Energy justice for all? Rethinking Sustainable Development Goal 7 through struggles over traditional energy practices in Sierra Leone

Elsevier, Energy Policy, Volume 105, June 2017, Pages 635-641
Paul Munro, Greg van der Horst, Stephen Healy

With Sustainable Development Goal 7, the United Nations has declared its ambition to ensure access to modern energy for all by 2030. Aside from broad appeals to differentiated responsibilities and 'greener' technologies, however, the goal leaves significant procedural questions unaddressed. This paper argues that the basic orientation of this approach is problematic, undermining possibilities for progress toward energy justice and equitable development. First, in framing the issue of global energy distribution in broad techno-managerial terms it obscures how particular geographies of energy poverty have been shaped by critical political economic influences. Second, in privileging modern forms of energy and focusing on an end state of universal adoption, over a broader goal of eliminating energy poverty, the approach of SDG7 presents tangible hazards to many of those it seeks to benefit. Using a case study of Sierra Leonean rural cooking energy policy, we demonstrate how the underlying mentality of SDG7 feeds into existing discourses that marginalise producers and users of 'traditional' energy sources, threatening important livelihoods. With such evidence, we argue that for justice in energy policy to be realised holistically, there is a need to question how our knowledge of energy ‘problems’ have emerged to avoid epistemologically autarchic policy positions.