At COP24 the Polish Presidency has issued a declaration for a “Just Transition”. Jennifer Tollman of climate think-tank E3G says a Just Transition must make allies of those working in and dependent on the high-carbon economy by supporting them in the transition. They must not be left behind. But they warn that this support should not be an excuse for a “go slow” on the transition, as missing our global climate targets is a clear disaster.
What is “Just Transition” all about?
A decision to table 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.
What is “Just Transition” all about? Increasingly, the barriers to deep decarbonization are no longer technological but instead social, cultural or political. Consequently, deep decarbonization requires more than just a discussion of technologies for cutting emissions – it must consider the social and economic implications for affected regions and communities.
In other words, investing money in the low-carbon economy, although great news for the planet (and those entering the low-carbon economy), is a nightmare for those in the existing high-carbon economy.
Preventing push-back from the old high-carbon economy
Deep decarbonisation 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, they must help these stakeholders during the transition.
If we fail to support them, they will push back against the change and make hitting those targets harder and harder. But if Just Transition is used to shape the change for all affected communities and offers pathways to decarbonization across the economy while keeping 1.5°C in reach, it will significantly increase the odds that the global community will deliver on the Paris Agreement.
Therefore, organizing the change in a socially fair way should be a core goal of both governments and the climate community. It is the only way to move from incremental to deep, transformative change without immense societal push-back.
Don’t let Just Transition be an excuse for a “go slow”
But E3G has a warning. The Just Transition must not be used as an excuse to go slow on the transition. If the Just Transition concept is used to delay change, the 1.5 °C target will not be met, and everyone loses. Scientific reality means further climate action cannot wait.
“In the Presidency role at COP … Poland will have to consider what a Global Just Transition really means” – Jennifer Tollman, E3G
The Paris Agreement requires countries to continue their efforts to keep the rise in global average temperature well below 2°C, and ideally towards 1.5 °C. Obviously, if these efforts are not made swiftly enough, we lose control of preventing the worst impacts of climate change. And those impacts are not just physical, they are economic, social and global – remember, everyone loses, be they part of the old economy or the new. So moving fast enough is essential.
As Jennifer Tollmann at E3G says: “Poland is starting to discuss what a domestic Just Transition to a low-carbon economy needs to look like and has done a great job putting it on the international agenda. In the Presidency role at COP however, Poland will have to consider what a Global Just Transition really means. A global transition is only just if it is fast enough to keep 1.5 in reach.”
It’s not an either/or question
So let’s make sure that hitting the 1.5 °C target and Just Transition are not “either/or” questions.
We cannot afford to have a discussion that creates a false dichotomy between choosing either a Just Transition or hitting our climate targets. We must make those living and working in the high-carbon economy our allies and secure them a decent future too.
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.
On the one hand, if global warming cannot be limited to 1.5 °C, uncontrollable climate impacts will endanger prosperity and our very civilization. On the other hand, if the transition disrupts and topples over existing societies dependent on the carbon economy, they will push back, making reaching those targets harder.
You can download the E3G discussion paper “A JUST TRANSITION FOR ALL OR JUST A TRANSITION?” here.