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Policy Brief: JUSTENERGY

Intersections of far-right populism with (un)just rural energy transitions as communicative and socio-spatial practices, in Portugal

The exploratory project JUSTENERGY - Intersections of far-right populism with (un)just rural energy transitions as communicative and socio-spatial practices, in Portugal was financed by national funds through FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P. (EXPL/COM-CSS/1510/2021). Its team was composed of: Susana Batel (PI; CIS-Iscte), Ana Isabel Afonso (Co-PI; CRIA – NOVA FCSH); Rita Guerra (CIS-Iscte); Luís Silva (CRIA – NOVA FCSH); Andreia Valquaresma (CIS-Iscte); Maria Alba (CIS-Iscte).


The main objective of the JUSTENERGY project was to explore the relationship between the way in which the energy transition to renewable energies is being carried out in rural territories in Portugal - for example, with the construction of mega solar power plants without the involvement of local populations - and its impact on the support of affected communities to far-right populist rhetoric. To this end, in a first study JUSTENERGY investigated how the main written press in Portugal presents the energy transition and how these discourses relate to far-right populist rhetoric. In a second study, it analysed how the green transition is being received by communities of the territories where large-scale renewable energy generation infrastructures are being built, namely Graciosa and Castelo de Vide, territories that also registered a greater presence of the far-right party Chega, in the form of a government coalition or an increase in votes, respectively, in the last elections. The project thus aimed to propose recommendations for how political decision-makers and the media can promote a fairer and more inclusive transition to green energy. In addition to disseminating the main results of the project in the media (Público, Executive Digest, Rádio Graciosa), the project team organized several debates on the results of these two studies throughout the month of November 2023.

© 2016 Project Team | Iscte


Due to climate change intensification, the European Union and Portugal have been promoting the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies, implying an acceleration in large-scale energy infrastructures construction, such as wind farms and solar power plants, especially in rural territories.

Although there tends to be consensus on the transition to renewable energies, there has been local resistance to the construction of associated large-scale infrastructures. Recent critical approaches in social and human sciences argue that this opposition may be related to the contribution of these infrastructures in perpetuating social and environmental injustices and inequalities already present in the previous energy paradigm, considering that, in most cases, renewable energy projects are imposed and deployed in a technocratic way, lacking proper engagement with local communities. In this sense, there has been an increasing advocacy for a participatory and transversely fair energy transition that considers not only the global socio-environmental aspects, but also the territorial and psychosocial impacts of large-scale renewable energy infrastructures.

At the same time, the rise of far-right populism across the world, and the way in which its discourses and rhetoric are presented and spread through the media, may also have consequences for the fight against climate change. In fact, media communication plays a determining role in the way in which societal problems are represented in the public sphere. Additionally, research shows that far-right populist discourses tend to encourage denial and scepticism regarding climate change, and resistance to the energy transition. However, this area of research that explores the relationship between far-right populism and the energy transition is still incipient.

Therefore, the use of far-right discursive frames and populist rhetoric by social media may shape the ideas and practices regarding the renewable energy transition. The populist far-right rhetoric has been characterized by academic research as simplistic, provocative, and dichotomous. It can be understood along two axes: a horizontal one that promotes a group distinction between "us" and "them", based on nationalist ideas, where "them" in most cases is identified as minority and racialized groups, and "us" as the "pure people" or "the good Portuguese"; and a vertical axis that fosters a separation between "us" - "the people" - and " them " - the "corrupt elite" or the "established power."

Based on this scientific knowledge, the JUSTENERGY project aimed to explore potential relationships between how the energy transition to renewable energies is presented in major Portuguese written media, and if and how it resonates with far-right populist discourses and rhetoric; and to understand how rural communities in Portugal experience, make meaning of, and position themselves regarding large-scale energy infrastructure projects in their territories.

Approach and Results - Study 1

Approach and Results - Study 2


Implications and Reccommendations

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