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Partner Interview

“A Just Energy Transition Is Something We Have to Get Right”: Camilla Roman on how ILO is supporting coal regions in transition

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) ensures that the needs and voices of coal-region workers are represented in this Knowledge Hub. We spoke to Camilla Roman about the ILO’s ambitions for a just transition.

By Camilla Roman of the International Labour Organisation



Coal miners in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Credit: Cassidy K. / ILO / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

Why did the ILO want to participate in the IKI JET project?

Firstly, it’s a very good opportunity to work on a topic that is a high priority for the ILO: just energy transition. The energy transition is one of the most challenging issues we face as we shift toward more sustainable economies. We are all aware of the potential negative impacts in terms of jobs and the wider welfare of communities in coal regions; therefore, making sure that the processes are inclusive, the negative impacts are minimised and mitigated, and workers and communities have alternatives,is really fundamental to advancing a just transition agenda. This is key to have the support of communities, workers, and enterprises that are reliant on fossil fuels as they are part of the shift to more sustainable models of development.

In terms of the modalities of the project itself, we saw significant value added in the kind of partnerships that the project involves. It includes a very diverse group of partners who bring complementary types of expertise and experiences. For us, it was appealing to engage in this project because of the impact that these institutions, coming together under a single umbrella, can have in promoting a just energy transition. This will bring very meaningful results.

In what ways is the project different from others that the ILO has participated in?

In general, the ILO does a lot of work through partnerships with other organisations, be it organisations in the multilateral system, technical agencies, employers’ and workers’ organisations, or civil society organisations. The diversity of partners in a single project consortium is very impressive, and that’s what makes it unique. We have strong representation from knowledge partners in the form of IISD and the Wuppertal Institute. We have representation from trade unions and civil society organisations, such as CAN, who have capillary connections in countries. And we have GIZ, which comes with a wealth of experience in project development and project management. Altogether this makes the IKI project rather unique.

It’s great if you have experts talking about just transition, but it’s much stronger if this is complemented by experiences and messages from people on the ground, from policy-makers, and from social partners who have been driving these processes in their day-to-day work.

Do you want to highlight any activities in particular that the ILO will carry out under the project?

At the global level, there will be a strong focus on capacity development. This is an important area of value addition for the project and for what the ILO can do. We have planned an academy on just energy transitions to help participants get the foundations right, as well as a series of more in-depth thematic courses so that the target audience can get a much more detailed understanding of how to promote just transition in specific policy areas. Because, as we know, it is a rather complex process bringing about such transformations in a region, it requires both planning and consultation mechanisms, and then quite specific expertise in the form of skills development programmes, enterprise development, economic diversification, financing, and so on.

We hope that these capacity-building activities will help representatives from coal regions get the kind of insights and practical knowledge they need and that they can also benefit from international learnings. We see a lot of demand from representatives, from government social partners and civil society to understand more about how to implement a just transition—and not just the concept, but to really grasp how to go about the process, how to put in place policies, programmes, and mechanisms and apply this knowledge in their work.

In this regard, we will also develop some practical tools and guidance that, beyond the course itself, will stay with the target beneficiaries so that they can refer back to them and use insights and recommendations in their day-to-day work at the country level. In Indonesia, one of the areas of work we’re most excited about is the development of just transition plans in coal regions, and we’re going to support them through social dialogue processes. This means bringing in not just government but also representatives of trade unions and employers and seeking consultations with stakeholders in communities. Planning is essential and a key foundation of a just transition. We see that transitions and change go wrong when they’re not planned for, and so such plans will serve as a kind of overarching framework, a pathway to lead these regions toward more sustainable and inclusive models of development. Securing the participation of workers and employer organisations will be crucial in getting that buy-in and broad-based support that is required for the ambitious change that lies ahead. And then, of course, it will also help to get insights from the ground to make sure that these plans reflect the real needs and the real priorities of workers, enterprises, and communities.

We’re also going to implement more thematic support. One area, in particular, is skills development in Indonesia. Skills are core to a just transition because, on the one hand, reskilling and upskilling are essential in helping workers negatively affected by the energy transition to move to new job opportunities in a greener economy, but on the other hand, they are also key to preparing new entrants for the labour market who can then access job openings.

What result does the ILO want to see from the project?

To start with, at the country level, having these just transition plans will be very important in laying the framework for these regions for years to come—both in terms of moving toward locally sustainable economies and for these economies to be inclusive and beneficial for everyone.

Second, going back to more specific areas of support, we hope that there will be programmes and mechanisms to help the skilling efforts in these regions, some of which will be delivered within the project itself and others that will stay within the regions going forward. These skill anticipation and training efforts can be continued in the future.

From a global perspective, it’s very important that the project manages to provide tangible examples of what just transition can do in regions at the subnational level because right now, especially in developing countries, it’s early stages, and there are a lot of questions on how this can be done. Is it possible? What can it look like? And having some concrete results that can be shared in international forums for exchanges across coal regions can have a big impact in creating more support for the just transition agenda and facilitating a replication of the experiences in locations beyond the IKI JET target regions.

All sectors will have to transition, and the transition has to be just, so having a good and solid example of a fair energy transition will help to foster that.

How does the project fit into the ILO’s broader priorities on just transition?

For us, the energy transition is one of the key areas to address. A just energy transition is something we have to get right. It makes a big difference to have approaches that we know work, prove that this can be done, and then take them as a reference for a just transition in other sectors. It’s important to mention that we don’t see just transition as relevant only to the energy sector; it’s something that is relevant across all economic sectors. All sectors will have to transition, and the transition has to be just, so having a good and solid example of a fair energy transition will help to foster that.

And for us, it’s also important to work at the subnational level. We’ve done some work, but not a lot at the regional level thus far. This project will help to articulate what just transition means in a tangible way at the subnational level while linking it to national policies. That will be important for ILO’s agenda of supporting a just transition at different levels: international, national, subnational, and sectoral.

How can the project influence just transition beyond the countries it is active in?

If we can have a tangible impact in the coal regions of the target countries, those will become powerful examples that can be showcased in the context of international exchanges. It will help to illustrate how a just transition can take place. It will help inspire other countries and other regions to follow similar paths—adapted, of course, to the national circumstances that they face—and it will serve to provide some examples of best practices and learnings that can be taken on board when other countries embark on similar processes and face similar challenges.

International projects can serve to build an alliance of just transition champions who are involved in these processes, who have been on the frontline of driving a just transition in their countries. This can be very effective in fostering the just transition agenda internationally because, frankly speaking, it’s great if you have experts talking about just transition, but it’s much stronger if this is complemented by experiences and messages from people on the ground—from policy-makers and from social partners who have been driving these processes in their day-to-day work.

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