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Energy is a necessary condition for a dignified life. We need energy for fuel and electricity to cook our food, to have habitable homes and workplaces in hot and cold places, to ensure that everyone has access to basic services like health and education, to communicate and travel and to share and access information via the internet.
Yet our current energy system – the way we produce, distribute and consume energy – is unsustainable, unjust and harming communities, workers, the environment and the climate. This is fundamentally an issue of corporate and elite power and interests outweighing the power of ordinary citizens and communities.
This website is about the central problems with the current energy system; the drivers and logic that underpin these problems; the destructive impacts of the energy sources on which the system is primarily reliant (oil, gas and coal); and energy sources that are misleadingly put forward as ‘clean’ energy alternatives (nuclear power, industrial agrofuels and biomass, mega dams and waste-to-energy incineration).
You can learn about what Friends of the Earth International considers to be the main features of a just, sustainable climate-safe energy system, as well as some of the changes needed to get there.
We believe it is possible to build a new system which ensures access for everyone to sufficient energy to meet their basic needs for well-being and lives with dignity, while respecting diverse cultures and ways of life. An energy system where energy production and use support a safe climate, clean air, clean water, the protection of biodiversity, and healthy, thriving local economies that provide safe, decent and secure jobs and livelihoods with dignity for everyone.
This vision is guided by the principle of energy sovereignty – the right of people to have access to energy, and to choose sustainable energy sources and consumption patterns that will lead them towards sustainable societies and harmony with nature.
The ideas set out in this report are not set in stone. We believe transformation of the energy system is connected to transformation of the power structures and inequalities that underpin the exploitative, crisis-prone global economy. Further, we believe this transformation will only be possible if we can help to build a sufficient collective force to overcome the power of those interests that are and will continue to resist this transformation.
There is an urgent need for dialogue and alliance-building between those with an interest in transforming the energy system and those whose skills are needed to effect the transformation – affected communities, communities without energy, energy sector workers, climate campaigners, energy users, workers in energy-intensive industries, academics and technical specialists amongst others. This is Friends of the Earth International’s initial contribution to that conversation. We are keen to learn from and with others in the movement and change our perspectives in response, as we move forward together to create the world we want to see.
What is ‘Energy’?
The term energy has a number of different meanings. We use it to mean the fuel and electricity derived from a range of different sources including wood, fossil fuels, agrofuels, mega dams and nuclear power, and used for a wide range of human activities including heating, lighting, cooking, transport and industrial processes. It is connected to wider economic processes like the extraction of resources, the production and consumption of goods and services, and processes of technological development, and to the power relations which shape in whose interests all of these processes operate and who benefits and who pays. For this reason, energy can also be understood as a social relation. There are valid concerns that such a broad, abstract concept serves to hide and obscure the power relations, inequalities and injustices that the generation and use of energy involves. We aim to expose and elucidate some of these power relations, injustices and inequalities.
What is ‘renewable energy’?
We use the widely accepted definition of renewable energy: Energy that comes from resources which are continually replenished on a human timescale such as sunlight, wind, rainfall, tides, waves and geothermal heat.
What is ‘sustainable energy’?
An energy system based on renewable energy resources is not necessarily sustainable. More discussion to define sustainable energy is needed, but at a minimum, sustainable energy should mean renewable energy, in which generation, distribution and consumption contribute to human well-being, do not undermine fundamental human rights, and do not deplete or permanently damage the earth’s biodiversity, ecosystems and non-renewable resources.