Who gets left behind in the race for renewables?


Brought to you by Bristol University Press and Policy Press, the Transforming Society podcast brings you conversations with our authors around social justice and global social challenges. We get to grips with the story their research tells, with a focus on the specific ways in which it could transform society for the better.


In this episode of the Transforming Society podcast, Richard Kemp speaks with Ed Atkins, author of A Just Energy Transition: Getting Decarbonisation Right in a Time of Crisis, about what is needed for an energy transition to be just.


They discuss the need to ensure decarbonisation doesn’t come at the expense of already marginalised communities, the role that green jobs will play and the importance of acknowledging that while an energy transition will change our everyday lives, it has the potential to change them for the better.


A Just Energy Transition by Ed Atkins is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £26.99.


Bristol University Press/Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 25% discount – sign up here.


Image Credit: Unsplash /  Nicholas Doherty





00:00:06 Richard Kemp

You’re listening to the Transforming Society podcast. I’m Richard Kemp, and on today’s episode, I’m speaking with Ed Atkins, senior lecturer in the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol’s new book adjust Energy Transition, getting decarbonisation right in the time of crisis.

00:00:21 Richard Kemp

Published by Bristol University Press, looks at the juxtaposition between the need for rapid global decarbonisation and the politics that surround that.

00:00:29 Richard Kemp

Renewable energies such as solar, wind and hydroelectric have been part of the conversation for decades, though we still rely heavily on fossil fuels now. We’ve reached the point of no return where it is essential that we overhaul our entire energy system. Still, there are many communities that will get left behind in that transition, even suffer its consequences, while others will greatly benefit.

00:00:49 Richard Kemp

Ed argues that in order to create a just energy transition, we must provide people, all people with a new future that is better than the present.

00:00:58 Richard Kemp

Ed Atkins, welcome to the Transforming Society Podcast.

00:01:00 Ed Atkins

Thanks for having me.

00:01:02 Richard Kemp

I’m very excited. I’m also excited because this is the first time that we’re we’re we’re recording with a guest in the University of Bristol. I’m so pleased that that that we can be here together since all the guests we’ve had so far, all that we normally have are outside of Bristol.

00:01:17 Richard Kemp

We normally so we normally record over video call but since since you had work at work at.

00:01:22 Richard Kemp

So uni, we wanted to do something together face to face and Amy Wilson in distance learning content set up this wonderful studio for everyone to use and I feel quite privileged to be one of the first people to use it. And if anyone in the university is listening and you want to record some audio video, I advise you give you drop Amy a line. So yeah.

00:01:42 Richard Kemp

So, thanks so much again for coming today, Ed.

00:01:45 Ed Atkins

Marie, it’s it’s good to be here. I’m excited to to talk more about this book. It’s been a a good few years in the making and something I’m really I I really care about and and that care has kind of grown throughout the process. So it’s gonna be good to to talk through and.

00:01:58 Ed Atkins

Hear your questions? Absolutely. I’m excited.

00:02:00 Richard Kemp

So actually I wanna, yeah, get right in. So in your book you explain how our current energy model is not fit for purpose, investor owned energy providers make astronomical profits. Even the National Grid is is investor Rd. which I had. I had no idea about. I was so shocked. While the poorest are forced to decide whether to turn their power on or save it for another day.

00:02:21 Richard Kemp

In 2022 to 2024 alone, UK energy firms are predicted to make 170 billion in excess profits. That’s and 170 billion.

00:02:28 Richard Kemp

Pounds. How have we got to this stage?

00:02:31 Ed Atkins

Well, the energy system is is is complex. It’s formed of numerous companies and entities from generation to transmission, distribution, supply. But as you say, one thing is quite simple about the sector in the UK and that it is almost entirely privately owned and that’s.

00:02:48 Ed Atkins

A lot of a kind of a broader political project which goes back generations, but it’s also due to kind of how the system is structured today and kind of how we rely upon it in, in numerous ways. It’s very similar to the water sector, which we see in the news a lot and it’s no surprise that we’re seeing both the water sector and the energy sector kind of hitting the news on a regular basis.



00:03:10 Ed Atkins

Over the past few years, in 1990, all of the UK’s kind of regional electricity boards, which are kind of much more regional and and public facing, were privatised, OK, and slowly but surely, they became part of the model that we see today. And you’re right, the National Grid is one of the biggest kind of energy distribution companies in the in the country, it’s what?

00:03:31 Ed Atkins

Most of us rely upon for energy to be transmitted and supplied to our homes, but it’s it’s owned by.

00:03:38 Ed Atkins

Primarily kind of private shareholders. So the top 10 shareholders of our National Grid, the UK’s National Grid, include Black Rock, which is a global asset management firm on the biggest global asset management firms in the world. But it also includes the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. And this is one of these key things which is worth noting about energy sector.

00:03:58 Ed Atkins

Umm, it’s that it’s not entirely privately owned. A lot of it is owned by public companies, just not public companies based in the UK and therefore accountable to UK residents. So we do see a lot of our energy companies being owned by, say, French national energy companies, which are partly owned by the French.



00:04:16 Ed Atkins

So there is this kind of complexity at play here when for us it’s privately owned, but internationally and globally, there are public entities running our energy supply and using it to extract profits, to serve people in different countries and elsewhere.



00:04:32 Richard Kemp

Yeah, it’s it’s so much. Yeah. So so well. Yeah, it goes so much deeper than.

