31 May 2018
NGO Brief: Just Transition in Focus
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
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There is a growing body of research and policy guideline tools on the topic of “just transition,” in the context of the transformational change needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, ensuring opportunities are harnessed, risks managed, and no one is left behind through engaging all affected stakeholders in dialogue to identify pathways to a sustainable future.

Much of this work highlights opportunities to be gained through careful planning of the transition for synergistic policymaking that can leverage opportunities towards the achievement of several SDGs.

This brief highlights three publications from NGOs that are contributing to the discussion around policies for a just transition towards a net-zero emissions future.

In recent years, the topic of “just transition” has been gaining growing interest and prominence in international debates, spanning different sectorial discussion. This policy brief gives an overview of the recent work evolving in the international climate policy sphere. Building on the work developed by labor and trade unions, it highlights the growing recognition of the need for multi-stakeholder conversations and further developing interlinkages between these communities.

The labor and trade union movements have published several reports, providing thinking and guidance on the topic of just transition. These include the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s ‘Guidelines for a Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies for All’ and the International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) many resources embodied in the ‘Just Transition Centre,’ established by ITUC and partners, including the 2017 ‘Just Transition: A Report for the OECD.’ More recently, the climate policy space has seen the publication of a number of guides, including the European Trade Union Confederation’s (ETUC) ‘Involving Trade Unions in Climate Action to Build a Just Transition,’ and the UNFCCC’s technical paper titled, ‘Just Transition of the Workforce, and the Creation of Decent Work and Quality Jobs.’

The preamble of the Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted in 2015, also underscores close links between climate action, sustainable development and a just transition, with Parties to the Agreement “taking into account 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.”

Following the substantial body of work produced within labor organisations, which has helped to build capacity on understanding of the topic, and the embodying of the principles within the Paris Agreement, just transition is now being addressed from many standpoints, with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) increasingly engaging on the topic for climate action and broader economic and development policymaking, including by highlighting interlinkages between several SDGs. This non-exhaustive policy brief gives an overview of three recent publications related to just transition from the climate policy space, linking to the civil society requests towards the G20, the relevance of just transition for businesses and implications for the broader international climate policy space.

Climate Action Network (CAN) International, has published a brief titled, ‘G20 Issue Brief: Just Transition,’ as part of a series of briefs produced in the context of the 2018 G20, presided by Argentina, which give an overview of the context for key issues related to climate and energy policy within the G20, the main policy recommendations and asks from civil society, and draft language that CAN recommends for the G20 Leaders’ Communiqué. In the context of the “future of work” priority of the Argentine G20 Presidency, the CAN issue brief asserts that “embracing a fair and fast transition can contribute to achieving several SDGs,” pointing specifically to SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), which it describes as the impetus for achieving a just transition, SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), which it designates as the “catalyst” for SDG 10 (reduce inequality) and SDG 1 (no poverty), underscoring the essential role of SDG 13 (climate action) to the achievement of all SDGs.

CAN underlines the need to develop policy responses for a just transition of the workforce to fully embrace the opportunities of the transition towards a zero-carbon global economy, and ensure no one is left behind, calling on G20 countries to proactively engage with all stakeholders and citizens in national and regional dialogues, develop space to address just transition within the G20 agenda and explore fiscal policies in support of a just transition.

The Stanley Foundation has produced a policy dialogue brief titled, ‘Setting an International Policy Agenda for Just Transition.’ The brief provides findings from a roundtable of the same name, which the Stanley Foundation hosted as part of the 58th annual Strategy for Peace Conference in October 2017, bringing together a broad range of stakeholders including researchers and campaigners as well as civil society, labor and business representatives. The brief identifies the need for an international policy agenda on just transition. It underscores that the action required to limit global warming to 1.5ºC results in an immediate need to begin conversations on just transitions, working together with labor movements on the social issues affecting their industries and workers, so as to “provide the spark needed for communities to take on further climate action that ensures an equitable future for all.”

The brief identifies key challenges for a just transition, including entrenched economic and political interests, overly narrow bureaucratic agendas, financial requirements and labor gaps. Building on these challenges, it outlines a set of recommendations for an international policy agenda on just transition, including procedural principles for its implementation, highlighting the need to bring different communities together. Specifically, the brief notes the many opportunities from undertaking a joined up approach through a common international policy agenda and implementation of its procedural principles, including: enabling connections to be built across social movements to find common ground; moving collective action forward more effectively; and discovering new solutions that expand the different options or pathways for a just transition, identifying the potential synergies between climate action and social policy goals.

A publication from the B Team and the Just Transition Centre underlines the role and opportunities for businesses in a just transition. Titled, ‘Just Transition: A Business Guide,’ the publication underscores the economy-wide transformation required to transition to a “net-zero world,” identifying the impact on “all industries, jobs and communities.” It aims to provide guidance to businesses to help them understand their role in a just transition that contributes to building “a future where jobs are green and decent, greenhouse gas emissions are at net-zero, poverty is eradicated, and communities are thriving and resilient.” While asserting that the “transition to net-zero is inevitable,” the guide highlights the opportunities to be gained from, and the responsibility for businesses to engage in, exercises of forethought and dedicated planning, to ensure that the transition happens in a way that is beneficial for the planet and people. It underscores that a just transition provides opportunities for companies to take action that is mutually beneficial for the achievement of the goals of the Paris Agreement and the SDGs, in particular SDG 8.

Furthermore, the guide emphasizes the many business opportunities to be gained through engaging in a just transition, including: better returns and lower costs; improved recruitment and staff retention; better brand reputation; improved innovation and technology development; improved operational performance; and better planning, in line with long-term strategic planning increasingly requested by many investors. The guide also stresses the need for coherent policy frameworks, noting that business plans for just transition are most likely to be effective when they are linked to the broader context of action by other employers, local and regional governments, national governments and investors. It encourages companies to advocate for stronger collective action and policy alignment on social protection, education and training, and technology development and dissemination.

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