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Background: Just Transition has become a hot topic during the Bangkok climate negotiations, with the hope that it could become a key element of COP24 stifled by a lack of progress this week.

What: The concept of a Just Transition has been around since WW2, but has been applied to Environmental justice debates over the last couple of years. At its core, it aims to simply ensure that any workers affected by big legal or economic changes are given an opportunity to find other, meaningful training and work.

As we “transition to a cleaner way of manufacturing [it ensures] a smooth transition that provides for workers,”  explains Aaron Mair of the Sierra Club.

In the Climate Talks it is recognised as an element of the Paris Agreement, and ever since has been most actively discussed in regards to “Response Measures”.

This negotiating topic has been highly controversial, as it aims to develop support structures for the economic and ecological transformations that will be taking place, especially in resource-based economies, like South Africa and Malaysia. Some see this as impossibly challenging. Others, such as Saudi Arabia, see it as central to their ecological future.

Hope for COP24: The Incoming Polish COP President announced it will dedicate a separate ministerial declaration on the topic. While met with optimism from some, others raised concerns as they were uncertain what this has got to do with the Paris Rulebook.

Response Measures

Today, discussions on Response measures continue, also addressing how to incorporate the issue of Just Transition.

‘Response Measures’ is the idea that countries should receive economic compensation for moving away from fossil fuels. Observers are very worried about this trend and fear it opens the door for economic rewards for inaction.

“The Bangkok discussions on response measures are bifurcated along 2 lines,” explains Oskar Kulik. “The first one is whether ‘Just Transition’ should be included in this discussion, which is opposed by developing countries, the second is whether ‘human rights’ should be in there.”

Fishermen affected by Climate Change gather at the Rise for Climate event in Bangkok. A just transition is also critical for those in agricultural sectors heavily impacted by Climate Change. Photo: Lily Jamaludin/Climate Tracker

Lack of Progress: “The current opposition in the Response Measures discussions is just painful to watch,” says Bert De Well, Climate Policy Officer at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

A 21st Century Challenge: As we spoke, De Well highlighted the challenges for a Just Transition, especially in Africa.

“Developing countries use the argument that Just Transition is not their issue, since it is mainly an issue of mitigation, while they are focused on adaptation.”

“But when you know that in several African countries only 2 to 3% of the population has social protection, and when you know that the African population is one of the worse affected by the impacts of climate change, Just Transition should be driven by both developed and developing countries.”

Time will only tell how this issue evolves in Katowice. Since the Response Measures have so often been spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, it will be their negotiating prowess and the hopes of a Presidential push that will play a critical role for progress going forward.

Arthur Wyns

About Arthur Wyns

Arthur Wyns is a tropical biologist and science journalist who writes about climate change, environment and migration. He manages Programs and Partnerships for Climate Tracker since 2017. With a group of biologists he founded Lonely Creatures, an organisation that brings under attention the stories of endangered species around the world.