You are here:
The global energy system has clear winners and losers, with the destructive impacts of the energy sources examined in the previous section impacting disproportionately on some groups in society, while other groups reap significant benefits from the system in terms of profits, power and access to energy. The main winners and losers from the current energy system are summarised below.
Who benefits the most?
Dirty energy companies and their financiers and investors: the owners, financiers, shareholders and senior executives of oil, gas and nuclear companies, coal mines, mega dams, waste-to-energy incineration plants, and industrial agrofuel and biomass plantations are the primary beneficiaries of harmful and destructive energy. These groups are comprised of a mix of private and state-owned multinational and national companies, private and institutional investors, and financial intermediaries such as banks, private equity funds and hedge funds.
Construction companies and their financiers and investors: the owners, financiers, shareholders and senior executives of construction companies profit from the construction of dirty energy infrastructure like mega dams, gas and oil platforms and pipelines, and waste-to-energy incinerators.
Energy-intensive companies and their financiers and investors: the owners, financiers, shareholders and senior executives of companies in energy-intensive industries such as chemicals, paper, ceramics, cement, iron, steel and aluminium benefit from the cheap energy made available to them from destructive energy sources and the increased profits they can generate from the products they produce as a result.
Governments and political elites of resource-rich countries: governments often take a share of the revenues from destructive energy production via production-sharing agreements and taxation. These shares are often significant and a major source of corruption, although often much smaller than the proportion of revenues taken by private corporations and investors, with some exceptions such as Norway, Venezuela and Bolivia.
Western companies, financiers and investors: despite much of the news propaganda asserting the increased role of Chinese state-owned companies in controlling natural resources in Africa, Asia and Latin America, it is still primarily Western companies, investors and financiers that benefit from the energy sector globally. For example, Western oil investments in Africa outstrip Chinese ventures by a factor of ten to onei.
National and private security firms: these generate significant revenues from their role in establishing new destructive energy projects and infrastructure, especially where there is significant local and community resistance. These actors then benefit from their ongoing role in ensuring the security of energy infrastructure like gas and oil pipelines platforms, nuclear power plants, and mega dams.
Wealthy consumers: wealthy consumers in the global North and the global South are among the few who are able to benefit from the supply of energy to meet their household needs and fuel the lifestyle and recreational activities like international travel that the current energy system provides to those who can afford it. Many people reading this report probably fall into this bracket.
Who pays the biggest price?
People in the global South: the vast majority of destructive and harmful energy projects and infrastructure is located outside of the advanced industrialised world, in resource-rich countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Much of the processing of dirty and harmful energy also happens in the global South, attracted by lower social and environmental standards and lower wages. As explored in chapter 4, the vast majority of people excluded from access to energy to meet their basic needs are also in the global South.
Women: of the people affected by destructive and harmful energy, women suffer a disproportionate impact in multiple ways. Women’s roles in the household division of labour are typically more dependent on common property resources like grazing lands, forests and water than those of men and they are impacted disproportionately by the removal of these common resources by destructive energy projects and infrastructure. In addition, energy exclusion has a disproportionate effect on women, especially in rural areas, as they are forced to spend large amounts of time and physical effort supplying fuel for their householdsii.
Indigenous Peoples and rural communities: much of the natural resource inputs for dirty and harmful energy are found in remote rural areas inhabited by Indigenous Peoples and rural communities in the global North and the global South who have often experienced significant historic exploitation and displacement. For example, in India the government estimates that 40 per cent of the people who have been displaced by dams are tribal peoplesiii. Very rarely do these people benefit from the energy produced in their territories as it is usually sold on to the global energy markets.
Ordinary workers in dirty energy industries: while the various companies involved in the dirty energy system mentioned above provide some high skilled, well paid and dignified jobs, the vast majority of jobs connected to the global energy system are badly paid, unsafe, sometimes life threatening, insecure, and require workers to spend long periods away from their families and communities.
Poor people: poor people are the primary victims of energy exclusion and energy poverty because of their inability to pay the price of modern energy services. They also tend to suffer disproportionately from health problems resulting from toxic air and water pollution from harmful energy infrastructure because it is often located in areas and communities where people are impoverished and are not politically organised and able to prevent such local dirty energy development.