00:04:36 Ed Atkins

I than I realized wider and and I guess in many ways that’s the point of it. And and This is why, you know, I say that that my care for this topic kind of came out throughout this book.

00:04:45 Ed Atkins

Was the the the contract for this book was originally signed in maybe 2019 and a lot has changed since then and you know, working urge you now is that it is a hot topic but also a very difficult and political topic, right. And part of the reason why energy prices have become such a huge issue at this point is that it is a top.

00:05:05 Ed Atkins

Is from a sector which is quite opaque. It was quite hidden. We knew we could switch suppliers, but we didn’t really know what was going on in the sector as a whole, right. So in the past two years, we have suddenly seen this greater awareness of the sector and its problems and its complexities. And we’re seeing that as some social movements kind of pushing back against it today as well.

00:05:09 Richard Kemp


00:05:26 Richard Kemp

Yeah. Thanks, Ed. You say that we desperately need to decarbonize to, to move from fossil fuels to other renewable forms. But you also say that even this is unjust. Google, Amazon, JP Morgan Chase, plus any other companies that can afford to are investing heavily in renewable energy subsidies.

00:05:46 Richard Kemp

Oh, there are other examples from your book. I picked out 1% of the population, owned half the land in England. The Royal family owned many of the sea beds on which offshore wind farms are being built. Another being in Mexico police and hit men enact violence against the indigenous population in Sicily. Mafia set fire to land to clear.

00:06:05 Richard Kemp

Base for solar technology, it does certainly appear that the local people are being left behind in this transition. What does their future look like and what should be happening instead?

00:06:15 Ed Atkins

Yeah, it’s a really good question. And and there’s there’s communities and and people and and and countries living at the sharp end of this change, hmm. Globally and a big part of that is, yeah, you’ve just listed a series of kind of cases which are highlighted across the book. And all of these are symbolic of how we are asking.

00:06:34 Ed Atkins

Those who dominated the old model.

00:06:36 Ed Atkins

All to create a new one, so of course we’re gonna be seeing injustice created as that transition happens. Oil and gas and coal all had their embodied injustices associated with them and across their supply chains. And we’re just seeing the same model being transferred over to renewables now. Now the sharp end of change can affect.



00:06:56 Ed Atkins

All different types of people.

00:06:57 Ed Atkins

Communities, it can affect those who are living in places like the lithium triangle and Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, where they’re seeing their water table lowered and polluted to extract lithium to make solar panels and and kind of batteries, rechargeable batteries. But it could be just as much in the the communities in the old industrial towns of the UK, where we’re seeing car manufacturers.

00:07:10 Richard Kemp


00:07:18 Ed Atkins

Closed down, moving their trade elsewhere because there’s not the industrial policy to support them in a transition to electric vehicles. Hmm. So in many ways an anti transition has so much promise. But that promise is lost. A lot of the time because.

00:07:32 Ed Atkins

Those people that were asking to make that change are those who monopolised and enjoyed and benefited from the system before and therefore are resistant to a broader structural change which would support these communities and allow for more. Just just, yeah, just outcomes.


All right.

00:07:48 Richard Kemp

The there was I remembering as well. In your book you were talking quite a bit about the community of Lawrence Weston as well. But you have, I think you have personal experience there too. Yeah. And the and the change that’s.



00:07:58 Ed Atkins

Occurred there and can you tell us more about that? Yeah, of course. So, yeah. So Lawrence question for those who are in Bristol is a is a suburb and north of Bristol it is.

00:08:07 Ed Atkins

Generally seen as one which has been disadvantaged by previous patterns of change, so they’ve lost community centres and colleges in the past and and they’re they’re kind of on the edge on the periphery of the city. So in terms of kind of, you know, the the figures, there will be kind of more people on who are economically disadvantaged or on benefits, government benefits schemes and Lawrence Weston.

00:08:27 Ed Atkins

Than the average in Bristol and there are less people who kind of have levels of education above GTC and so and so this is a community which is very much peripheral.

00:08:38 Ed Atkins

Raised by previous policy and previous patterns have changed. But as with lots of communities across the country, particularly those who have been perished, they have an incredibly strong local community ethic. And this keystone organisation called Ambition, Lawrence Weston, which has worked with.

00:08:58 Ed Atkins

Crystal Energy Network, which is a a local kind of energy.

00:09:01 Ed Atkins

Nearing decentralized energy kind of organization and and and other groups including British City Council and the regional government and the West of England Combined Authority to build a wind turbine on land nearby the community and the original plan was to have that winter by and generate electricity for the community.

00:09:05 Richard Kemp


00:09:23 Ed Atkins

Themselves, so therefore, to reduce the bills and so on.

00:09:25 Ed Atkins

Hmm. For National Grid, how it’s set up is quite difficult to do that to build a A transmission point of that is, it’s highly kind of difficult in engineering terms, but also very expensive. Mm-hmm. So the wind turbine, which is now.

00:09:37 Ed Atkins


00:09:39 Ed Atkins

Is in operation and is selling electricity to the National Grid and is they are plowing that money.

00:09:46 Ed Atkins

Back into the community. So how they’re gonna spend it? I don’t know. But I’ve heard talk of, you know, local skills and training facilities reopening in the college, putting money into energy efficiency in the household.

00:09:57 Ed Atkins

Was there and and it if every step in every step of that project, the community has been first, the community has defined and dictated what that project will look like. Now I’m under no illusions. We can’t kind of do that in every single community across the country. We haven’t got the time, but there is a space for communities like those in Lawrence Weston. There is a space.

