Just transitions: building a fair path to a sustainable future

Just transitions: building a fair path to a sustainable future Photo: Jasmin Agovic

The global need to combat climate change and limit the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5°C has never been more urgent. Recognizing that the decisions made today will profoundly shape the destiny of future generations, countries around the world are working towards a sustainable and climate-neutral future. However, the journey towards this ambitious goal needs thoughtful consideration of the challenges involved.

A significant milestone was marked at the recent COP28 (United Nations Climate Change Conference) in Dubai, by signaling the "beginning of the end" of the fossil fuel era. According to the UN, this decision should lay the ground for a swift, just, and equitable transition, underpinned by deep emission cuts and scaled-up finance. It is crucial that countries acknowledge the need for transformative policies that not only address the urgency of climate action but also prioritize the well-being of those directly impacted by transitions.

Bosnia and Herzegovina on its path towards a greener future

Bosnia and Herzegovina, recognizing the need for a greener future, is actively taking steps towards a more sustainable and fair path. Advancing the green agenda for the Western Balkans, the country is focusing on shifting from coal to cleaner and renewable energy sources. The BiH SuTra programme plays a crucial role in supporting local municipalities and towns in preparing their transition plans.

In this pursuit, the principles of a "just transition" are essential, emphasizing the imperative to safeguard the well-being of communities and workers affected by the shifts required to reach climate goals.

Laura Del Duca, the Gender Equality, Social Equity, Poverty expert for the BiH Sutra project from Stockholm Environment Institute, also highlighted the role of seeking justice when working in the context of transitions. “In our work, we see clear evidence both of gendered impacts of energy poverty and transitions, as well as of the role gender plays for proposed solutions. Where transitions are not well-managed, they not only risk becoming unjust, but also to cause serious harm to some social groups. My hope is that more people start understanding climate and environmental changes as social and political struggles, in addition to the environmental and economic problem that dominates the current discourse, and that this is followed by political will.”

How to make the transitions just?

The concept of a "just transition" delves into fundamental questions about fairness in the global shift to a low-carbon economy, especially for regions reliant on carbon-intensive industries. One of the core ideas behind this is that a transition that is perceived as fair is more likely to also be perceived as meaningful and valuable for the wide range of actors whose participation is essential to make the change. Stockholm Environment Institute's policy report by Aaron Atteridge and Claudia Strambo emphasizes seven principles that define a just transition. These principles provide a framework for integrating fairness into policy and practice, ensuring that the transition is not only swift but also just. Implementing programmes and measures supporting those affected while encouraging decarbonization is crucial. The report is based on analyses of related literature and historic cases of similar economic disruptions.

Seven principles for just, low-carbon transitions

  1. Actively encourage decarbonization. The prospect of negative impacts in carbon-intensive regions is not a reason to avoid or delay decarbonization. Delay is fundamentally unjust. A just transition is one in line with achieving globally agreed climate goals – that is, one that accomplishes a very swift decline in emissions towards a near-zero carbon economy.
  2. Avoid the creation of carbon lock-in and more “losers” in these sectors. Ensure that transition is not undermined by ongoing investment or other forms of support to carbon-intensive industry (where alternatives are available) or fossil fuel production, or to reinforce the dependence of other businesses on these activities.
  3. Support affected regions. Generate opportunities to nurture and maintain economic vitality and stability. Prioritize support to regions with lower financial capacity to invest in diversification, and those who bear lower historical responsibility for global emissions.
  4. Support workers, their families and the wider community affected by closures or downscaling. Provide assistance to find new livelihood opportunities. When re-employment is not possible, ensure that adequate social protections are available. The economic, social and personal impacts of transition should not exacerbate the vulnerability of the most marginalized or weakest people. The transition must not compromise basic rights of workers, or threaten broader human rights.
  5. Clean up environmental damage, and ensure that related costs are not transferred from the private to the public sector. The polluter pays principle should be respected.
  6. Address existing economic and social inequalities. Response measures need to include a social equity perspective. Social equity and the empowerment of vulnerable social groups must be an explicit goal in designing support measures, evaluating economic opportunities, assessing impacts, and prioritizing transition support outcomes.
  7. Ensure an inclusive and transparent planning process. This process should be based on wide social dialogue with many different stakeholders and social groups. Economic development paths and priorities should be determined locally. International cooperation and solidarity are needed for financial and technological support.

To achieve equity aims, all principles should be pursued in parallel, not selectively. At the same time, nothing justifies postponing the first principle: the decarbonization imperative. Postponing this crucial step, which results in certain regions being left behind as global decarbonization speeds up, is inherently unjust – as are the consequences of unchecked climate change itself. Effectively implemented initiatives and investments hold the potential to significantly impact regions undergoing decarbonization. They can serve as a source of inspiration for others and play a role in fostering transitions that are not only fair but also more probable.

Read the full brief "Seven principles to realize a just transition to a low-carbon economy" here. Authors: Aaron Atteridge, Claudia Strambo, Stockholm Environment Institute.

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