BRICS grouping key to enabling a just energy transition

BRICS bloc met for its annual leader’s summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August 2023. [Courtesy]

Recently, the BRICS bloc of top emerging economies took historic action when it admitted six new nations, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Argentina, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates.

While a lot has been made of the geopolitical motivations and implications behind this decision, perhaps the most overlooked outcome is the opportunity to put energy priorities of the Global South on the international agenda.

Among the new members, the United Arab Emirates has been quick to make this a reality. Announced during the Africa Climate Summit, working in partnership with Africa50, the UAE unveiled a new investment initiative that will deploy a staggering US$4.5 billion into clean energy projects across Africa. This ambitious endeavour marks a significant step towards addressing energy challenges faced by nations in the Global South.

Capital is ultimately going to dictate tangible change, and initiatives like this are the start of what should be a comprehensive strategy to level-up the energy industries of less developed nations.

The new BRICS grouping is a unique combination of nations and an essential piece in this puzzle. Some are emerging economies currently dependent on fossil fuels to power their development, while others are leading in global investments and development of renewable energies.

As a result, the BRICS bloc is in a position to deliver a sustainable and just energy transition. There is growing support for the sentiment that while we must take decisive steps towards decarbonisation, the commitment to clean energy should not come at the cost of energy security and affordability for emerging economies.

Striking this delicate balance between energy security and the transition to net zero has proven difficult, and recent crises have only highlighted this further. Achieving global energy security, cannot come at the cost of a rapid energy transition. Therefore, we must find routes where both needs can be met simultaneously.   

Countries with fragile unstable energy systems and industries justifiably are going to be averse to pressures from developed countries to institute major energy transition reforms, because of fears around of political fallout, countries with unstable energy systems and industries will justifiably oppose pressures from developed countries to institute major energy transition reforms. Therefore, it is no surprise that in many countries, making guaranteeing energy security is more important critical than energy sustainability in many regions.

To overcome this challenge, we desperately need a more inclusive understanding of the developing world’s energy priorities. The expansion of BRICS, which has been described as “very energy-centric”, will be key. The bloc now possesses resources to support a just energy transition and an essential understanding of the energy needs of emerging economies.

BRICS members, new and old, must embrace this opportunity to elevate the voices of developing nations and emerging economies. After all, enabling a just transition can only be possible by creating a space in which countries at different stages of development can understand and respect each other’s needs.

-The writer is co-founder of the Lean In Equity & Sustainability