Social dimensions of energy system change in a disrupted world

Rebecca Colvin, Helen Ross, Claudia Baldwin

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    As Australia, New Zealand, and much of the world live under home isolation to contain the spread of COVID-19, attention is turning to short term environmental responses to the sudden changes in human behaviour, and implications for global dealings with the climate emergency. Reductions in energy usage are among the changes already apparent. Air and road transportation has reduced drastically, so cities no longer have their usual traffic jams (Knight 2020). Photographs of clear skies over Beijing, Kathmandu and many other cities offer visual reminder of the benefits of sudden declines in air pollution. Press and magazine commentaries also speculate whether people's lifestyles will change towards living more simply, as people experience living with less, shopping locally, cooking at home, new levels of neighbourly support, and much more time with immediate family. There is further anticipation of structural changes, with discussion of a proportion of employers and workers maintaining much more working from home than in the past, as advantages are experienced (Ross 2020). Thus the enforced social changes required to contend with the pandemic may well offer an opportunity for redirection of national economies and lifestyles and with them energy usage and opportunities to address climate change, in recovery (Rosenbloom and Markard 2020). Meanwhile, governments are listening to experts - and putting them in the forefront of public announcements - to an unprecedented degree. Optimists hope this will make a precedent for heeding climate scientists in addressing the climate emergency (Farhart 2020). Changes in energy usage, and sources, are already being measured. The International Energy Agency (2020) has analysed recent daily data from 30 countries representing over two-thirds of global energy demand. It calculates that countries in full lockdown are experiencing an average 25 per cent decline in energy demand per week and those in partial lockdown an average 18 per cent decline. Global CO2 emissions are expected to decrease by eight per cent over 2020. During the 'lockdown' period renewable energy has experienced growth in demand, while coal and oil have experienced sharp drops (IEA 2020). Energy futures are very much part of debates associated with the massive world changes arising from COVID-19. Experts including Australia's former Liberal Party Leader and Shadow Treasurer Prof. Hewson has argued 'there is every reason to expect that the virus crisis will strengthen and accelerate the imperative to transition to a low-carbon world by mid-century' (Hewson 2020). The Australian Prime Minister, however, has been mentioning coal amongst economic strategies, and activists fear reduced parliamentary function in Australia in 2020 will limit scrutiny. This issue focuses on a special collection on wind energy, guest edited by Rebecca Colvin and Ian Boothroyd, two articles on organisational change and the electricity sector, and two articles on information for environmental monitoring, both focused on water and catchments.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)117-122
    JournalAustralasian Journal of Environmental Management
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


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