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How our global movement can fight a global crisis

Economies which rely heavily on fossil fuels for their revenues could collapse in the shift to a low carbon future. This can only be averted by an energy transition which puts people first – and PWYP can help make this happen.

This week, Publish What You Pay (PWYP) adopted global positions on the energy transition. This represents a critical strategic shift for our movement and the culmination of several years of often heated internal debates about our role, as a transparency and accountability initiative, in addressing the climate emergency.

The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time. While everyone within the PWYP movement agrees on the urgency of cutting carbon emissions, familiar challenges and questions prevented us from agreeing how best to support a transition to a low carbon future. 

How, for instance, do we end our addiction to fossil fuels, while preventing economies and jobs being shattered in countries whose primary revenue comes from them – such as in Iraq or Equatorial Guinea? How do we ensure that switching to a low carbon economy, doesn’t further impoverish communities in developing, resource-rich countries already heavily hit by global warming, such as Nigeria, Congo or Angola? And how do we highlight the concerns and aspirations of those same communities above the cacophony of political, industry and finance voices?

These were among the issues that PWYP has grappled with over the past year, as we embarked on a comprehensive consultation into how we can harness the expertise and power our movement has built over the past two decades, to push for a just and equitable energy transition.

 

Stark warning for fossil-fuel dependent countries

A recent report paints a grim picture of what’s coming down the line for heavily fossil-fuel dependent countries – the so-called petrostates – without serious action.

Carbon Tracker found that the changes in the world’s energy mix required to keep global temperature rises well below 2 degrees Celsius, would mean that the 40 countries with the greatest dependence on oil and gas revenues, could be $9 trillion worse off than expected over the next two decades, with a 51% drop in government oil and gas revenues.

In the worst case scenario – that is, if the energy transition isn’t managed properly – some of these countries could become failed states: if they can no longer sell their oil and gas, sharp rises in unemployment and dwindling state coffers could fracture the social contracts binding citizens and their governments.

A just transition, on the other hand, would be one which provides more investment and support in the form of bilateral and multilateral development aid and investments to countries heavily dependent on fossil fuels, so as to alleviate the economic and employment fallout from their decline. 

It would mean allowing solar, wind and tidal technologies, and patents for renewable energy, to be transferred to those same countries. 

It would mean empowering citizens of countries where the ‘transition minerals’ used for clean technology are found, so that they have a say in how these minerals are governed, and that they benefit from the boom in them, rather than suffering the social and environmental consequences of their increased extraction. 

And it would mean that the biggest emitters and those who can most afford it, such as the US and China, move fastest towards this transition, by cutting their fossil fuel consumption and production, as well as the hidden subsidies they provide to the industry.

 

Pivotal moment 

It takes a global movement to tackle a global crisis, and at this pivotal moment in the climate emergency, we at PWYP have a key role to play.

Transparency and accountability are essential for a just energy transition, and we have intimate knowledge and experience of engaging with major oil, gas and coal companies, as well as governments, over the past 20 years – and success in making them respond to our concerns.

We know how to get the Exxons, Chevrons and Shells of this world to disclose information. And there is a vast amount of information that needs to be prised out of them, including, for instance, on climate related financial risks such as stranded assets. (These are the oil, gas and coal reserves that would need to be kept in the ground to avoid a climate catastrophe.) 

Furthermore, the global reach of our movement – which includes environmental and women’s groups, faith and community based organisations, and others working on the ground with communities directly impacted by oil, gas and mining – can be a huge advantage.

All our demands around beneficial ownership, and contract and payment disclosures, are informed by the needs of these communities. And as the world moves away from fossil fuels, it’s vital that they have a say in the decisions which will profoundly affect them.  

 

Transition minerals

In some places, these decisions concern ‘transition minerals’ – for instance  cobalt, lithium and copper – which are needed for electric car batteries, solar panels and wind turbines, and as such are central in the shift to a low carbon world.

But the surge in demand for these minerals is already wreaking environmental damage and driving human rights violations.  

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for instance, around 35,000 children work in artisanal cobalt mines, which are associated with forced labour, deplorable conditions and environmental destruction. 

From countries such as the DRC, which has the largest cobalt reserves in the world, to the lithium triangle in the Andes, our movement can play a key role in strengthening the governance, oversight and sustainability of ‘transition minerals’, fighting the corruption and rights abuses they are linked to, and ensuring that rather than perpetuating inequalities, they benefit citizens.

 

Courage and commitment

In rising to this challenge, we will continue to work as we have in the past 20 years: putting people first, highlighting the realities faced by women and frontline communities, fighting for civil society’s right to operate without reprisals, and ensuring that vested interests don’t capture decision-making processes. 

Navigating our way out of the climate crisis through a swift and just energy transition depends on all these things. The courage, vision and commitment of our members around the world can make a unique contribution to making it happen.

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