00:10:18 Ed Atkins

That organisations like ambition, loan space and and the hard work and the good work that they do because it’s about taking a bit of authority and showing a bit of kind of control over what an energy transition would look like in their local area in the neighbourhood as.

00:10:34 Ed Atkins

Well, because it’s simultaneously global, national and local. And I think right now we’re really forgetting that energy transitions happen somewhere.

00:10:43 Richard Kemp

Right. The way the way you that, that, that, that terminology you use quite a lot through the book, the the energy periphery that really struck me just like it really spoke of kind of whether whether purposefully or accidentally or whatever.

00:10:56 Richard Kemp

Forgotten communities. Yeah. We’re gonna shove something in here, you know, in the fossil fuels historically. And and now with renewal.

00:11:04 Richard Kemp

Renewables seems so great and then they are so great. But you, but you still get these forgotten energy peripheries.

00:11:09 Ed Atkins

Yeah. And that’s a tension that kind of like you have to navigate your book like this is that I, you know, I wanna make it clear and recording that I’m all for renewable energy I I I support it I want it everywhere I want a a solar panel on.



00:11:21 Ed Atkins

Every rooftop possible.

00:11:23 Ed Atkins

They also want to ensure that that transition does not disproportionately impacts communities and people already impacted by previous patterns of change. Mm-hmm. And they are. They are overlapping there. It is there and and that causes a major issue.




Right, right.

00:11:37 Ed Atkins

You not just in terms of kind of geography of impacts and where we’re seeing the impacts being kind of socioeconomic terms as well in terms of kind of wealth distribution and and the the kind of like political participation and so on because we’re seeing today this rising anti net 0 backlash.

00:11:57 Ed Atkins

And this is coming from numerous quarters and it’s not happening in the UK, it’s happening in the US with Donald Trump. It’s happening in, in Europe, it’s happening in numerous different countries across particularly the global north.

00:12:09 Ed Atkins

There needs to be a positive vision of what an energy transition is like. A solar panel is a good thing. It can transform people’s lives, it can transform livelihoods, it can help communities that wind turbine and Lawrence Weston can be transformative. And replicating it can be transformative elsewhere. But we’re missing that story and that’s.



00:12:28 Ed Atkins

Kind of.

00:12:28 Ed Atkins

The I guess the beginning of the book is that we need to have a new story of what an energy transition is, is something which happens with people and for them rather than to us.

00:12:37 Richard Kemp

Right. Right. Yeah. Thanks so much for talking about Lawrence Weston as well. I we did want to bring that up because we are a Bristol publisher and also because we’re a Bristol publisher. I was particularly interested to read about the the now defunct Bristol Energy.

00:12:52 Richard Kemp

Which was a community centered renewable energy provider. What happened with Bristol Energy? What were they trying to achieve and how could things be different if they had succeeded?

00:13:02 Ed Atkins

It’s a it’s a really good question and and one thing I’ve tried to do throughout this book is ground kind of what I’m talking about, which can be quite conceptual.

00:13:11 Ed Atkins

In in local case studies and and Bristol’s a really strong one. As you say, we’re both in Bristol at the moment. I got caught in the Bristol rain on my way over here. I live just down the road from Lawrence Weston like it’s these are important cases and also something very personal to me as well so.

00:13:25 Ed Atkins

You know, Bristol Energy is a really important example of a local authority. So in this case the City Council, a municipal government kind of trying to enter the energy market and create something new and this kind of happened over a period of of of time with the company ultimately encountering difficulties.

00:13:46 Ed Atkins

In 2018, and therefore kind of going bust and and being kind of broken up and sold in 2020. So this process kind of over the past you know, five or six years around Bristol Energy.

00:13:57 Ed Atkins

Now Bristol Energy was owned by the City Council and the company took on both commercial and residential customers for energy supply. OK, so they were almost kind of energy supply companies. They they would take the energy from one place and set it on to its consumers. It was advertised as a very locally branded bristolian.

00:14:17 Ed Atkins

Veggie company, which looked after the climate and its community.

00:14:22 Ed Atkins

And the city’s population was identified as as a as a.

00:14:25 Ed Atkins


00:14:26 Ed Atkins

Customer base. So it was very locally grounded. It was owned by the City Council. It was targeting Bristol residents and it had Bristol as its brand. So by 20/19 it had 165,000 residential customers. So this isn’t necessarily.

00:14:42 Ed Atkins

Small in the city of Bristol, this is quite an important supply.

00:14:45 Ed Atkins

By the end, now the company encountered difficulties and this is for various reasons it lost some quite big supply contracts. So for example it was supplying Bristol City Council with energy and in Bristol City Council, due to procurement rules, had to to advertise to tender and the contract went elsewhere.



00:15:05 Ed Atkins

Interestingly, to British Gas, privately owned energy Company and their contract was later RE secured, but it’s it caused a bit of a a spiral. Now there’s several lessons about this spiral of kind of like lost revenues and therefore decline and being broken up and sold in in quite a short space of time.

00:15:24 Ed Atkins

Now the first is that there are incredibly positive elements and benefits linked to Bristol Energy. So, for example, it piloted a really innovative model, offering a flat rate tariff based on the temperature of the home. So it wasn’t just about supply, it was about warmth. And that’s something we write about and.

00:15:44 Ed Atkins

I write about in the book a lot when it’s kind of like it’s about, we need some kind of right to warmth. It’s not just about temperature or, you know, you’re lucky. Your lights being on, it’s about comfort and security and warmth, particularly in the winter months. So it didn’t build necessarily by kind of unit of electricity you sold. It was based on kind of the outcome.





