Sustainability and Rural Mobility

Questioning the Social and Spatial Justice Implications of
Energy Transitions in Rural Areas

Aurore Flipo. June 2021

Local mobility issues are determinant factors in territorial inequalities, regional development and ecological transition. While urbanization has led to a growing concentration of goods and services in the urban areas, rural and sparsely populated areas have been increasingly car dependent in a system that has been progressively planned around individual motorized mobility. This state of affairs now causes many social and ecological concerns. In the wake of the years 2019-2020, the Yellow Vests movement and the pandemic have demonstrated how rural inhabitants remain crucially dependent on carbon-intensive mobility for their daily lives. In the context of the transition towards low-carbon energy systems, this dependence is likely to bring up issues of social and spatial justice.
Spatial justice is the horizon of most territorial policies. Its influence is such that it has been considered that spatial planning and the search for spatial justice were strictly equivalent (Lipietz, 1999). In the case of rural space, one of the crucial question is that of the homogeneous treatment for all spaces as a condition of spatial justice versus that of the just policy able to rebalance inequalities, or that of a “fair” policy supporting the territorial dynamics.
If we look at the conceptual framework of Mobility Justice, Sheller’s (2018) has integrated work on transport and mobility justice by proposing that issues of transport at the spatial scales of individuals and urban areas need to be placed in the broader context of mobility justice. However, “accessibility, mobility, and transport are not ends in and of themselves, but means to ends that are achieved through the activities undertaken across space and time that movement enables” (Verlinghieri, 2020). Moreover, the ability to convert or appropriate accessibility and mobility into actual movement and activities depends on a whole range of other factors, processes, skills and capabilities (Kaufmann et al., 2004). A focus on (re)distribution is limiting and there is a need to pay attention to broader power configurations. The energy justice framework complements Sheller’s conceptualisation of mobility justice by refusing any separation of justice and sustainability of mobility. This extends Sheller’s approach by focusing attention on the very formation of the energetic socio-technical processes – including public policy – that make mobility possible.