Just energy transitions to low carbon economiescoal mining areas and welfare policies

  1. García García, Pablo
Supervised by:
  1. Óscar Carpintero Redondo Director
  2. Luis Buendía Co-director

Defence university: Universidad de Valladolid

Fecha de defensa: 28 November 2022

  1. Juan Vicente Perdiz Chair
  2. David Pérez Neira Secretary
  3. Rafael Muñoz de Bustillo Llorente Committee member

Type: Thesis


This thesis explores the socioeconomic effects of energy transitions towards renewable sources, their implications for justice, and potential courses of political action based on the Welfare States to provide just energy transitions. Initially, we explicit the goals of the research and the hypotheses under study and disclose the theoretical and methodological frameworks that support our work. Afterwards, we present the literature review findings, which determine the potential effects of renewable technologies on employment and income distribution and delimit gaps to propose a research agenda. Most studies find a positive, yet small, effect on employment levels and some negative effects associated with the difficulties in the reconversion of some jobs and the scarce labour mobility of certain sociodemographic profiles. Concerning income, analyses conclude negative effects through rising electricity prices and regressive subsidies. Nonetheless, there is a margin to enrich the status of the literature. We suggest as high priority tasks furthering the availability and complexity of studies about income distribution, with a focus on the need and design for fiscal countermeasures to compensate for regressivity, widening the methods applied to employment, introducing degrowth scenarios, varying the number and typology of cases, and observing a gender dimension. Additional tasks comprise the exploration of systemic tools, broadening the scope of models, and introducing subjective perceptions in quantitative techniques to orientate decision-making and assessments. Subsequently, we dive into the Leonese case study, a restructuring from coal mining and thermoelectric production of electricity to wind, solar, and biomass power. We estimate the consequences of such a shift for employment levels and land requirements through a systemic modelling exercise inspired by System Dynamics. Additionally, we show the gaps between the theoretical framework of just energy transitions, the findings of the review, and the current political proposals for León. The model indicates that the preferential installation of the current renewable tenders in the province compensates for the jobs at risk in the short term. Notwithstanding, renewable sources cannot keep the population in the areas, so the restructuring should be complemented by alternative activities, such as rural tourism, agroindustry, and a “silver economy” around care. Furthermore, the model detects relevant shares of required land for the installation of renewable technologies and sensitive trade-offs between the promotion of employment and the modification of land uses. These insights could enhance the current processes of just transition, which show shortcomings in their concept and design, diagnosis, and mechanisms of public participation. Finally, we increase the scale in our approach to analyse the capacity of Welfare States to ease the transition through the hypothesis of eco-social synergy, which results rejected under a comparable methodology that seeks to avoid past shortcomings in the literature through the joint application of Ward’s hierarchical clustering algorithms in squared Euclidean distances and Thorndike’s criterium of optimality in a sample of 23 European countries from 2008 to 2016. The results illustrate that the paradigmatic Nordic countries fail to mobilise local resources sustainably and are responsible for the worst environmental performances. Parallelly, Liberal and Conservative regimes tend to display better environmental results, although worse social situations. However, there is not a clear correspondence between the typologies of welfare regimes, the social dimension, and the environmental status. Despite the rejection, some traits of Social-democratic regimes motivate a discussion about Sustainable Welfare and its downscaling to local levels. Specifically, there is a relevant potential in the implementation of Conservation Basic Incomes and Services. This thesis contributes to the current state-of-the-art and political processes on multiple lines. First, the literature review offers an overview for researchers interested in engaging on this topic or updating their knowledge, as well as for policymakers to consider the most recurrent effects of their political initiatives. Second, the Leonese case promotes research about neglected local rural scales and addresses the specific situation of the area under study, which has not received attention from academia. Meaningful parallelisms can be established for comparative and prescriptive purposes with other declining fossil-dependent areas in developed countries under intense destruction of industrial networks in recent decades. Third, the modelling is an easy exercise to potentially promote mutual understanding among stakeholders and reinforce procedural justice in the processes of just energy transition. We additionally show that data shortages are an avoidable problem under our methodological proposal. Four, the literature review and the simulation exercise illustrate the negative effects of the transition to renewable energy sources and contrast with the ambition of political plans. Finally, we shed light on the functioning of the hypothesis of eco-social synergy by screening and discussing indicators, applying a methodology to reduce conditioning assumptions, and pointing to precise courses of action to implement a potentially facilitating public welfare system.