00:16:03 Ed Atkins

Of that energy use, but it also shows something which is really important for any future endeavours by local authorities to set up an energy company and and that was because it was it was originally gonna be both an energy services company and an energy supplier. So energy supplier sells energy on to its residents and energy.

00:16:04 Richard Kemp

All right.

00:16:23 Ed Atkins

Serve this company kind of provide support for retrofitting and energy savings and energy efficiency.

00:16:29 Ed Atkins

So when it was first floated, it was going.

00:16:31 Ed Atkins


00:16:31 Ed Atkins

Be both when it was formed, it was only an energy supply company and no one’s really sure why that happened and I don’t want. I don’t speculate and I don’t want to speculate on why, sure, but what that means was its business model was predicated on being a disruptive entrant into a market.



00:16:48 Ed Atkins

Which is dominated by big companies who could absorb losses. Mm-hmm. So all that happened was the big energy companies lowered their prices in an attempt to undercut Bristol Energy. Like they do with other energy companies.



00:17:01 Richard Kemp

Sure. Yeah.

00:17:02 Ed Atkins

People are thinking of their wallets. They go elsewhere. So there was a strong sense of regional identity and urban identity and and being bristolian and that helped. Mm-hmm. But when push came to shove and the pound signs came up, people did move elsewhere. So there’s this really innovative model which is totally worthy of praise. But the bristle.



00:17:22 Ed Atkins

Actually kind of.

00:17:24 Ed Atkins

Saga an episode is a cautionary tale of how the the energy model that we have could just strike down that kind of disruption. That innovation. Yeah, if it deems it a threat or if it deems it something which is just a bit of a pest in terms of kind of profit margins and revenues and so on.

00:17:44 Ed Atkins

Umm, you know, prices can be lowered much more by a company which is big and it can absorb losses than a company which is locally owned and based on kind of supporting the community, right?



00:17:54 Richard Kemp

Yeah, and fur. You were saying about people thinking of their wallets, too. It’s not a it’s not. It’s not always going to be enough that we are a Bristol energy supplier. Bristol loyalty. Yeah. Be, you know, support your local community and the local community will support you. It’s not enough sometimes because.

00:18:12 Richard Kemp

So many people are struggling. They like as in like.

00:18:16 Richard Kemp

You know you you need. You need to have the that foundational support before you can think of anything, anything more, anything, anything higher up than.

00:18:23 Ed Atkins

That, yeah, like one of the most basic human securities is warmth and being dry and comfortable and and people, you know, we are. We have been brought up as as adults in kind of in these energy markets.



00:18:36 Ed Atkins

To switch as much as we can, sure to shop around.

00:18:39 Ed Atkins

And and we can and actually when you compare that to the water sector, that’s a good thing. But at the same time, when the pool that you can choose from is limited, then that can cause problems as well because it just creates you know we have, you know, the big Six has always been the kind of rhetoric around energy companies and but they absorb each other as well. And we witnessed companies that look like they could.

00:19:00 Ed Atkins

Kind of entered that market.



00:19:02 Ed Atkins

Exposed as having quite difficult or problematic business models and therefore falling apart, but almost a big example because all lots of people joined Bolt because it had claims of being 100% renewable energy but also had a very kind of strong brand identity and efforts to encourage people to recommend it to their.

00:19:23 Ed Atkins


00:19:23 Ed Atkins

Yes, the company went bust and it cost an absolute tonne of money to kind of support that bankruptcy and to support the customers moving elsewhere. Hmm. So they’re yeah, every time, I guess we see something kind of rise up. There’s something exposed in terms of the market dynamics around it, which which make it more problematic.

00:19:40 Ed Atkins

And people do care about prices. People do care about energy bills, particularly in 2023.

00:19:47 Richard Kemp

Yeah, it was the bulb. The bulb example. Then I remember when those when when the I’d hear adverts for bulb on almost every podcast I was listening to back in you know only only a couple of years ago maybe. And my neighbours were a bulb, you know switched to bulb but there’s so many people were were bulb converts. I was really surprised.

00:20:05 Richard Kemp

When, when, when they suddenly you know poofed away and but reading your book I it.

00:20:10 Richard Kemp

Makes so much more.

00:20:10 Richard Kemp

Sense now that, yeah, they, they, they they are they were. I mean they went into a market where they had you know.

00:20:15 Richard Kemp

So little chance of surviving. Yeah. And and yeah, and.

00:20:18 Ed Atkins

They had money behind them, OK?

00:20:20 Ed Atkins

They were.

00:20:21 Ed Atkins

They they were quite they were a strong market entrant, right. And and and I think a lot of the time is it, there’s a brand around it. I think they were seen as one of the most, the fastest growing companies in the Financial Times and and and in the same year they went bust. And so I guess it’s you know with bulb and it’s it’s there’s more coarse retails of energy.

00:20:41 Ed Atkins

Companies right in the UK in particular, particularly over the past three years or so.

00:20:45 Ed Atkins

Umm, but there are there’s examples of certain companies being built on sand and and that’s all well and good for those shareholders who extract for dividends at a quick rate and are happy. But when a customer’s cut adrift, it can be hugely traumatic for them in terms of how their bills suddenly.



00:20:56 Richard Kemp


00:21:01 Ed Atkins

Jump up, right?

00:21:03 Richard Kemp

Yeah, definitely. In your book as well, you you use a quote from Gary Smith of the GMB union, Gary Smith says.

