Charting the path to equity: unveiling new Just Transition and Safeguards Framework

Reskilling and training workers for a clean energy future. Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

By Mandy Rambharos, Vice President, Global Climate Cooperation  

As the world moves towards greener, low-carbon futures, it’s imperative that no one is left behind – including those working in fossil fuel industries and the communities they support. 

A new report from Environmental Defense Fund, ‘Just Transition and Safeguards Framework offers a roadmap for countries and energy companies alike to successfully navigate the complexities of transitioning to clean energy while ensuring fairness and equity at every step of the way. 

Guidance from this framework outlines how to empower local stakeholders – from frontline communities to Indigenous Peoples – ensuring everyone has a seat at the table and a fair share in the benefits of this monumental shift. 

The concept of a ‘just transition’ isn’t new by any means. It was first developed by North American trade unions and environmental justice advocates and has since become a global call to action. As this big idea – which is simultaneously inspiring, ambiguous, and vast in scope – spreads across the world, it must adapt to local challenges, economic realities, and social norms.  

While a just transition will (and should) look different from West Virginia to South Africa, EDF’s framework aims to help decision-makers understand the principles that should be core to every just transition plan – removing the ambiguity and providing clear waypoints toward true climate justice.  

What is a Just Energy Transition (JET)?   

Over the last few years, the focus of the just transition has been on the energy sector, largely since this sector emits the most greenhouse gases globally. Embarking on a just energy transition (JET) isn’t just about swapping fossil fuels for renewables – it’s about fairness and equity. Picture a world where communities hit hardest by climate change, and those reliant on carbon-heavy industries, are at the forefront of change and resilience. It’s a phased shift, not an abrupt goodbye to fossil fuels, ensuring no one suffers from sudden job losses without recourse. 

JET charts a course where voices of all stakeholders are heard, shaping climate solutions together toward a low-carbon economy where everyone can thrive. It’s not just a transition – it’s a commitment to forging a future where fairness powers progress. 

Key safeguards needed for a JET 

Social safeguards are at the core of inclusivity within a just energy transition. These safeguards, crucial for the well-being of the environment and communities during the transition, are propelled by a myriad of factors, including: 

  • Community consultation: Imagine a town hall where every voice is heard. Before any project starts, local communities are consulted and listened to as they share their concerns and hopes
  • Environmental protection: The overall aim is the sustainability of the planet, and survival of humankind. Practices that protect natural habitats and biodiversity are prioritized
  • Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities: By respecting the rights and cultures of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities and incorporating traditional knowledge into environmental assessments, we can unlock innovative, sustainable practices that also preserve cultural heritage
  • Inclusive participation: Every stakeholder has a seat at our table. From planning to execution, diverse perspectives must shape projects. This inclusivity strengthens project design and fosters broader support, making initiatives more resilient and impactful. 

How are social safeguards measured? 

Accounting for safeguards in a just transition plan shouldn’t be a simple box-ticking exercise. Rather, they must be measured and monitored over time to assess long-term progress. Here are some factors that may signal a community is well on its way to meeting JET objectives:

  • Job loss is avoided: Education, training, and social support should be provided to workers who are displaced from traditional energy sectors, such as coal mining and oil extraction, to prepare them for jobs in renewable energy sectors, like wind, solar, battery storage and energy efficiency. Affected workers should be reskilled, retrained, or transitioned to different forms of employment
  • The local economy is growing: Community investments are made to support those affected by the energy transition through repurposing activities, local community projects, investing in value chains and small enterprises, and improving infrastructure and access to education. 
  • Sustainable development goals are being met: The energy transition should contribute to broader sustainable development goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting good health, fostering innovation and infrastructure development, and achieving gender and racial equity in training programs or employment opportunities
  • Poverty is reduced: JET plans should return economic value to the local economy where plants are being shut down. These facilities can be repowered with cleaner technologies, and the land can be repurposed for different activities based on community needs. Employment guarantee schemes should also be established to maintain a steady work force, energy subsidies should be offered to low-income households, and overall poverty, energy poverty, and food insecurity should be reduced
  • Stakeholder engagement is prioritized: A wide range of stakeholders should be engaged from the get-go, including affected workers, communities, industry and environmental groups, in the decision-making process to ensure that policies reflect the needs and interests of all parties. 

A just transition, for all  

After previously working with Africa’s largest electric utility company to facilitate a just energy transition, I witnessed firsthand how extensive stakeholder engagement with workers and communities leads to increased buy-in and improved local conditions across many dimensions, whether it be air quality, water, energy access and reliability, climate, or employment. 

I’m excited to bring the lessons I learned through that important work to this framework, drawing on the experiences of communities, advocates, policymakers and companies from around the world. By delineating key safeguards and elements crucial to a JET strategy, this framework underscores the importance of inclusivity, fair practices, and the active engagement of all stakeholders to ensure no one is left behind in the shift to a low-carbon future. 

We need ongoing innovation, collaboration and dialogue to address the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, to create a future where environmental sustainability and social justice are intertwined, and to ensure a healthier planet for current and future generations, essentially — a vital Earth for all. 

Further resources:
Just Transition and Safeguards Framework 

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