What is just transition and why is it important?
For decades now, climate change scholars have identified the unequal burden on the poorest and most vulnerable caused by climate change, despite their minimal contribution to the problem. Demystifying the root causes of inequalities and vulnerabilities helps advocate for climate justice as an appropriate framework for the policy of mainstreaming social justice and climate action into post-Covid recovery pathways.
Moving forward with the recent ‘build back better’ agenda through a green recovery, the idea of a just transition is gaining popularity in climate policy. The concept of “just transition” was initiated by the Declaration of Solidarity and Just Transition on Silesia at COP24 in 2018, which was signed by 50 countries. This statement highlighted the results of decarbonization policies on fossil fuel workers and their communities.
In addition, the ideology was initially recognized by unions and environmental justice groups who resided in marginalized communities and saw the urgency to move away from industries that harmed workers, community health and the planet; and simultaneously open fair paths for workers to transition to other jobs. It is imperative to note that low income communities have been and are currently disproportionately affected by harmful pollution and industrial practices.
In this case, the “just transition” simply reflects the processes and practices that build the economic and political power to move from an extractive economic model to a regenerative one. Therefore, the production and consumption processes must be circular (i.e. recycle, reduce, reuse). For example, the European Union aims to raise 65 to 75 billion euros under the “just transition mechanism” during the period 2021-2027 to pave the way for a climate neutral economy. Transformation must be fair and equitable for all, righting the wrongs of the past and building new liberating power relationships. The Climate Justice Alliance has several principles that define a just transition.
The first is to go to Been Vivir which means that we can all live happily without living better at the expense of others. The just transition aims to empower workers, community members, women and indigenous peoples everywhere who have a basic human right to clean air, water, land, food, education and shelter. , healthy and of high quality. In addition, we must have a respectful relationship with each other and with the nature around us.
The second principle is to create meaningful work. This means that a just transition depends on the development of human potential, which creates the possibility for people to flourish, to grow, to learn about their individual interests and capacities. Everyone has the potential to be a leader, and a regenerative business model reinforces that.
The third principle concerns respect for self-determination. Every human being has the right to take part in the decisions that affect his life. It involves democratic governance in communities and workplaces where frontline workers and close extractive economy workers can develop their expertise to find solutions to their own problems through leadership.
While the fourth principle equitably redistributes resources and power to fabricate new systems that continually work against and transform existing and historical social inequalities based on race, class, gender, immigrant status, and other forms injustice. Just transitions aim to recover capital and resources for the protection of vulnerable geographic areas and sectors of the economy where these inequalities are most prevalent.
The fifth principle highlights the regenerative ecological economy that protects nature and strengthens ecological resilience, minimizes the consumption of resources, protects traditional lifestyles and ends extractive economic activities, including capitalism. This will require a relocation and democratization of primary production and consumption by increasing the local food system, local clean energy and small-scale production that are economically and environmentally sustainable.
The sixth principle emphasizes the importance of protecting one’s own culture and tradition. Capitalism leads to undermining culture and tradition for economic survival. Therefore, a just transition must be inclusive and respect all traditions and cultures, which makes it a crucial part of a healthy and vibrant economy.
Nevertheless, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call to focus more than ever on the principles of just transition. To tackle climate change more strategically, all countries, especially the least developed countries, should start embracing the principles of a just transition in their business models. However, due to limited resources, finances and technical know-how, developed countries should lend a hand to LDCs in establishing the principles of a just transition.
For example, vulnerable people living in the southwestern part of Bangladesh, in Khulna district, Shayamnagar Upazila may be more climate resilient, if their basic rights such as access to clean water and toilets, a healthy food, easily accessible community clinics and schools are supported, which will ensure a start to a just transition. Likewise, the Munda community, an ancient indigenous group residing in this region, is affected by slow onset events such as sea level rise, saline intrusion and river erosion that compromise their health, education, food security and livelihoods. In Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything, she emphasized taking action to make sure everyone has the basics: health care, education, food and clean water. She stressed that this would be a “central strategy” to tackle climate change.
The loss and damage agenda should incorporate the principles of a just transition to develop local, regional and national strategies that advocate for the consideration of non-economic losses such as health and welfare, education, traditions and cultures, biodiversity, etc.
Most importantly, policymakers should develop policies by consulting various marginalized and local communities and respecting their intersectionality. The principles of just transition should be incorporated into investment and finance criteria for climate finance to ensure that finance reaches the most neglected communities first.
Afsara Mirza works at the International Center for Climate Change and Development as a junior researcher.