Justice in the Energy Transition – the challenge of our time

06 Mar 2019

Many countries are realizing the enormity of the Energy Transition. This has been prompted by commitments made in Paris COP21 Agreement. The focus is now very much on how to develop a low-carbon economy, and move towards their respective 2030, 2040, 2050 and even 2080 goals. In this energy transition, whatever the timeframe, the fundamental part of it is justice. Society needs this just transition. And the momentum is gathering for this Just Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy; and it was even referred to in the G7 talks last year, the COP24 talks in December 2018, and also was a major issue for Signatories to the Paris COP21 Agreement where is was specifically referred to in the preamble.

New Legal Support for the Just Transition

To realize the just transition, more than several countries are putting in place the first legislative steps. This is through the creation of a Just Transition Commission (or similar), and there are currently at least eight forms of such a commission in the following jurisdictions: Canada, Germany, Scotland, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, US (Appalachia), and South Africa. Such a commission will provide expert advice on the ways to achieve a Just Transition and also will monitor the effects of existing laws and policies to ensure they contribute to the delivery of a just transition.

The development of these legal entities (Commissions) is a significant step forward. and demonstrates that governments’ see the just transition which as a new social contract. To deliver such a social contract needs collaboration from all, not just labour unions but also the entire communities of researchers and practitioners from across the areas of energy, environment, climate change and sustainability.

Our UKERC grant on the Just Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy is the first to be awarded on this topic in the UK. Our networking achievements demonstrate the importance of this topic and also the success we have had and these include:

  • Several research and outreach articles, and we continue with collaborations with scholars based at the UN and in the US;
  • We have presented at academic sessions internationally, and with policy-makers from a number of countries;
  • We will host an event in May (Edinburgh) and June (Dundee) on the Just Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy which will focus on the 2019 development of a Just Transition Commission in Scotland;
  • We will co-host a conference on Oil, Gas and the Just Transition in Trinidad with participants including Shell and BP (March 27-29); and
  • We have also aimed to encourage young researchers on this topic and researchers from less developing countries and this will be one of our motivations over the next six months.

For anyone interested in working with us or hearing more about the above activities, you only have to get in touch with me, and we would be delighted to hear from you.

Next Steps

In terms of the Just Transition, it is becoming a concept that is being utilized in the majority of policy spaces now and will continue to be so. It aligns with the narratives around jobs, disclosure and transparency, ethics and equality which are permeating through society like never before in part to the fast development of technology. Further, it resonates with society owing to the increased visibility of pollution and its effects on the environment, for example, air pollution levels being constantly exceeded, and the transfer of waste into the food supply chain (i.e. fish and plastics). The imperative to educate the next generation on how we achieve a just transition to a low-carbon economy is growing fast and our Just Transition Initiative aims to play its role!

About the Author

Raphael Heffron is Professor for Global Energy Law & Sustainability at the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy at the University of Dundee. Professor Heffron is lead investigator on the first Just Transition grant awarded in the UK and it will contribute to growing the Just Transition Initiative. Email: r.heffron@dundee.ac.uk