Since the idea of a just transition first emerged from the labour union movement in the 1990s, the concept of climate justice has increasingly resonated around the world. In 2019, millions of people took to the streets to demand that principles of justice are placed at the heart of climate action. Growth in the popularity of the just transition has also led to an expansion of meanings — no longer the bastion of the coal miner, it has been mainstreamed into a tool to tackle the climate crisis and inequality issues as one.
For some, the urgency to act on climate change seemed to outweigh concerns about how people could be affected. The human face of climate action was obscured by potential silver bullet technological fixes and economic instruments. But it is now clear that climate justice is much more than a nice to have and may prove to be the key to unlock deeper and more ambitious climate action.
While most people will benefit from climate action, there is a risk that some people will be negatively affected. This possibility is particularly true for those with jobs in polluting industries such as fossil fuel-based energy, industry and transport, but also in less obvious sectors such as agriculture and forestry, particularly in poorer countries.
The just transition acknowledges that decisive action to tackle the climate crisis will impact many people’s lives. It acknowledges that tough choices will need to be made and that the people affected by those choices need to be included in the decision making process. It acknowledges past experiences of transitioning away from fossil energy and that if people are not included in making tough choices, government action will likely be met with strong opposition.
For low and middle income countries, where unemployment tends to be high and social engagement low, however, this can be difficult. Governments have to focus on creating new jobs, any jobs, making it hard to think about better and greener jobs. And people do not have access to tools or organisations to help them engage in political debate.
Low and middle income countries often also have large numbers employed in the informal economy. This large, unregulated and often illegal workforce is almost entirely absent from just transition narratives. But ignoring it can lead to unsuccessful green jobs strategies. In Colombia, a new sustainable transport scheme was introduced, with promises it would be good for workers, but in reality each newly created formal job replaced seven informal jobs.
What is more, confusion around definitions, questions over relevance and a lack of capacity means that many countries are not applying just transition principles in their climate plans. This failure will lead to less ambitions climate action and the risk that climate action could negatively affect people.
The new Climate Strategies report Incorporating Just Transition Strategies in Developing Country Nationally Determined Contributions discusses how the just transition can be practically used to create more ambitious and inclusive climate plans in low and middle income nations. It offers a template for those drafting national climate plans (NDCs) and provides guidance on how workers, consumers, citizens and communities can be engaged in the creation of ambitious climate actions. It recommends the creation of a labour market plan and highlights the importance of recognising and including the informal workforce in policy planning.
Until now, the just transition concept has failed to engage policy makers in low income nations. This report outlines how it offers crucial opportunities for reaching net zero carbon while tackling unemployment and poverty. It also addresses gaps in the concept which must be adapted for developing countries, such as the inclusion of the informal sector in planning. Finally, it identifies areas for further urgent work, including zooming in on selected low and middle income countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, tailored stakeholder engagement strategies and access to finance.
Later in 2020, all countries are due to submit new climate change action plans to the United Nations. We hope that by applying the just transition principle of putting people first they will draft revise NDCs that show greater ambition for people and the planet.
The authors would like to thank Peter Glynn and Zoe Rasbash for their contributions to this opinion piece
The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of FORESIGHT Climate & Energy
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