00:21:11 Richard Kemp

The big winners from renewables have been the wealthy and big corporate interests. Invariably, the only jobs that are created when wind farms get put up, particularly on shore wind farms, have been jobs in public relations and jobs for lawyers. Great quote, by the way. Where where does the where does work come into this? In a in a just energy transition?

00:21:32 Ed Atkins

Any energy transition is underpinned by work, like labour always has a role. OK, and and that’s in two ways. So the first is that the fossil fuel industry has traditionally been a centre for workers, a centre for that, for for Labour’s labour to be to be clustered in certain communities.

00:21:50 Ed Atkins

And and we see that in terms of kind of the oil refinery work, but also go back, you know, 30-40 years in this country and the closure of the coal mines and there are coal mines closing across the world today going through similar processes as well. Now fossil fuel companies and fossil fuel economies grew at such a rate initially that they built whole towns and villages.

00:22:11 Ed Atkins

House the workers around coal mines and oil fields, and so on. Mm-hmm. So what that meant was that people got identity from work. People got social bonds from work.

00:22:21 Ed Atkins

Look, it happened to be extracting carbon from the from the ground. It happened to be kind of working in power stations, but they had a sense of community and identity that came from that. A closure of a fossil fuel facility disrupts that. It tears apart the social bonds and it stops people seeing an identity and what they do.

00:22:42 Ed Atkins

And how they toil and what their work is as a key part of their their themselves.



00:22:48 Ed Atkins

So we’ve got, you know, numerous cases of this exact thing happening again and again and again. And also we’re saying that in many countries, particularly the UK and the US, fossil fuel work has been an historically a site of High trade union kind of participation. And that’s due to that sense of shared identity.

00:23:08 Ed Atkins

As well, so any energy transition needs to take all of that into account, because what we’re doing is we’re saying, OK, in the name of global climate action, in the name of reducing emissions in the name of stopping climate breakdown, we are going to keep it in the ground and you are not gonna have a job.



00:23:24 Ed Atkins

So we need to think about what we do and what these people do and how they like, what’s their future cause people working in North Sea oil and gas aren’t old. They’re they’re, you know, they they.

00:23:35 Ed Atkins


00:23:36 Ed Atkins

Decades left of work, sure. So how do we transition them from that line of work to another? And we need to have that discussion and that thought process.

00:23:45 Ed Atkins

Before, we need to have, we need to be having.

00:23:48 Ed Atkins

It now.

00:23:49 Ed Atkins

And the 2nd row of of labour and jobs and work in a in in a just transition and an energy transition.

00:23:56 Ed Atkins

Action is what a green job is now. Green jobs are a key part of any narrative of current kind of climate action. OK, like I think in 2020 and when he was in the White House, Joe Biden was said, Ohh, it’s climate day in in the White House today, which means it’s jobs day for me. So there’s this.

00:24:16 Ed Atkins

Strong narrative of kind of job creation and the environment and the climate being being entwined, and that’s around new jobs in installing solar panels or energy efficiency measures or just even green jobs which can be linked to supporting the green economy. So you know.

00:24:19 Richard Kemp


00:24:22 Richard Kemp


00:24:34 Ed Atkins

This quote from Gary Smith highlights a lot of professional what we would see traditionally with white collar roles as well. So yeah, there’s huge, huge terrain of of green jobs.



00:24:44 Ed Atkins

So what is a green job and how good is it and what does it give someone and what training is needed and what skills are people need and how do you get those skills? Where’s the pipeline?



00:24:54 Ed Atkins

From someone to leave school and go and become a a wind turbine technician. So.



00:25:02 Ed Atkins

These two things are are heavily joined together and and the book dwells on on what’s labeled as just transitions. This stems from the trade unions in the 1970s, nineteen 80s saying if you’re gonna change our work, you need to give us.

00:25:18 Ed Atkins

Better work, right?

00:25:20 Ed Atkins

And it goes back to what we said at the beginning of this.

00:25:22 Ed Atkins

Kind of discussion when we were like.

00:25:24 Ed Atkins

You know what? What comes next needs to be better than what we’ve got now, right? Right. And and jobs and work are a key.

00:25:30 Ed Atkins

Part of that.

00:25:31 Richard Kemp

Hmm, with the with the types of jobs that are coming up or or will be coming up at at the example, just grabbing from what you said was a wind turbine engineer, for example. How?

00:25:43 Richard Kemp

How can people in?

00:25:46 Richard Kemp

I wasn’t thinking like people growing up in working class communities going into trade jobs, people going into trade jobs from my, from my experience and watching my family and and and things, I suppose just how how are, how are these, how are they going to get into these new jobs? I suppose I’m wondering, like, will there be support for them?

00:26:06 Ed Atkins

Is that is that being talked about? Yeah. That’s a super like, it’s a really good question, like, because it is a concern that lots of communities have. And as we go say we go back to, you know, previous patterns of transition have left people behind. So what happens now is.



00:26:20 Ed Atkins

One and the green jobs task force, which is a UK kind of mandate, UK government mandated group of people working in the energy sector and further education and higher education released report a few years ago, which called for green skills pipeline. And this is where we need action now. This is where we need.

00:26:40 Ed Atkins

Government direct government intervention because we have an education system.

00:26:47 Ed Atkins

Is actually going to be really good to kind of take young people in and give them the skills they need for their future livelihoods and green skills. A big part of that. So we can see, for example, in the green jobs task force recommendations of a scaling up of apprenticeship schemes. So giving people an early chance to get into these sectors.

