Governments must earn the trust of the public if they are to introduce the changes needed to address the climate emergency.
A leading expert in environmental communication is warning that, while people strongly support energy system change, they will rebel against the tax increases needed to fund the transition to low-carbon energy if companies and governments do not lead the way.
Dr Christina Demski, Deputy Director of the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST) was speaking at the latest REthink Energy lecture from the ESB and the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA).
The third lecture in the series focused on new ways to build popular support for the transition to a low-carbon future.
Concluding, @DrCDemski says "placing a greater burden on the public to fund our energy transition without addressing trust/transparency issues will likely jeopardise public support".#REthinkEnergy | @ESBGroup pic.twitter.com/0YHsReP1df
— IIEA (@iiea) October 6, 2020
Dr Demski warned that people will only support the renewable revolution if they can trust the energy industry and government to fairly distribute costs associated with it.
“While there is broad support for energy system change, it is clear that citizens feel energy companies and governments are responsible for financing our energy transition,” she said.
Drawing on findings from the UK, she said many people do not trust those in power to regulate big business. She emphasised that without a greater focus on distributive justice, public willingness to finance the energy transition will be unsuccessful if the public does not trust those in power to share the burden and protect the most vulnerable in society
.@NiamhBoyleTRA outlines how in 2020, energy sector companies saw their reputation reach an all-time high. She cautions that the pandemic, and the impending economic downturn, will have a negative impact on this reputation.#REthinkEnergy | @ESBGroup pic.twitter.com/KzFUeWtdGB
— IIEA (@iiea) October 6, 2020
In her response to Dr Demski’s address, Niamh Boyle founder and Managing Director of the Reputations Agency in Dublin said the behaviour of energy companies throughout the coming recession will have a lasting impact on their relationship with the public.
“The way the energy sector behaves towards society throughout the pandemic and the recession that will follow could form its reputational legacy for years to come,” she said.
Ms Boyle argued that organisations with strong reputations have the ability to shape public attitudes and urged energy companies to build a brand associated with fairness. Importantly, she said that, in Ireland, the energy sector enjoys a strong reputation.
The REthink Energy lecture series recognises that carbon neutrality can only be achieved through a fundamental transformation of Europe’s energy systems and features some of the world’s leading minds in politics, industry and academia to examine how this can be achieved.
The series began in July with an excellent talk by Christian Buchel, Chair of the E.DSO for Smart Grids, who spoke about the ‘smart grid revolution’ in Europe which will enable the digitalisation, decentralisation and decarbonisation of the electricity grid
It continued last month with a fascinating address from Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, Director and Chief Economist of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and key contributor to the Paris Climate Agreement.
Over the coming weeks, the series will hear from those at the forefront of the fight for green energy and examine crucial issues including energy inequality, the potential of offshore wind development in Ireland and the role of household microgeneration in modern cities.
You can tune in to the next talk, focusing on ‘The Implications of COVID-19 and Brexit on the Energy Transition,’ on Wednesday October 28th at 1.00pm.