisms, seen in the SEM or the European Emission Trading System (ETS) provide stringent rules and regulations, not all member states are willing to abide by. Add to that democratic norms, such as respect for press freedom, then membership to the EU has a high cost.
Unfortunately, for the EU, holding soft power, means you can’t kick out those that do not play by your rules. But they can choose to leave. Russia (and the UK) decided they are better off not playing by the EU’s rules. For Hungary and Poland, they decided it’s better to stay in but pay no attention to the rules. For the EU, to build back its soft power, some hard power could be useful.
January 13, 2022