00:27:06 Ed Atkins

And Start learning the skills whilst on the job. Nice, OK and that can be solar panel.

00:27:11 Ed Atkins

Taller, which we’ve seen a boom in demand for rooftop solar in the in the UK, umm, in the past few years, they’re at capacity as a sector. They need more people. You know, it could be roles when colleges and further education colleges in particular, team up with renewable energy companies to kind of create.

00:27:31 Ed Atkins

Bespoke courses which allow people to kind of leave school, join the course, go through it, do work experience with, say, the big wind wind turbine manufacturer Vestas or Osted who manufacture who build the infrastructure offshore.



00:27:46 Ed Atkins

And kind of they go into that job. So it’s about a pipeline. It’s about ensuring that as of everything, when you leave school, when you leave university, you can kind of see what an option is, but where that option will take you. And right now, we don’t have a long term vision of what a green job is. Right now, the green jobs that we have primarily are quick and short term and.

00:28:05 Ed Atkins

Garden and it’s based around installing something quickly. OK, so we’ll get the solar panels in the field. Yeah, we’ll get the wind turbine offshore. What happens when they’re built isn’t that people lose jobs. They don’t become redundant. Their contracts end. Then what? What happens after that is there are skills transferability or is there a way to ensure?



00:28:26 Ed Atkins

More secure jobs in the future as well, so it’s about that pipeline and and there are calls for that to happen and there are lots of great cases across the UK and across the US and across France and Spain and Europe. And this isn’t just a thinking about the UK, it’s where we are sat. But it’s it’s there’s cases everywhere.

00:28:43 Ed Atkins

There umm. Of colleges and universities and local authorities working with companies and energy suppliers and the government and so on to create a vision of what can come next. And green skill is a huge part of that, particularly for in working class communities where they’re not necessarily in.

00:29:03 Ed Atkins

The the big roles that Gary Smith talks about aren’t necessarily in reach.

00:29:08 Richard Kemp

Yeah. Thanks, Ed. One of the resources we’re going to need a lot of during this transition is lithium. And before reading your book, I I’d heard of it being found in Chile and and also in Bolivia. But you you talk about it being detected in places like Cornwall too, didn’t realize it was so close to.

00:29:23 Richard Kemp


00:29:24 Richard Kemp

There’s, there’s going to be there’s going to be a global hunt for, for.

00:29:28 Richard Kemp

Lithium, copper and all other resources too, and and you make in the book you make comparisons here to imperialism. How are how are governments and businesses ensuring that this hunt doesn’t become another colonialism?

00:29:41 Ed Atkins

Yeah. So lithium is this kind of like silvery white metal that we use to manufacture kind of the batteries that store electricities. So electricity. Sorry, but also these could be smaller kind of batteries, but also larger batteries and transmission grids, which are an emergent technology. We also use lithium.

00:30:02 Ed Atkins

To kind of layer it with silicon semiconductors to create solar panels. So this is a key material in anything that we do and and as with key materials is that there’s always a hunt for where they are and.

00:30:15 Ed Atkins

You’re right that like the need for lithium is expanding. I think that to meet the Paris Agreement goals, demand is going to increase by maybe as much as 90% globally. This this is like this is the new material, this is this is where we’re at in terms of what governments want, what they’re looking for now that means there is a.

00:30:25 Richard Kemp


00:30:36 Ed Atkins

Outwards, you know, and looking for materials elsewhere and how they can access materials and how they can be brought into a country to enable their transition.

00:30:44 Ed Atkins

But it’s also a turn inwards and a turn inwards is based on a lot of different events. OK, so the first one is kind of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine in in February last year. That coincided with a huge spike in the price of nickel. Nickel is also important for energy transitions. It’s used in a lot of the.



00:31:04 Ed Atkins

Technologies that we use.

00:31:06 Ed Atkins

And that is because Russia holds a vast proportion of the global reserves off that material. So everyone’s very quickly. Ohh, OK, conflict is happening. If long and protracted, violent kind of it’s gonna affect access to resources. And that’s a really important motivation for for countries to kind of change policy and to think about how they can act.

00:31:27 Ed Atkins

And enact that change in transformation.

00:31:29 Ed Atkins

Right. And that’s kind of where we get to these links about imperialism. And it’s not just me, like it’s, you know, we we find governments and communities across the global S, particularly South America, where the lithium triangle is, it’s found across the salt flats of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. And and that is purely because of this being a global.

00:31:50 Ed Atkins


00:31:51 Ed Atkins

For materials, a global demand for climate action with very localised consequences which exist along the lines of historic colonialism and imperialism. So the salt flats in in kind of policy, they’re not that far away from places like Potosi, which is, you know where silver was mined by the Spanish clothes. So it is a historical memory.

00:32:11 Ed Atkins

And it’s very up to date and also the role and the presence of kind of multinational companies coming in being from the US being from.

00:32:19 Ed Atkins

China there is that ties in a lot of this memory and as a result there are kind of claims and and often justified claims that the material is being taken, it is being extracted from the landscape with impacts for those who live on that landscape. Mm-hmm. And it is being exported elsewhere in the name of global climate action.

00:32:39 Ed Atkins

There is a cost shifting there. The impacts of emissions reductions are felt by their communities at the salt flats in those regions, the benefits are felt by you and I have our kind of like solar panels on the roof of the building nearby. You know there’s an issue there.

