On June 13-16, 2017, once again hundreds of students and young professionals from all over the world met for the Student Energy Summit in Mérida/Mexico, in order to debate how future energy systems can be designed in a sustainable way. The FES took part for the first time and emphasized that this change must be organized in a socially fair way.
The International Student Energy Summit (SES) is a global forum that focusses on the sustainable use of resources – a topic the FES also campaigns for. The forum encourages students and young professionals to develop ideas for a sustainable worldwide energy supply. One the one hand, the focus is on topics, discussion and exchange. For instance, the question of how a sustainable energy supply can be provided to all citizens of the rapidly growing cities of this world was one of the discussions in Mérida. On the other hand, in an intensive workshop phase participants are able to learn practical skills, such as constructing a small wind turbine. The SES takes place every two years, always in another country. This is to ensure, amongst other things, that participants can engage with the considerably different starting conditions and transformation challenges of various countries and regions. This year, for the first time, we were able to award grants to 18 young people from Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Near East, thus giving them the opportunity to participate in the conference, gain further skills and network.
We did not only bring participants but also topics to Mérida, in particular the subject of “Just Transition”. For in the discussion of how our energy systems have to be reformed in order to become sustainable and viable for the future, the focus is often on political and technical aspects. The social aspects of change, however, frequently get pushed into the background. But questions such as what happens to the people who are currently employed in the fossil industries are crucial – if they are overlooked, unemployment and social upheaval threatens.
At the “Energy and People” panel Manuela Mattheß, consultant for international energy and climate policy at the FES Berlin, accordingly emphasized that the social impact triggered by profound changes must on any account be considered and absorbed. The concept of “Just Transition” was also discussed in two workshops offered by the FES in Mérida. Here, participants who were new to the concept could learn more about it, ask questions and debate possible models for action for their own countries. Further, the FES Mexico offered a workshop on energy poverty, which generated a lot of interest. Two leading experts on the topic lectured on the definition of energy poverty, its social effects and the steps necessary to overcome it.
All in all, it was important to us to take part in the Energy Summit. There, we were able to stress once again that an energy transformation is unavoidable. Contrary to what many large energy groups still argue, Oil, gas & Co. are not the future, but rather belong to the past, if only in order to reach the objectives stated in the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. We are convinced that whether one of the most monumental transformation processes of our time can become a truly sustainable justice project that benefits all people, and not just a small elite, is decided by how socially fair the process will be.
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