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COP 28

Just Transition: What does civil society demand from COP 28?



As the 28th United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP 28) gets underway, the eyes of the world shift to Dubai and the tense climate negotiations set to unfold between November 30 and December 12 following the hottest year on record. The stakes are high and the challenges profound as delegates seek to reinforce commitments made under the Paris Agreement and tighten ambiguous wording in line with vital ambition.

As a growing topic, just energy transition is set to be prominent at the conference, with hopes running high for concrete headway on the just transition work programme established at COP 27. As a partner of the Knowledge Hub representing over 1,900 civil society organisations, the Climate Action Network (CAN) will be paying close attention to the just transition conversation. We asked Anabella Rosemberg, CAN‘s Senior Advisor on Just Transition, what the organisation expects from COP 28.

Which just transition outcomes does civil society demand from COP 28?

It’s important to place the just transition conversation at COP 28 in the context of a massive call from civil society for the global, just, and equitable phase-out of fossil fuels. Civil society supports the importance of delivering social justice in the transition, and this would not be the first time just transition is discussed. That said, it is becoming more pressing, with the need to accelerate a fossil fuels phase-out and the importance of international cooperation in making that happen. A second element of context that makes this COP important for just transition is the growing use of the frame of just transition for many multilateral and national initiatives. We see that when Just Energy Transition Partnerships (JETPs) or national just transition strategies addressing coal or other fossil fuels are being developed, the implementation of just transition leaves behind core elements of inclusion and participation rights. In this COP, we are seeking to ensure the concept is not used to “label” initiatives that do not respect minimum standards on rights, social dialogue, and inclusion. For example, we can’t risk leaving communities behind because of a very narrow interpretation of the concept.  

Why is the COP such an important forum for advancing just transition? And what other key areas should we watch this year? 

First, it’s very important to acknowledge that just transition conversations are happening outside the UNFCCC. There are many bodies out there—for example, the International Labor Organization, the Asian Development Bank, or the African Development Bank—and many conversations are happening at the multilateral and regional levels. However, ensuring that climate policy and climate commitments fully embrace social justice in the transformation can only be achieved by the legitimate climate body, which is the UNFCCC. Until we anchor just transition in all practices, programmes, and commitments arising from emission reduction measures, adaptation, and financial support, we will still be observing climate policies aggravating inequalities, unemployment, and precarious work. Getting the UNFCCC to kickstart this work at COP 28 and aiming for an ambitious outcome down the line is important to show that the climate regime is evolving and working in synergy with the need to achieve dignity for all within planetary boundaries. 

How does progress on just transition at COP 28 fit in with the UNFCCC processes more broadly?

The landscape in which COP 28 is taking place and the conversations that will happen there can come across as quite obscure. From a negotiations perspective, for civil society, 5 years after the Paris Agreement, it’s extremely important that the global stocktake signals the importance of taking concrete measures against the main culprits of the climate crisis, particularly the fossil fuel industry. It is also key to launch the loss and damage fund, which is the flip side of the coin of the low ambition so far. The more we delay the global fossil fuel phase-out and ambitious emission reductions, the more we increase the need to compensate and support communities that are suffering the impacts of climate change.  

 The more we delay the global fossil fuel phase-out, the more we increase the need to compensate and support communities that are suffering the impacts of climate change. 

There is also a third element: how do we take society with us? In the transformation until now, we saw that climate conversations at the national level tend to be dominated by those who oppose climate ambition, claiming that it leads to more poverty, more inequality, more exclusion. Pro-climate forces have, until now, struggled to articulate a response that proves them wrong. The work programme on just transition could be a way to start accompanying governments in that journey. This year’s COP should outline the scope and objectives. Civil society has concerns about the level of ambition. There are many spaces where practices and learnings are being shared, including in our IKI JET project. This work programme should therefore not be limited to sharing only domestic practices, but it should rather guide action on just transition. This is where we will be placing much emphasis over the next couple of weeks. Similarly, there is a need for trade unions and other organisations in our network to see stronger guidance on how just transition could be brought into the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) at the national level. Underpinning all these issues is the issue of climate finance, as without financial support, the trust in the climate regime is weakening and the ability of multilateralism to offer solutions is reduced. From a civil society perspective, Parties are falling short on all four elements (fossil fuels phase-out, loss and damage support, just transition and finance), but we will be working very hard with other constituencies, such as women and gender, trade unions, and different human rights groups, to show that this demand cuts across several groups in society.   

What progress has so far been made on just transition over the years, and particularly since COP 27? Where do you see particular shortcomings or deadlocks? What is needed to make significant progress? 

At a global level, we have seen the just transition concept grow since COP 27, with the new JETP announced for Senegal and South Africa, and with Indonesia moving forward with their plans. Colombia has also announced a just transition strategy related to coal and, hopefully at some point, oil and gas phase-out; and Chile has created a ministry to handle the eco-social transition. This concept keeps growing as it is adopted by more and more governments. However, this comes with the challenge that it’s all happening without clear governance and with very limited guidance on the role that civil society plays in defining its objectives or developing just transition strategies. In the international context, this translates as a need for just transition strategies to respond to local realities, which we know are incredibly diverse. Unfortunately, that diversity is used against attempts to create coherence on the direction taken by those just transition strategies.  

One of the biggest challenges is that diversity of just transition approaches is used against attempts to create coherence and a minimum set of standards that secure rights, social dialogue, and inclusion in just transition strategies.  

The question is how to convince governments that finding commonalities with each other is not some kind of straight jacket. On the contrary, it’s an opportunity to share and cooperate and figure out ways to solve challenges, either learning from each other or addressing the challenges together. One of the things we keep emphasising in the context of the UNFCCC is the need to accelerate international cooperation on just transition. Until now, this has received very little attention. This is not only about bringing JETPs to the table but also seeing how the whole just transition mechanism in Europe could be internationalised. It’s another example of how you can advance just transition by creating a solidarity fund that allows the ones most impacted to move faster and better with just transition policies. All of this points to the fact that cooperation is critical and multilateralism is still needed if we want to accelerate the impact of just transition policies.   

How does just transition fit into your broader expectations for COP 28? 

Climate Action Network represents a very diverse group of organisations, but there is strong consensus on the importance of just transition at this COP, as well as the just and equitable fossil fuel phase-out. There is also the loss and damage fund, which was a promise and a decision from last year that needs to now be delivered upon. And then we have other aspects, such as the global stocktake, which needs to deliver a strong outcome and not limit itself to highlighting what hasn’t been done, but signalling also what is needed from different parties to address the gaps in their ambition on delivering on the Paris Agreement. We’ve witnessed a race to the bottom in terms of ambition over the past few years, so we need a package that could take us into a more just implementation of the Paris Agreement, which in turn would keep us within sight of the 1.5°C objective, which remains, of course, our biggest priority. 

Want to keep track of just transition events at COP 28? We scoured the listings so you don’t have to. Here’s our comprehensive guide to over 70 just transition events at COP 28.

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