00:32:55 Ed Atkins

That claim of of imperialism and concern has led to several countries seeking to secure their own reserves in within their country. So, for example, in Mexico, last year the House of Deputies voted to nationalise its lithium resources. The same year Indonesian government officials floated the idea.

00:33:16 Ed Atkins

Of creating.

00:33:17 Ed Atkins

Kind of a mechanism which is similar to OPEC, which is a organization of petroleum exporting countries. They wanted to create a similar organisation for those with nickel, nickel, cobalt and manganese reserves. So once again all kind of resources. So this.

00:33:33 Ed Atkins

Is kind of.

00:33:34 Ed Atkins

Like an emergent thing when there are concerns about what this means.

00:33:39 Ed Atkins

There are grievances about current events and processes, and there are actions by countries seeking to say no, it’s ours, we control it. We have authority over it and we use it for what we want to.



00:33:51 Ed Atkins

Use it for.

00:33:52 Richard Kemp

Right, right.

00:33:54 Ed Atkins

Within that context, countries in the global N have turned inwards. So the UK yeah, that that they are expected to be some lithium reserves in Cornwall. How much we don’t necessarily know at the moment in, in the EU, in the European Union, there’s parts of Portugal which are expected to be key sites of providing lithium in the in the continent in the US.

00:34:14 Ed Atkins

It’s kind of places, it’s it’s places like Texas, I believe and stuff like this. It’s kind of like there are Nevada. So there are all these places where we’re like, OK, these landscape.

00:34:23 Ed Atkins

Heaps. They can be where we get our lithium from. Yeah. Bear in mind, though, that both Cornwall and parts of Nevada are peripheral ised areas already within those countries. So the cost shifting continues, but there is this process in which we see the global, the national, the local, the Community, all kind of having tensions across the board.

00:34:44 Ed Atkins

And governments, a lot of the time are scrambling to figure out what to do next.

00:34:48 Richard Kemp

Right. Yeah. I feel very lucky to be able to say I’ve been to the salt flats in in Chile slash Bolivia. Well, yeah, and and they’re absolutely gorgeous.

00:35:02 Richard Kemp

And you know very, very popular tourism spot. And I was just while reading, I was just like, oh, yeah, there’s there’s the salt flats. Tourism Cornwall tourism. You’re saying they’re also an energy periphery as well already. But I guess I was just wondering about like is there is there gonna be a kind of a struggle I suppose between.

00:35:20 Richard Kemp

The uses for those areas that you know is such a massive both. Both of those examples, massive tourism areas, yeah, places that we need to.

00:35:29 Richard Kemp

Keep pristine to A to a certain extent, but also in order to to to to to make this huge energy transition, we need to we need to dig up lithium. As I understand it.

00:35:41 Ed Atkins

Yeah, there’s. Yeah, there’s there’s always tensions between kind of extraction of resources for transit transition or any any energy resources and what industry is already there, hmm. And what’s what’s interesting in parts of the lithium triangle, in particularly in, in, in Chile, I think is that there was a lot of promise for new jobs.

00:36:02 Ed Atkins

For the locals, for the residents, they didn’t come there. There’s very much people coming into that area and working there so.

00:36:09 Ed Atkins

What’s happening is that’s disrupting what is, you know, it was primarily quite a lot of agriculture in certain parts, it’s lowering the water table, it’s contaminating water and people moving away. The Cornwall example is really interesting as well because of two things. One is that to detect lithium or to try to detect lithium, the two companies currently working there are using.

00:36:29 Ed Atkins

The old boreholes and old networks from mines, when they were used, kind of mine tin and stuff like this, so this is kind of like parallel of the past industry, but also you’re right it like calls properly.

00:36:34 Richard Kemp

Oh wow.

00:36:43 Ed Atkins

A A tourist location, a very a heavily an economy, heavily reliant, poor tourism, but also a region which is resisting that change as well. Mm-hmm. So there’s a lot of examples, I guess, of these kind of regions, which are already peripheral visited. And now seeing that something else come in when they are already trying to push back against what came in last time.

00:37:03 Ed Atkins

And and I guess, Cornwall quite a good example of that. I don’t know if they’ll be a tension between the two. I’ve, you know, I’ve been around kind of the parts of Cornwall. These minds are these explorations are taking place. They’re still quite heavily industrialised landscapes. People go to Cornwall, they still go around the coast, they go in land that much they cut across, I don’t know but.


Right, that’s all.

00:37:21 Ed Atkins

It’s they’re still quite heavily industrialized landscapes bearing the scars of previous mining, right. But there’s always gonna be a tension between what’s there now in any region, any community. And what might come next, and communities push back, and communities deserve a voice in pushing back, but also in defining and dictating the terms of the change.

00:37:42 Ed Atkins

As well.



00:37:43 Richard Kemp

As in, yeah, the the the local community themselves deserve a voice in this change.

00:37:47 Ed Atkins

Yeah. And I guess with Cornwall is a big discussion about local community is now because of the the wider patterns of gentrification to reciprocation taking place in those spaces, true, so many holiday homes there now, who defines it? Who defines what the community is?



00:37:58 Richard Kemp

Yeah, this fat boy, slim to find it. He has a holiday home there.

00:38:01 Ed Atkins

Let’s go. I didn’t know that. There you go. You know something new?

00:38:05 Richard Kemp

My final question for you, Ed, it’s been so great to talk.

00:38:08 Richard Kemp

To you today.

