Navigating A Just Transition: Leave No One Behind in the Battle Against Climate Change

For a just transition, measures need to be taken to help fossil fuel workers who could be negatively affected. Photo: Amir Arabshahi
For a just transition, measures need to be taken to help fossil fuel workers who could be negatively affected. Photo: Amir Arabshahi

By Bruno Carrasco

Countries in Asia and the Pacific face challenges and opportunities in the transition to a low-carbon future. Clear plans and coordinated efforts can make the difference.

The ice is melting in the poles, where temperatures are rising fast. As a result, sea level rise is having devastating consequences in the low-lying atolls of the Pacific and Indian oceans.

These are unmistakable early warning indicators of the perils to come and clear signs that climate change is an existential threat to humanity.

Asia and the Pacific accounts for over half of global greenhouse gas emissions and tragically pays a heavy price by receiving a disproportionate impact of weather-augmented disasters. Last year’s floods in Pakistan were a recent example.

 Climate change is becoming the great disruptor of this century. The changes required to our global economy, in the nature of our work, in our consumption habits and in our modes of transportation will be significant. In this transition, the hard reality is that there will be winners and losers – but the magnitude and intensity of these losses can be managed if we truly integrate the principles of a just transition.

 What is a Just Transition? At its core, a just transition is about putting people at the center of dealing with the consequences of climate change. It is about ensuring social equity and inclusion in the transition to a green economy.

A just transition needs to address two dimensions of climate action - ensuring potential negative impacts on people are anticipated and adequately addressed, and building a strong and inclusive enabling environment to maximize the benefits of the transition.

A just transition is about connecting and integrating climate goals with social and economic goals. It is understanding that equity considerations cannot be overlooked.

Our ability to contain global temperature rise - as we adopt new technologies and promote a greener and de-fossilized economy - will be critically dependent on the just transition, both in speed and scale of the solutions.

While the rhetoric of the disruptions is largely driven by gloom and doom, these disruptions can also be opportunities to create new and quality jobs, develop green industries, bridge development gaps (such as energy poverty and gender inequality), and enhance well-being.

At its core, a just transition is about putting people at the center of dealing with the consequences of climate change.

Transitioning away from fossil fuels could result in the loss of six million jobs by 2030, mainly in the energy sector, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). However, up to  18 million jobs worldwide could be created in meeting the challenge of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius Hence, a just transition could have substantially more benefits than losses if managed properly.

A just and green transition is a complex process. Countries taking on this gargantuan task need a game plan. This is where policy frameworks come into play. Within these frameworks, countries can coordinate and organize how they are going to fight climate change with tools such as nationally determined contributions and long-term strategies.

A just transition will also require addressing important funding considerations. An estimated additional spending of some $3 trillion per year is needed by 2030, of which $1.8 trillion represents additional investments in climate action, according to a recent report of the Eminent Persons Group convened by the G20.

The report calls for the international development financial system to support this spending with $500 billion in additional financing by 2030.

We will need to look beyond climate policies - labor, social protection, retraining, greening industrial, and trade policy will all impact on the ability to implement a just transition. In addition, the challenges and opportunities associated with a just transition are inherently context-specific, reflecting the place and people affected, and requiring their engagement and ownership at local, regional, and country level.

We need to move away from greenhouse-gas-emissions intensive economic activities through financing, policy engagement, technical advice, and knowledge sharing, in line with country priorities.

This includes helping Asia and the Pacific’s developing countries to develop operational frameworks based on accepted high-level principles and mobilizing resources to support just transition initiatives in the region, including the Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM), a program aimed at helping confront the issue of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the Just Transition Platform.

The Energy Transition Mechanism is expected to be one of the key delivery mechanisms to ensure the successful implementation of Just Energy Transition Partnerships, an umbrella initiative for international support for a just energy transition where ADB plays a critical role. These vital initiatives can help the region’s developing countries to strategically plan, implement, and finance a just transition in energy but also other sectors.

 Climate change is a crisis multiplier, affecting food insecurity, water scarcity, droughts, floods, and diseases. As such, it poses the gravest threat to humanity, with no region more vulnerable than our own. The battle against climate change will be won or lost in Asia and the Pacific.