Energy poverty in the COVID-19 era: mapping global responses in light of momentum for the right to energy

Marlies Hesselman, Anaïs Varo, Rachel Guyet, Harriet Thomson

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This article presents the results of the COVID Energy Map, a novel, global mapping exercise tracking emergency responses undertaken by governments, regulators, utilities and companies in the Global North and South to mitigate energy poverty by keeping energy affordable and available. The map constitutes a comprehensive open access evidence-based database, so far collating 380+ emergency measures, in 120+ countries. This paper particularly shows and discusses how the response has been developing until early 2021, highlighting various emerging longer-term concerns and strategies across Global North and South. The global COVID-19 response merits close attention in our view, as it reveals both the universal importance of household energy services access and important underlying existing narratives and policy-making questions about securing energy services access as a vital basic need, and even a 'basic right'. In fact, the paper additionally evaluates whether and how COVID-19 responses seem to fall in step with a nascent global trend of (legal) recognition of 'rights to energy' in international, regional and national policy, including for example in the EU, India, Philippines, and Colombia. We conclude that while the COVID-19 response clearly reflects broad recognition of the vital importance of affordable, continuous energy services access for basic human well-being and capabilities during the pandemic, a right to energy perspective could additionally lay bare or give shape to important concerns about some households' too minimal (insufficient) forms of modern energy access, questions of equity, and the role of the state and other actors. In terms of equity the article particularly raises issues with the manner in which support was made available only to some consumers (e.g. on-grid, off-grid, regulated, or non-regulated, post-paid or pre-paid), or only for specific fuels, and not others. In addition, the lack of attention to clean (renewable) (off-grid) energy services in COVID-19 responses is striking, and worrying, both in terms of immediate response, and green recovery from COVID-19. We argue that a right to (clean) energy perspective would help to reflect on, and inform, both shorter-term and longer-term responses to energy poverty and COVID-19, and should aid the realization of sufficiently equitable, robust, modern energy systems in line with universal UN Global Sustainable Development Goal 7. Specifically, it should also help to fulfil SDG7.1.'s promise of 'leaving no one behind'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102246
Number of pages11
JournalEnergy Research & Social Science
Early online date6 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The Authors.


  • Affordability
  • COVID-19
  • Energy policy
  • Energy services
  • Equity
  • Households
  • Renewable energy
  • Right to energy
  • SDG 7


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