Katie Treadwell at the WWF European Policy Office says to successfully transition to a green and sustainable economy, the EU and its Member States must heed warning signs given by their constituents, such as at the Yellow Vests protest in France. They must ensure their approach to the transformation is ambitious, inclusive and facilitates a just and local transition. Just Transition policies are typically referred to in the context of coal phase-out, however the principles are equally relevant for the wider implementation of the switch to a sustainable economy.
December’s Climate Change conference, COP24, saw innumerable diverse cries for a just transition. The concept, which refers to a fair and equitable transition to a clean, net zero-emissions energy system, was a key feature of over 25 side events at the conference, as well as a Presidency Declaration. What drives this sudden interest in the Just Transition is a growing understanding that unless it is just, and implemented in consultation with those affected, the transition will not happen without great difficulty, resistance and unrest.
In an analysis by the International Trade Union Confederation of just three European countries, 2.5 million new jobs in the energy sector alone could be created over 5 years through a transition to the green economy. On the other hand, in spite of a net increase in employment, some regions will see net job losses and possible negative socioeconomic consequences – in the absence of a well-managed transition plan.
The EU and national Governments must set the direction, facilitating debate on a just, but also ambitious and swift transition. Indeed, moving early and with ambition would provide more time for industries to progress and become established, and would minimise losses through reducing the risk of stranded assets. It would increase opportunities for a just transition.
However, early action implies earlier phase-out of existing infrastructure, explaining why voices remain around the table who advocate a slower transition. Incumbents – coal utility operators and mines – would prefer a longer transition, eking out their lifespan in spite of the writing on the wall.
To go back to the Gilet Jaunes, during a heated debate on television, a Breton Gilet Jaune accuses Nicolas Hulot (France’s Environment Minister at the time) of being out of touch with the reality facing ordinary people. He argued that the ecological transition is being imposed in a top-down fashion, at least cost to the rich and at greatest cost to those least able to bear the burden. Far from resisting the ecological transition, the Yellow Vests illustrate that most simply disagree with the way the upfront costs of the transition are imposed on them.
A just transition needs to involve the people and be designed with their engagement. There must be dialogue, and solutions must be designed on this basis to create locally-appropriate transition plans.
The EU and national Governments must also provide a framework for their effective participation. Regional governments are best placed to implement the transition, but often lack the resources to do so. Adequate financing and democratic frameworks must be developed to ensure the local population is properly consulted, and that regional authorities and actors are empowered to enact a transition that works locally.
To achieve this, administrations should structure the transition work around these guiding principles:
- Set the direction for a timely transition: the EU, with national governments, should set binding timelines for the transition; facilitating appropriate, objective-based decision-making, and the agreement of locally-developed, specific transition plans.
- Provide the framework for conversation: ensuring the voices around the table are those of the people affected, whilst controlling for conflicts of interest. Structures must be in place for national levels to work with empowered local task forces carrying out transition projects.
- Providing adequate finance for local bodies to implement transition plans: supporting fund access from domestic, EU and private sources
By performing these three roles, locally-generated and locally-appropriate solutions can be found for each region. The existing EU ‘coal regions in transition platform’ goes some way towards this, but still lacks clear political objectives, transparency and does not adequately insist on the inclusion of local voices and civil society in regional transformation plans. Moreover, clear timelines, including a coal phase out by 2030 at the latest, are still lacking.
The EU must work with national actors to set the overall direction; through ambitious timescales and democratic frameworks; whilst allowing the development of locally-driven solutions. Only through a balanced, fair approach, driven by citizens, will we have a truly durable and just transition.
Katie Treadwell is the Energy Policy Officer at the WWF, European Policy Office (Climate & Energy)
This article and accompanying images are published with permission.