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A Just Transition for all – or just a transition?

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solar panel worker
Photo by skeeze on Pixabay

A decision to include a Just Transition declaration by the Polish Presidency of the upcoming UN climate talks in Katowice (COP24) moves the topic more visibly onto the global agenda.

This raises the question: What might a global Just Transition that keeps 1.5°C within reach look like? In the lead up to this year’s COP, we argue the following four aspects need to be considered for Just Transition to be a truly global concept.

1. A transition is only just if it is a Just Transition for all 

Just Transition needs to consider the effects of both the transformation through climate action, and the impacts of climate inaction on all vulnerable communities and sectors. A well-managed transition is necessary to reduce climate risks and ensure a good future for communities affected by the impacts of climate policy and climate change. For this reason, trade unions’ efforts to bridge the debate between the social and economic aspects of transitions and climate policy is essential to ensuring affected regions, particularly workers in high-carbon industries, are not left behind. Just Transition now must increasingly consider impacts not only on local communities, for example villages threatened by expanding coal mines, but also workers in supply chains across affected industries, and communities already feeling severe impacts of climate change, from farmers in Eastern Germany to fishing communities on the Marshall Islands. Raising awareness for all affected communities and their adaptive capacity will be key to creating the necessary sense of urgency and providing a political framework of local and global responsibility.

2. A transition is only just if it is fast enough to keep 1.5 °C in reach 

Just Transition offers a time-limited opportunity to shape the social and economic change that can provide a successful transformation. Just Transition can also limit future climate impacts through a preventive approach to climate risks and protect impacted communities and sectors. With the ratification of the Paris Agreement, countries committed to continue efforts to keep the rise in global average temperature well below 2°C with efforts towards 1.5 °C. If these efforts are not made swiftly enough, we lose control of preventing the worst impacts of climate change and the ability to shape the future of our societies and economies.

Consequently, Just Transition is an opportunity for regions to shape their future, and for political decision-makers to mitigate risks to long-term economic, social and environmental stability. While the necessary policies and investments are up for discussion and will differ based on political choices and regional conditions, the overall speed of the transition must not be halted if we are to prevent the risk of unmanageable change. 

3. Deep decarbonization and transition are necessary across the real economy and the finance sector 

The IPCC 1.5°C report is clear about the necessity and feasibility of transformative change throughout our economic system, including in the real economy and financial sector. This will have impacts on workers, supply chains and investors, as well as consumers and affected communities worldwide. Hence, decision-makers must not only deliver a transformation of the energy system, including a rapidly accelerated coal phase-out, they must soon go beyond that. For this, they will have to develop roadmaps considering how to manage the social impacts of decarbonization across all sectors. Decision makers will also have to consider the sectoral consequences of climate impacts. While transformative change will look different in each sector, all will need to transition soon. Stakeholders should be increasingly engaged in conversations by their political leaders about best instruments, social and economic implications, and necessary support.

4. Climate ambition and Just Transition are not “either/or” questions

Governments have the responsibility to shape change: giving citizens greater certainty about the transition while protecting them from the worst impacts of climate change. We cannot afford to have a discussion that creates a false dichotomy between choosing either a just transition or the necessary climate ambition if our goal is to secure a decent future for workers, communities and economies. Organizing the change in a socially fair way should be a core interest of the climate community. It is the only way to move from incremental to deep, transformative change without immense societal push-back. In an economically and socially declining context, reaching the Paris Agreement will become harder. Delivering the Paris climate targets should be a core interest of labor unions and businesses. If global warming cannot be limited to 1.5 °C, uncontrollable climate impacts will endanger prosperity and our very civilization.

The future of Just Transition is a political choice 

Scientific reality means further climate action cannot wait. If the Just Transition concept is used to delay change, it will fail to bridge concerns between local industrial workers and affected communities worldwide. If it is used to shape the change for all affected communities and offers pathways to decarbonization across the economy to keep 1.5°C in reach, it will significantly increase the odds that the global community will deliver on the Paris Agreement. It is now in the hands of governments to prepare citizens for the transition and protect them from the worst impacts of climate change.

This article was also the basis for a feature in Energy Post.