In Search of a Triple Win

Assessing the impacts of COVID-19 responses on the clean energy transition, inequality, and poverty

Have governments designed their COVID-19 response policies such that they ensure a clean energy transition, reduce inequality, and alleviate poverty? How do their energy policies impact these distinct, but equally crucial, goals? What conditions can achieve all three? This brief addresses these questions by assessing policies captured by the Energy Policy Tracker in four key sectors of energy production and use (buildings, mobility, power, and resource extraction) across 30 countries from January 2020 to November 2021.

By Lucile Dufour, Joachim Roth, Angela Picciariello on April 12, 2022
  • 60% of energy policies analyzed are likely to decrease poverty. In contrast, only 11% will likely decrease inequality—suggesting that policymakers should pay greater attention to the inequality implications of energy policies.

  • Across 30 countries, only 13% of post-COVID energy policies give both positive social & environmental impacts. Gov'ts have a huge opportunity to increase these win-win policies, such as those supporting #EnergyEfficiency in social housing.

  • Energy policies must go hand-in-hand with social policies—like retraining low-income workers, giving sunset industry workers clear job paths, & using energy tax revenues for social benefits—to avoid increasing poverty & inequality.

The social impacts of the clean energy transition have often been overlooked. Yet, they are tremendously important. Lower-income groups are least responsible for climate change (the poorest 50% of the world’s population contributes only 12% of global emissions) but bear the brunt of climate inaction and have the fewest resources available to cope with its costs. Conversely, the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population is responsible for nearly half of greenhouse gas emissions.

Several governments have, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, adopted clean energy measures with potentially wide-ranging economic and environmental benefits in terms of emission reductions, green job creation, and access to energy-efficient and climate-resilient infrastructure. Yet most governments have also doubled down on support for carbon-intensive investment, propping up fossil fuel consumption and production. A systematic assessment of the poverty and inequality impacts of these exceptional energy policy responses is still missing—and crucial to understanding which population groups stand to benefit and lose the most from the implementation of different types of energy policies.

Brief details

Climate Change Mitigation
Just Transition
Focus area
IISD, 2022