New Study: Just Energy Transition in Global South

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Dr. Joachim FünfgeltReferent Energiepolitik
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Bread for the World together with Friedrich Ebert Foundation are happy to release our new study: "Guiding Principles & Lessons Learnt For a Just Energy Transition in the Global South". This study provides an overview of different just transition, energy transformation and climate justice discourses, presents a set of just energy transition principles and applies them to evaluate climate policies of 12 Global South countries. We express our thanks to all contributing authors: Thomas Hirsch (Lead Author), Manuela Matthess (Ed.), Dr. Joachim Fünfgelt (Ed.), Lars Blume, Raju Pandit Chhetri, Daniela Gavaldón Eichelmann, Dean Gioutsos, Dr. Susanne Hildebrandt, Dr. El Mostafa Jamea, Lina Li, Tirthankar Mandal, Alexander Ochs, and Richard Worthington.

Executive Summary

Just transition is generally regarded as the exclusive domain of trade unions: The just transition discourse has its origin in the struggle of North American trade unions for programs supporting workers who lost their jobs as a result of environmental protection policies in the 1970s and 1980s. Later, at the Rio plus 20 Summit in 2012, just transition was brought to the global level and linked with the sustainable development agenda. Mainly due to the efforts of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), it was then also introduced into climate negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and was ultimately anchored in the preamble to the Paris Agreement, thereby ensuring recognition for the legitimate interests and rights of workers and their communities, which are exposed to restructuring and job losses in the transition process from a greenhouse gas-intense to a low-carbon economy.

However, the justice discourse around climate change is much broader than this would suggest. A huge variety of groups express justice claims in the form of demands for justice for those most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change and for expelled workers and their families, justice in how the burdens and opportunities of the energy transition are shared, and justice to nature and for future generations. These justice claims overlap in part. They concern different domains of justice, i.e. recognition and structural, distributive and participatory justice. There is considerable coherence among different claim holders for justice on underlying values, as for instance »leave no one behind« or »rights based«, whereas their just transition narratives and policy demands vary. The shared value base could serve as a starting point for building alliances, something which is necessary to reach the goal of achieving a just transition for everybody.

In order to preserve a chance of remaining below 2 °C, or ideally below 1.5 °C, of global warming, it is imperative that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions should peak, plateau and begin the decline by 2020. And without ambitious climate action, it is unlikely that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be achieved, thereby inflicting even more injustice on the people, especially in developing countries. While all economic sectors must ultimately be de-carbonized to achieve net zero emissions as called for by the Paris Agreement, the transition of the energy sector is the easiest way of achieving reductions; apart from challenges, it also presents many economic opportunities; and it is already under way.

We have developed a set of eight just energy transition principles designed to make justice applicable to energy transition processes in developing countries, which go beyond an abstract call for justice. They cover the climate, socio-economic and political dimensions in a balanced way to reflect the legitimate justice claims of a broad range of potential allies for a just energy transition alliance. Each principle is associated with indicators, and a formula is used to attach a final score to a country’s level of justice in the energy transition.

We applied this approach as a reference framework to assess the energy transitions in twelve countries of the Global South. Their respective scores show that justice concerns are gaining traction in the energy transition and that different countries adopt interestingly different approaches to justice. However, there remains a great deal of room for improvement and countries have a lot to learn from each other. Neither do those countries which claim to be pioneers of the energy transition necessarily perform better in terms of the social and political dimension of a just transition, nor are those who claim to be pioneers regarding justice automatically in the lead when it comes to climate ambition. Our study concludes with recommendations that build on the findings and aim to support alliance building.