brown wooden gavel on brown wooden table

By: Esther Mukami Githinji, Advocate of the High Court, Kenya

Energy Justice is an emerging concept that is likely to increase in its value to a range of disciplines across the sciences and social sciences which is being adopted and utilized in policy in the energy sector. Its theory is based on the foundations of older research of social justice, environmental justice and climate justice. Social justice traditionally focuses on distribution of resources according to merit and needs. Environmental justice and climate justice is reflected off the interaction of human activities and the environment. The three serve as a guide to the development of the energy justice theory.

Therefore, energy justice is defined as the equitable sharing of both the benefits and burdens of energy system. Energy justice seeks to influence decision making in the energy sector by incorporating justice and ethical considerations. It is also used as a framework to identify when, where and how injustices have occurred within the energy system and how the injustices can be eliminated.

Academic research done on energy justice has developed two frameworks that are applied to the concept of energy justice. The two frameworks embody the contemporary foundations and are core makers of energy justice. They conceptualize and clarify the application of energy justice to theory and practice. The two frameworks are:

1.The first defines energy justice as having three core tenets referred to as triumvirate of tenets. The application of the three tenets of energy justice aim to identify where injustices occur within energy system and how they can be remedied:

  • Procedural justice – It emphasises public participation in decision making through local knowledge mobilisation, greater information disclosure and better institutional representation in energy system infrastructures and technologies;
  • Distribution justice – it questions benefits of energy distribution and the harms of energy provision. It emerges where injustices have occurred from energy system processes; and
  • Recognition justice – calls for acknowledgement of marginalized groups and communities in relation to energy systems.

2.The second is a principled approach to energy justice used in decision making framework and it includes the eight core principles listed below:

  • Availability;
  • Affordability;
  • Due Process;
  • Transparency and Accountability;
  • Sustainability;
  • Intra-generational equity;
  • Inter-generational equity; and
  • Responsibility.

The two frameworks compete with each other and at the same time complement each other. Energy justice wholly aims at achieving equity in social and economic participation in the energy system while remediating harms caused by energy systems.

While examining the energy justice conceptual framework and looking into broadening the scope to see if it fits within the energy lifecycle in context of a world view and throughout the energy market supply chains, an additional tenet was created. The fourth tenet is termed as cosmopolitan justice. This tenet states that energy justice is a universal issue and energy injustices apply to all human beings in all nations. It implies ethical responsibility to all agents capable of understanding, facilitating and acting on the tenets.

Energy justice incorporates the four aspects listed below:

Energy burden – This refers to the expenses of energy expenditures as it compares to the overall household income meaning what share of household resources are dedicated to energy needs. Energy burden can also be conceptualized in relation to access to affordable, safe and sufficient energy services. Energy burden sheds light on the disproportionate allocation of financial resources among low income households on energy expenditure. The burden is mostly placed on the poor who are likely to spend more on energy purchases and it is more challenging when there is fluctuations in energy pricing.

Energy security – This refers to uninterrupted provision of vital energy service. It concerns robustness, sovereignty and resilience of energy systems. In different countries, energy insecurity could mean import dependency, aging infrastructure, insufficient capacity, high energy intensity or rapid demand growth. Overlapping of multiple vulnerabilities make low income countries very insecure.

Energy poverty – This refers to the lack of access to energy. To identify as energy poor means lack of access to beneficial energy for cooking, lighting or mechanical needs. Energy poor can also be identified as relying on harmful energy resources. Energy poor is characterized with ill health, poverty, lack of education and underdevelopment.

Energy democracy – This refers to the public participation by communities and agencies in decision-making on energy governance and energy transition.

Restorative justice

Restorative justice is used to respond to an energy injustice that has occurred and helps in defining what injustices the society should pay attention to. One would think that the application of restorative justice would be after an incident but decision makers use it in a prohibitive nature while considering the cost of restoration.

Restorative justice ensures the tenets and principles are applied as they assist determining the restoration needed and this can be fed directly into policy decision making. For example the statutory requirement of environmental impact assessments (EIA) and environmental audits on energy projects.


Energy is considered a basic need in modern industrialized societies. It plays a crucial role in fulfilling human needs and energy injustices often result in abuse of human rights. The importance of energy justice as a concept in research and in practice aids in decision making that is fair and restores equality in the society.

Esther Mukami Githinji
Esther Mukami Githinji

Esther Githinji, a Programs Manager at Clean Energy 4 Africa, is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya based in Nairobi. She has an interest in renewable energy and has specialized in energy law, and environmental and natural resources law.


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