The Inclusion of Just Transition in International Negotiations and Agreements

by Amy Wilson & Leonie Schiedek

“We must show solidarity with the most affected regions in Europe, such as coal mining regions and others, to make sure the Green Deal gets everyone’s full support and has a chance to become a reality.”

Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission

There are lots of definitions of what a Just Transition is in the literature [1, 2, 3]. The overarching theme is it is a framework for achieving a more sustainable (or green) economy in a fair way for everyone, that meets the climate goals. See Climatalk’s Introduction to Just Transitions Article for more background information. 

This article will introduce the concept of Just Transitions in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Paris Agreement, and the Conference of the Parties (COP). 

Why is a Just Transition important?

Many countries face the challenge of simultaneously trying to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while also trying to develop their economy and create quality jobs [4]. They have undergone many transitions in the past, from industrialisation to automation or the relocation of entire industries, which is why there is also only a limited amount of social support for climate action [4]. These changes have often led to social consequences like job losses or economic hardship [3]. That is why there is a fear within society that future transitions might be equally painful, which may result in actors instead protecting the status quo and keeping carbon-intensive industries in place [4]. Additionally, climate policies are often seen to oppose other social and economic policy goals [4]. Consequently, governments may choose to not prioritise climate policies. 

The Just Transition concept offers a framework to ensure the hardship is not felt again [4]. The transition towards a climate-neutral and environmentally sustainable economy and society presents many opportunities to also contribute to social goals, while achieving the climate goals. For instance, it can foster decent work for all, social inclusion as well as the eradication of poverty [5]. Greener economies can enhance the ability to manage natural resources more sustainably, increase energy efficiency and reduce waste, while at the same time addressing inequalities and enhancing resilient systems [3, 5]. Consequently, a just transition aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) such as #1 (ending poverty), #8 (decent work and economic growth), and #10 (reduce inequalities) [6]. However, countries have been tasked with thinking about how they can meet the climate goals through their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), while also thinking carefully about workforces and society. 

International work on Just Transitions

To achieve the climate goals set in the Paris Agreement, a shift towards a greener economy that values its workforce is needed alongside GHG emission reductions. This was acknowledged during the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2015 [7]. The same year, Just Transition of the Workforce, and the Creation of Decent Work and Quality Jobs was published and outlined what a Just Transition is and how to approach it at a National level [5]. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has also published a set of guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all [8]. Governments are actively encouraged to integrate labour and social policies with climate objectives to support those parts of society that might be affected by the transition to a low-carbon economy. Furthermore, the opening of the Paris Agreement recognises the importance of “[…] the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities […]”. Nevertheless, no direct recommendations for action are given in any of the Paris Agreement Articles [9]. Instead it is down to the individual Parties to the UNFCCC to develop their own mechanisms for a Just Transition

Europe’s Just Transition Mechanism 

In Europe, there is a so-called Just Transition Mechanism (JTM) in place, which aims to ensure that the transition towards a climate-neutral economy can be done without leaving anyone behind [10]. This means industries that move away from the use of fossil fuels and use greater automation or greater digitalisation will do so while keeping in mind how to equip their employees for the change. This may be in a financial, skill or educational sense, as well as thinking about how to help vulnerable people move sector. This applies overall for the most affected regions in terms of socio-economic impact caused by the transition. The EU intends to mobilise at least €150 billion between 2021 to 2027 for the JTM [10].

So will the concept of a Just Transition feature at COP26?

A key issue on the agenda for COP 26 is how we can rapidly decarbonise, while ensuring the process is fair for all. Countries such as Spain, Germany, and New Zealand have Just Transition units that address the respective countries commitments to a Just Transition [11]. The UK is positioned to advance Just Transitions at COP26, but has not yet formed a UK Just Transition Commission [11]. 

Previously at COP24 50 countries signed the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration [12], which outlines the importance of considering jobs and employment opportunities alongside climate emission goals. Alongside the international documentation, universities [13], organisations and charities are uniting to formulate advice pieces on achieving a Just Transition. Consequently, COP 26 could provide a space for open Just Transition discussions and the formulation of action plans. 

