The Term to successfully guide us through climate change action
In this last year, we have witnessed numerous climate disasters, and after the climate tragedies seen in British Columbia, climate change is no longer waiting to enter the boxing ring; the fight has started, and it is going to be a very long 12-round battle. If we want to win this battle we need to do it in a way that supports the environment, promotes social well-being of people, and in a way that can maintain a stable economy. This is a battle we cannot lose. Keeping the planet’s warming to as close to 1.5°C as possible is essential for human survival and it is also essential that we have a clear and progressive battle plan to do this.
At the United Nations Climate Change 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), a “just transition” for workers and communities was included as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement on global warming/climate change. The term was used throughout the United Nations Climate Change 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, and it has become the new buzzword…but what does this term mean? It is defined by the Government of Canada as, “an approach to economic, environmental and social policy that aims to create an equitable and prosperous future for workers and communities as the world builds a low-carbon economy.”
The concept of “just transition” came from trade unions in the 1970s that wanted to protect their workers while adapting to changing environmental policies. International labour organizations, the United Nations, and governments of countries around the world, including Canada as well as the United Kingdom, Spain, New Zealand, France, the United States, and more, have started to incorporate language and strategies provided through the concept of “just transition” into their climate/environmental action plans.
There is no universal framework for “just transition,” but similar principles are implemented in various climate/environmental action plans. These principles include:
• respecting the rights of all people, communities, and the environment;
• supporting a circular economy while restoring biodiversity;
• creating meaningful work;
• providing for self-determination (bottom up-development);
• redistributing power and resources (decreasing gaps where economic disparities are the greatest);
• focusing on living well without living better at the expense of nature and others;
• recognizing the interconnectedness of all communities and engaging in solidarity at all levels (local, regional, national, and global);—
• recognizing that the start time is NOW—the timeframe for this transition must be quick.
There are numerous case studies where “just transition” has been successful. India’s Dalmia Bharat Group’s Dalmia Cement business produces cement with 50 per cent less emissions than the global industry average (lowest in the world) while increasing its market shares. It has an ambitious CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) program in the communities where it operates, building schools, providing low-cost toilets, fuel-efficient cook stoves, and lighting solutions to local communities (Just Transition Centre, 2018).
Denmark’s understanding of the need to change its energy reliance, created the transition it required to ensure a sustainable future for its people. It transitioned the country’s fossil fuel-based energy sector (coal and oil) to renewable energy sources (42 per cent of Denmark’s energy comes from wind). It made this transition and became a net energy exporter. The wind industry employs over 30,000 people and its pension fund has become a source of capital for renewable energy (Just Transition Centre, 2018).
A “just transition” requires a society supporting a long-term commitment to change—everyone needs to be part of this change—citizens, governments, workers, investors, and organizations, including unions. It will not be easy, but it can be done. Real climate action today through a just transition will make our economy stronger and more competitive, promote ecological integrity, support community inclusiveness, and create good jobs across the country. This idea of transitioning the framework of labour in a way to support positive change is growing in Canada and around the world. Climate change is upon us, and we are going into the last rounds of this fight. We need to work hard for a change that helps on all three fronts—environmentally, economically, and socially. Just transition is a win-win-win model and that is what we need from all three “judges” to win this “battle.”
Julie Hendren is a teacher in District 15, Trillium Lakelands and a member of the provincial OSSTF/FESSO Environmental Advisory Workgroup.
Cartwright, John (ND), “Expert Perspectives: Towards a Just Transition.” World Resources Institute – Long-Term Climate Strategies. www.wri.org/climate/expert-perspective/toward-just-transition.
Climate Justice Alliance (2021), Just Transition Principles. https://climatejusticealliance.org/just-transition/.
Government of Canada: Ministry of Natural Resources (July 2021), News Release – Canada Launches Just Transition Engagement. www.canada.ca/en/natural-resources-canada/news/2021/07/canada-launches-just-transition-engagement.html.
Just Transition Centre (May 2017), Just Transition: A Report for the OECD. www.oecd.org/environment/cc/g20-climate/collapsecontents/Just-Transition-Centre-report-just-transition.pdf.
Principles for Responsible Investment (2018), Climate change and the just transition: a guide for investor action. www.unpri.org/research/climate-change-and-the-just-transition-a-guide-for-investor-action/3202.article.
Spanne, Autumn (June 2021), “Just Transition: History, Principles and Examples,” Treehugger – Sustainability for All. www.treehugger.com/just-transition-history-principles-and-examples-5190469.
UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021 (2021), Supporting the Conditions for a Just Transition Internationally. ukcop26.org/supporting-the-conditions-for-a-just-transition-internationally/?msdynttrid=SzYHgptjDLsOE93r6iYBwWaUr8RKJ992Ym79VR8eJMM.