The Covid-19 recovery window offers a rare opportunity to transform economies and accelerate the green transition. There is renewed openness to large scale public investment as governments seek to restore their economic health, boost long-term growth potential, and accelerate decarbonization. But the inequality exposed by the Covid-19 crisis also demonstrates the need for policies that can advance equity and justice.
This paper examines green recovery measures through the lens of a just transition. We use three key dimensions of a just transition—distributional impacts, social inclusion, and transformative intent—to assess green recovery interventions around the world. We highlight promising examples of just and green recovery measures in various countries and suggest policy insights with principles and best practices for future action.
Policy Insights for a Just Green Recovery
Below are some brief insights which can help ensure that green recovery spending can deliver more just and equitable outcomes.
- At a minimum, avoid investments and incentives that lock in fossil fuel dependency, thereby creating transition challenges for communities down the road. Many green recovery pathways offer similar if not better growth and employment prospects and can likely be structured to meet individual country environmental, social, and economic targets.
- Structure responses that address ecological, social, and economic issues as integrated opportunities that have multiple benefits, rather than as separate priorities. Integrated measures should drive ambitious, socially inclusive and equitable interventions that seek to address structural inequality and support workers and communities, especially those who are vulnerable to climate change and any adverse effects of green transitions.
- Plan, maintain, and fund a pipeline of place-based sustainable infrastructure projects along with reskilling efforts to support their implementation.This needs to be done in close coordination with relevant ministries and local and regional governments (including those that deal with public health and social welfare) and local stakeholders. This can improve a country’s ability to deploy labor surplus into productive work in the future.
- Governments can draw on and integrate just transition principles into existing climate and development plans, channeling recovery funds toward existing targets and priority areas. Applying the just transition framework to the existing list of priorities enshrined in various global compacts and corresponding national commitments, such as the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework, Aichi targets, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provide good entry points.
- Strengthen social safety nets through inclusive, consultative processes to support those most vulnerable to future shocks, including ones related to climate change. Stronger social safety nets and social infrastructure will increase community-level resilience, help reduce the need for targeted interventions in future crises and make it easier for governments to support those in the informal sector, especially in developing country contexts. Bilateral and multilateral institutions, NGOs, and civil society participants also have a critical role to play in supporting social protection programs that are designed with fairness, inclusivity, and distributional justice in mind.
- Invest in developing a future-oriented workforce to recover from the social and economic impacts of the pandemic and better prepare for structural changes and economic shocks related to climate change and the actions taken to respond to it. Acknowledging that green transitions are likely to create distributional impacts to jobs and communities, develop programs that proactively engage communities likely to be affected to understand their needs and help displaced workers access advisory services, formal training, or additional education as they seek to acquire skills and qualifications to enter new sectors and industries.
- Ensure job quality, labor standards, and rights for workers in the green recovery. The ILO suggests that social dialogue between unions, employers, and government, as well as collective bargaining rights are some of the key guiding principles for a just transition. These essential workers’ rights can help to ensure greater social inclusion and distributional justice. Policymakers can fall into the trap of focusing on quantity rather than quality and duration of jobs.
- Prioritize stakeholder engagement to make stimulus decisionmaking more equitable and transparent. Governments can leverage their convening power to organize expert roundtables, citizen dialogues, and networks to receive input and communicate green recovery plans. Inviting citizen input could gather valuable advice from workers and communities in vulnerable areas and garner more support for ambitious climate actions that are to be accelerated through green recovery measures.