New U-M study focuses on equity disparities of green technologies
Because large disparities in access to green technologies exist between countries in the Global North and the Global South and among different demographic groups within those countries, it’s important to focus on equity in access to energy services and not simply on energy technologies, according to a new University of Michigan review paper.
The paper was published online November 14 in the journal Annual Review of Environment and Resources and was authored by Parth Vaishnav, assistant professor of sustainable systems at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS).
“One feature of the energy transition is that it creates couplings between sectors that in the past have been separate,” said Vaishnav. “For example, disparities in access to internet banking might limit access to smart mobility.”
Key findings of the review include the following:
- Disparities in access exist at different scales: between nations and between different groups within a nation. The data needed to measure these disparities, and indeed detailed knowledge of their existence and nature, are themselves unevenly distributed. There are numerous and detailed studies of within-country disparities in the Global North, and in particular the United States. There are also numerous studies of disparities between countries in access to energy services such as clean electricity and clean cooking. However, there are few studies of systematic disparities in access to energy services within the countries of the Global South. This is a gap that future work must address.
- Within the United States, disparities in access to green technologies exist along multiple dimensions (e.g., race, gender, and income). Disparities are sometimes accentuated at the intersections of these dimensions (e.g., women with low incomes may face particularly steep barriers to mobility).
- Enabling infrastructure—including access to wireless internet, access to online and physical banking, and access to public safety—plays a critical role in providing broad access to green technologies.
- It is possible to provide broad access to adequate energy services (e.g., lighting, mobility, heating, and cooling) in a way that does not replicate the profligate use of energy in the Global North. For example, mobility may be sustainably provided by favoring transit and active modes of transportation over individual passenger vehicles. While much of the literature on vehicle electrification in the United States focuses on cars, countries in the Global South (notably China) have seen widespread electrification of two- and three-wheelers and buses.
- A just energy transition requires the co-design of infrastructures that have been treated as separate; for example, cities must be planned to allow convenient use of transit and buildings must be designed to couple with the electric grid.
Read the full study: Implications of Green Technologies for Environmental Justice