What is the ‘Just Transition?’
Eskom Research Reference Group|Eskom Transformed Explainer | 17 July, 2020
The term “Just Transition” has become increasingly common in discussions of a plan to tackle climate change. It is imperative that the world move towards a low-carbon economy in order to avert the crisis of climate change, but doing so imperils those who work in high-polluting sectors of the economy. The many workers in mining, the fossil fuel supply chain, industrial agriculture, transportation, and numerous other professions could be left without employment if the shift to a low-carbon economy does not include a plan for their re-employment in other sectors.
Recognising the need to assist workers in high-carbon economic sectors, politicians, business leaders, environmentalists, and academics have reiterated the need for a “Just Transition.” The transition to a low-carbon economy must entail justice for workers, and to be just it has to plan for the re-employment of workers. Many politicians and business leaders have, however, co-opted the term, with dubious implications for the ‘just’ part of the transition.
In order for the transition to be truly just, it cannot be carried out under a for-profit, private sector-led framework. A true just transition requires that renewable energy, a core part of a new low-carbon economy, is socially owned. Renewables in the hands of capital will serve only to aggravate the inequalities that distinguish the current capitalist system, the very system that created the climate crisis in the first place. It will not be just, if workers in renewables are simply exploited by the same owners of the fossil fuel companies, it will not be just, if capital switches its investment to renewables and renders millions unemployed. A just transition means that the low carbon economy must be socially owned, create millions of jobs and livelihoods, and uplift communities.
Communities previously reliant on fossil fuel jobs, such as mining towns, must be democratically involved in the transition, allowing them to access new opportunities in renewable energy construction, technology manufacturing, and the plethora of other jobs in the new economy.
Allowing investors to dictate the terms of the transition to renewable energy will lead to disaster. A real just transition requires the social ownership of renewables, and a democratically driven process of creating a new economy, with participation from trade unions, communities, the state, and civil society.
For more information on the Eskom Research Reference Group’s proposals for a Just Transition, visit https://www.new-eskom.org/.