00:38:09 Richard Kemp

33 words that really jump out in your book are fair, equitable, and just. How can keeping those words in mind during our energy transition create a better future? Yeah. So the book is called the just energy transition. And justice is at its core and the.

00:38:25 Ed Atkins

Book seeks to kind of put forward a series of forms of justice which need to be taken into account. OK, going from kind of thinking about who has a say in making decisions like we just said to where the benefits and costs are located.

00:38:38 Ed Atkins

To thinking about how we can use energy efficiency models and and processes and technologies to make people’s lives better. And this is kind of like where I guess the book goes and where what the core narrative is, is, is, is you’re right is that I believe that any transition we have in terms of decarbonization.



00:38:59 Ed Atkins

Should just be based around emissions reductions. If it is, it is a wasted opportunity. We need to use any policy, any move, any technology, any transition to make people’s lives better.

00:39:12 Ed Atkins

And it not doing so. Just risk perpetuating the kind of exclusions and the injustices and the peripheral isolations and the marginalisation and the unfairness of the past. We at a point where we can change things and it’s, I guess, as I was writing this book, I was really struck by how every single time.

00:39:32 Ed Atkins

I was reading something new or going to a new location or finding out about a new energy project. There would be some example of something going wrong for someone, somewhere umm. Now what we can do in the just energy transition is think about what we’re telling people about it.

00:39:50 Ed Atkins

The Gary Smith quote you gave earlier from the trade union GMB, which has, yeah, 460,000 members, they’re not a small group. They’re not a niche group.

00:40:01 Ed Atkins

Is symbolic of a wider backlash against renewable energy, which is kind of emerging at the moment, and it it’s part of where a lot of my other work kind of away from this book.

00:40:13 Ed Atkins

Is is based.

00:40:14 Ed Atkins

At the moment, because there are numerous kind of right wing populists saying that we can’t afford it.

00:40:22 Ed Atkins

Or people are caring about their energy bills. They don’t care about omissions, hmm. Or people were struggling to make ends meet. We can’t ask them for more. It costs too much. It’s undemocratic, it’s unfair, and people are gonna lose out. Now I contest every single one of those claims, but they are powerful.

00:40:42 Ed Atkins

In an era of an energy price crisis in an era of people are having to make decisions between eating, eating and heating when you know and.



00:40:52 Ed Atkins

You know the the the examples we have of the past year are shocking. So people gonna hear these messages and think I agree with that. What I want to do and what this book sets out to do is put forward that new message, that alternative message that.

00:41:09 Ed Atkins

Yes, we have to make change. Yes, it will be rapid. Yes, it be transformative. Every element of our everyday lives will chat.





00:41:17 Ed Atkins

But it can change for the better too. Umm, an energy transition can give us warm homes. It can insulate them. It can make it more energy efficient. It can make our bills cheaper. And energy transition can create new jobs, which are secure, highly skilled, highly paid, and actually just see allow people to see their livelihoods going off into the future and retirement and so on.

00:41:39 Ed Atkins

Yeah, it can do so many things. We’re not taking advantage of that at the.

00:41:44 Ed Atkins

Moment. Umm.

00:41:45 Ed Atkins

And I just think there’s the opportunities are and the opportunities are endless and the fact they’re not kind of being pursued, yeah, at a faster rate is.

00:41:54 Ed Atkins

You know, disappointing.

00:41:56 Ed Atkins

But one of the key things is is that people need to see themselves in any change as well. Mm-hmm. And that’s about ensuring participation. It’s about ensuring that people are aware of what’s going on around them. But it’s also about going back to the example we had of Lawrence West in the beginning of the chat. Right. Is that community able to say, well, we want to do it, so we’re going to. They worked so hard.



00:42:16 Ed Atkins

So much money was spent by investors and kind of local authorities and groups around that kind of winter.

00:42:23 Ed Atkins


00:42:24 Ed Atkins

They shouldn’t have to work that hard because what they were doing was good for the planet, good for the energy grid and good for the community. So it’s about thinking about how can we make the energy model we have more inclusive and allowing of decisions like that, and schemes like that, but also to give people those kind of like better lives and better jobs and better homes and better futures. It’s.

00:42:45 Ed Atkins

Yeah. So justice is at the core and I think justice should be at the core of everything that we do around this climate action is, is, is incredible. But there’s a quote somewhere which is you know, whilst we’re worrying about the end of the world, people are worried about making it to the end of the week. We need to listen to that. We need to pay attention to that. That is our context and the just energy transition pays attention.

00:43:05 Ed Atkins

The context.

00:43:07 Richard Kemp

I love that. Thank you so much, Ed. I think that’s a perfect line to end on. That’s alright with you. Thank you. Thanks so much for coming today. In a moment, I’ll let everybody know where they can find your book. But first I was wondering, did you have anything else you’d like to plug while we’re here? And also, where can we find you online?

00:43:12 Ed Atkins

Yeah. Thanks so much for having me.

00:43:24 Ed Atkins

So my Twitter handle is @EdAtkins_  under score and there’s an artist called Ed Atkins as well. So follow follow him and then the yeah, it comes out. And then from there, you’ll see where the work goes. But yeah, pick up the book if you get a chance and always feel free to e-mail me and reach out if you have any questions or wanna have a chat about these topics.

00:43:44 Richard Kemp

Oh, that’s great. Thanks, Ed. A just energy transition, getting decarbonisation right in the time of crisis by Ed Atkins is published by Bristol University Press. You can find out more about the book by visiting bristoluniversitypress.co.uk and also transformingsociety.co.uk.

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