Edited by Jordi Jaria-Manzano and Susana Borrás
Chapter 15: Energy transition: reforming social metabolism
For the world to have any chance of preventing runaway climate change and keeping human-caused temperature increases to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, societies must commit to rapid and deep decarbonization that will transform global and domestic energy systems. Complete energy decarbonization would result in an unprecedented change to the world’s ‘social metabolism’, altering not only the amount of fossil fuel-based energy the world consumes, but also entire social and economic systems involved in resource extraction, processing, delivery and use. Energy decarbonization has the potential to bring much more justice, opportunity and sustainability to communities around the world. However, this will not happen without an intentional focus on the full social metabolism of the energy system. Failure to address the social implications of the energy transition could result in profound economic and social unrest. It could also delay the necessary behavioural and political changes that societies must undertake to effectively and equitably decarbonize. An incomplete energy transition could also place already imperilled ecosystems at increased risk of degradation and loss. Policymakers should therefore undertake a comprehensive approach to energy decarbonization that aims to rapidly replace fossil fuels with zero-carbon energy resources while improving the economic and social welfare of communities around the globe. The ‘just transition’ efforts underway in some countries could serve as a template for governments, policymakers, businesses, non-governmental organizations and others to develop smart and adaptive strategies to ensure a socially just, yet rapid, energy transition. While this may not completely reform the social metabolism, it could help us to reset it.
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