The just transition: Building a net-zero future where no one’s left behind

As powerful actors join the race to net-zero carbon, an inclusive approach is essential to preserving a high quality of life for everyone

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As governments and corporations the world over join the race to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, let’s make sure we don’t leave anyone behind.

Research from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices shows strong linkages between achieving economic growth and meeting environmental and social objectives. This makes it difficult—if not impossible—to have sustained progress in any one of these areas without targeting all three.

The term ‘just transition’ was born in the labour movement in the 90’s. It was initially designed to support workers who lost their jobs due to environmental policies. Over time, ‘just transition’ took on a broader meaning: a transition to environmentally and socially sustainable jobs, sectors and economies in the face of the climate crisis.

In the past few years, support for the just transition has grown beyond its union roots to include international leaders, governments, corporations, and investors. In 2015, the International Labour Organization published guidelines for a just transition, and the Paris Agreement cited a just transition as “imperative.” In 2020, the Climate Action 100+, which brings together over 500 global investors with over US$47 trillion in assets, included the just transition as one of 10 indicators in its Net-Zero Company Benchmark.

This momentum is encouraging, but we still have work to do. The Canada’s Net Zero Future report by the Institute for Climate Choices found that the contribution to energy use in Canada from fossil fuels will either fall dramatically on the path to net zero, or a significant transformation in how we produce and use energy from fossil fuels—both at home and abroad—will have to occur. Oil and gas have historically been a significant source of employment in this country, with over 175,000 Canadians currently employed by the industry. We can’t let this talent fall through the cracks as we transform our energy systems.

The oil and gas sectors are also major drivers of the Canadian economy, contributing $105 billion to our GDP in 2020. The reality today is that this wealth is not shared equally by all Canadians. Women, people of colour, and Indigenous peoples are underemployed in the current energy sector. These same demographics will likely be disproportionately affected by climate change.

The world’s poor (the majority of which are women) suffer the most from extreme weather events. Black and Hispanic Americans are exposed to more air pollution than white Americans. Indigenous peoples the world over are particularly at risk to the consequences of climate change due to their close relationships with natural resources.

The just transition is our chance to ensure the current high quality of life enjoyed by many Canadians is preserved and passed on to future generations. It’s also a chance to open the tent, to set historical inequalities right, and to build a future where everyone benefits.

This is why it’s so important to the GLOBE Series team that our GLOBE Capital virtual conference be a big tent. Only by bringing diverse perspectives together around our most challenging questions can we develop solutions that meet our economic, environmental and social goals. GLOBE Capital will tackle the biggest questions we need to answer to scale the clean economy:

To attain real progress on these issues, we need all voices at the table—executives, Indigenous leaders, policymakers, and innovators.

The International Labour Organization describes the just transition as a bridge from where we are today to a future where all jobs are green and decent, poverty is eradicated, and communities are thriving and resilient.

If we work together, we might just be able to make this vision a reality.

Elizabeth Shirt is the Managing Director at GLOBE Series

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