Finally, the on-going financial and Article 6 negotiations will impact the concept of a Just Transition. Research is calling for investors to integrate a social dimension into their climate strategies [14].

In conclusion, just transition policies should facilitate a socially fair shift towards a zero emission economy. The transition should be understood as a desirable step that provides many opportunities for positive change to achieve several international goals at a time, while taking into account the voices of all actors involved. Social concerns are in the centre in order to make long-term goals seen as more desirable and actively supported by everyone. 

If you are interested in specific examples of Just Transitions check out ClimaTalk’s other articles: Just Transition in the Energy Sector and Just Transition – A Focus on Agriculture.  

#justtransition #parisagreement #qualityjobs #greeneconomy 

Amy is currently a Civil and Environmental Engineering Ph.D. student at Imperial College London, researching particles emitted from wildfires. She attended COP25 (2019), co-authored a Grantham Institute briefing paper titled ‘The contribution of coastal blue carbon ecosystems to climate change mitigation and adaptation’, and is actively involved in air quality policy through Imperial’s Network of Excellence in Air Quality.

Leonie is a social scientist and sustainability researcher currently working at Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation in Stockholm, coordinating a project around “innovation and sustainable development in the Nordics”. Before, she has worked as Carlo-Schmid-Fellow at UNEP DTU Partnership in Copenhagen, consulting Latin American ministries in the area of climate transparency and data management.

Sources: 

[1] Climate Justice Alliance (n. d.). https://climatejusticealliance.org/just-transition/. [Last accessed: 19.04.2021].

[2] OECD (2017). Just Transition.  https://www.oecd.org/environment/cc/g20-climate/collapsecontents/Just-Transition-Centre-report-just-transition.pdf, [Last accessed: 19.04.2021].

[3] Greenpeace, https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/challenges/just-transition/,  [Last accessed: 19.04.2021].

[4] ISSD (). Just Transition. https://www.iisd.org/topics/just-transition  [Last accessed: 13.04.2021].

[5] UNFCCC, (2015), Just Transition of the Workforce, and the Creation of Decent Work and Quality Jobs.  https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/Just%20transition.pdf  [Last accessed: 03.05.2021].

[6] United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals. Available at https://sdgs.un.org/goals [Last accessed: 19.04.2021].

[7] WRI (n.d.). Embedding Just Transition in Long-term Decarbonization Strategies: Why, What, and How. https://www.wri.org/climate/expert-perspective/embedding-just-transition-long-term-decarbonization-strategies-why-what [Last accessed: 13.04.2021].

[8] ILO (2015). Guidelines for a just transitiontowards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_emp/—emp_ent/documents/publication/wcms_432859.pdf [Last accessed: 13.04.2021].

[9] United Nations (2015). Paris Agreement. https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf [Last accessed: 13.04.2021].

[10] European Commission (2019). The Just Transition Mechanism: making sure no one is left behind. https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal/actions-being-taken-eu/just-transition-mechanism_en [Last accessed: 13.04.2021].

[11] Sustainability Times (2021). COP26 UK: a failure in leadership on the Just Transition. https://www.sustainability-times.com/environmental-protection/cop26-uk-a-failure-in-leadership-on-the-just-transition/ [Last accessed: 19.04.2021].

[12] Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration (2018). https://cop24.gov.pl/fileadmin/user_upload/Solidarity_and_Just_Transition_Silesia_Declaration_2_.pdf  [Last accessed: 19.04.2021].

[13] S. Abram, E. Atkins, A. Dietzel, M. Hammond, K. Jenkins, PhD, L. Kiamba, J. Kirshner, J. Kreienkamp, T. Pegram, B. Vining, (2020), Just Transition: Pathways to socially inclusive decarbonisation, COP Universities Network Briefing. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/public-policy/sites/public-policy/files/cop26_just_transition_policy_paper_-_final_.pdf [Last accessed: 19.04.2021].

[14] Nick Robins, Vonda Brunsting and David Wood (2018). Investing in a just transition Why investors need to integrate a social dimension into their climate strategies and how they could take action. https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Robins-et-al_Investing-in-a-Just-Transition.pdf [Last accessed: 19.04.2021].

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