As we stand on the cusp of a profound global economic transformation driven by the imperative to address climate change, thought leaders and communities have to address the myths, challenges and opportunities in what we call a “just transition.” An event called, “Dissecting the Myth of Just Energy Transition: A Political Economy Workshop for Transformative Change,” surfaced a number of these issues. New America’s Planetary Politics Initiative and the Centre for Public Impact hosted the event. Those who attended shed light on the scale of this transformation, emphasizing the need to integrate justice and post-colonial perspectives to avoid perpetuating existing exploitative practices and systemic injustices in the renewable energy transition.
That the workshop took place during Black History Month, held particular significance. The just transition movement has its roots in the United States Civil Rights Movement, which brought the focus of divested and overburdened communities to the forefront. It gained more strength and prominence during the labor rights movements in the 1980’s when the problems with workers’ exposure to toxic chemicals were brought to the forefront. Each renewed conversation about just transitions has to refocus on the “justice” portion of the transition. We must consider the lived experiences of Black, Brown, and Marginalized communities that have historically been deprived of opportunities in the global economy. The future of work and sustainability, acknowledging and addressing these historical inequities becomes integral to a truly just transition. The duality of the “haves” and “have nots” plays out markedly in the current impacts and of course, in how we finance a transition and who gets access to those resources.
With the world already experiencing the impacts of a 1.2°C rise in temperature, and global electricity demand projected to surge by 62% by 2050, the urgency to transition away from fossil fuels is evident. However, ensuring energy accessibility for all is equally paramount, considering that 675 million people still lack access to energy as of 2021. Providing an equitable transition means considering how the energy sector, which currently employs 2% of the global workforce, can avoid labor reductions while providing safety and benefits for workers and their communities.
Key frameworks, such as the UN’s Alliance for Just Energy Transformation, provide principles for this transition, emphasizing the importance of indigenous and local community rights, fairness, and strategies for climate justice. Achieving a just energy transition also hinges on addressing monetary challenges. While public and private financing currently contributes around $2 trillion annually, bridging the $5-$7 trillion gap required for net-zero targets demands a concerted effort.
Addressing the financial gap and engaging more capital is pivotal, considering the potential economic benefits of transforming our economy to be climate resilient—estimated at $43 trillion by 2070. A big part of that is redirecting publicly funded subsidies away from fossils and toward renewables. Despite COP28 signaling a transition away from fossil fuels, the continued subsidization of fossil projects with $7 trillion globally raises concerns. The financial landscape includes initiatives like the Green Climate Fund, providing $14 billion for climate mitigation, yet energy access and transition financing remain excluded. Multinational banks committing $270 billion at COP28 raised transparency questions, especially regarding potential funding for fossil-adjacent projects.
These issues of justice and finance are just the start of a conversation that must also include land use, mineral rights and equity. The renewable energy transition’s dependence on critical green minerals, such as lithium, copper, nickel, and cobalt, open the door for these conversations and more about governance and supply chain. Essentially, navigating the future of work, sustainability, and just transitions requires a comprehensive approach. Learning from past challenges, addressing financial gaps, and ensuring transparent practices will be the linchpins of a successful and equitable global energy transformation.