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What is "Just Transition"?

Becoming fundable? Converting climate justice claims into climate finance in Mesoamerica’s forests

The article assesses the efforts of the indigenous and forest people’s groups in Mexico and Central America to promote claims to climate finance in terms of the different concepts of justice and identifies constraints to more transformative and reparative pathways to just climate outcomes.

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The article draws upon the experiences of a coalition of 10 Indigenous and forest peoples’ groups in Mexico and Central America—the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB)—with regards to their navigation of the discursive strategies suited for accessing climate finance, particularly through the REDD+ instrument. The author uses the history of community positions toward REDD+ to suggest that the claims underpinning their engagement reflect conceptualizations of climate justice, which deviate from those that have dominated policy and popular discussions. The author assesses the feasibility of the AMPB-proposed Mesoamerican Territorial Fund that aims to directly capture climate finance, which would bypass problematic relations with national governments and traditional donors.

The article finds that although Indigenous peoples and local communities have made significant advances in terms of representation, recognition, participation, and concrete funding, the constraints of “becoming fundable” may hinder more transformative and reparative pathways to just climate outcomes. The requirement to “become fundable”, under the terms of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and major donors, is also a demand for the Indigenous peoples and local communities to become legible . This demand presents a clear tension with the member groups’ priorities of self-determination and “buen vivir”—a term that signifies an explicit recognition of the importance of nature for well-being. The author concludes that moving toward distributive justice may be much easier than a more critical interpretation of procedural justice. As such, efforts to support forest climate initiatives in these contested landscapes may benefit from moving away from results and performance-focused discussions toward a view of climate finance as among the means of achieving distributive, procedural, and historical justice on a territorial scale.

Mitigating inequality with emissions? Exploring energy justice and financing transitions to low carbon energy in Indonesia

This article analyzes energy justice in Indonesia’s transition to low-carbon energy and explores how policies have exacerbated energy injustice.

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This article explores Indonesia’s efforts to reduce energy poverty in its transition to low-carbon energy, with a particular focus on how distributive, procedural, and recognition justice has been included in policies aimed at increasing private investment in renewable energy electrification. Based on the analysis derived from qualitative interviews, field observation, and the review of government documents and policies, the author argues that despite Indonesia’s energy justice agenda of providing access to affordable electricity for all, the policies in place do not effectively promote energy justice.

In terms of distributive justice, the author argues that spatial injustice in electricity access is still prevalent, especially in the eastern part of Indonesia, where many communities lack reliable energy access. The author suggests that many renewable rural electrification projects may exacerbate this spatial inequality by supplying households and cities that have access to a grid network, while neglecting communities that live closest to the electricity generation sites. This is partly due to the government’s encouragement of private investment that favors large-scale projects, thereby further exacerbating geographic inequalities. The author argues that procedural injustice is also prevalent in the energy decision-making processes due to a lack of transparency in the current bidding and procurement processes and limited space for the public participation and engagement in decisions. In terms of recognition, the author asserts that marginalized communities living in areas, where electricity is not considered economically favorable, are neglected and denied electricity access.

The author also makes suggestions for better ways to incorporate energy justice principles into policies and programs. First, energy policies should include more inclusive approaches, such as encouraging public participation and increasing transparency. Second, energy policies need to incentivize diversity beyond large-scale and on-grid projects to effectively target those most affected by energy poverty. Third, contextually grounded approaches best suited to the needs of local communities should be prioritized. Finally, public finance should also be considered in addressing the needs of those most vulnerable to energy poverty.

Electrifying the ‘eighth continent’: exploring the role of climate finance and its impact on energy justice and equality in Madagascar’s planned energy transition

The study looks at Madagascar’s history of energy transition in the context of various financing instruments and actors as well as identifies the potential impacts on social equity.

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Through an analysis of projected energy finance flows and key financiers’ financing strategies, this paper shows a shift from grant-based climate finance to financial instruments with clear return profiles, such as concessional loans and private capital. It finds that the choice of financial instrument does impact the provision of complementary social services in rural electrification schemes. While grants are associated with higher investments in complementary social services, private financiers are focused on innovation and scale. Electrification projects that are financed purely privately were found to negatively impact social cohesion by increasing the inequality in access to energy.

The authors identify that apart from the financing gap of USD13 billion identified in the national plan as the main roadblock to successful implementation, there exist a whole set of interrelated, mutually reinforcing barriers to successful electrification, such as low institutional capacity, a lack of human capital and technical knowledge, corruption, and a dysfunctional utility. The authors use stakeholder maps and case studies from three rural electrification projects as part of the analysis.

The study concludes that, if only commercially viable energy projects were to be financed going forward, up to 19 million Madagascans might be excluded from future electrification efforts. Thus the paper recommends the need to promote climate finance literacy and the use of multiple electrification pathways. The author provides some examples, such as “grid extensions” through concessional loans, “scalable innovation” using private capital and risk guarantees, or grant-based “social mission” programs. The author suggests that the findings are relevant not only to Madagascar, but to most, if not all, least-developed countries (LDCs) aiming to decarbonize their economies.

Transitioning to Sustainable Agriculture Requires Growing and Sustaining an Ecologically Skilled Workforce

The authors suggest that agribusiness practices in the United States that pursue productivity as the primary goal, have been trending in an unsustainable direction and propose that place-based knowledge development, agroecological practices, and decentralized decision-making are key to sustainability in the agricultural sector.

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The article argues that agricultural practices in the U.S. are unsustainable and unjust to farmers, largely because of agribusiness and supporting policies. Over the past century, U.S. agriculture has been trending in an unsustainable direction, rapidly replacing knowledgeable people with non-renewable resources and eroding rural economies in the process. The authors suggest that U.S. policies, technologies, and economic pressures have tended to “deskill” rural labor—a trend that has been linked to labor under capitalism in general. They cite a national census that counted 6.5 million farms in the 1920s, with only 2.04 million left by 2017.

The authors argue that agroecological farming systems mimicking natural ecosystems that create tightly-coupled cycles of energy, water, and nutrients are already known to farmers and researchers. As such, they offer a well-studied pathway to an agricultural transition. A critical and under-appreciated feature of agroecological systems is that they replace fossil fuel- and chemical -intensive management with knowledge-intensive management. The authors argue that the biggest challenge in achieving agricultural sustainability is the replacement of non-renewable resources with ecologically-skilled people in ways that create and support desirable rural livelihoods.

The authors suggest ways in which U.S. policy could pivot to enable and support the ecologically skilled workforce needed to achieve food security and decent livelihoods. They highlight the need to: provide enabling conditions for new farmers to enter the system and sustain a decent livelihood; develop agroecological skills and supporting policy tools (or removal of policies that currently act as a barrier); decouple farmers from the trap of overproduction and low market prices; and strengthen farmer-to-farmer networks to promote knowledge exchange. The authors also briefly lay out the history of discrimination and injustice in the agricultural system in the U.S. and highlight the need for a foundational commitment to justice to guide the allocation of resources, affirm rights, and prioritize the agricultural needs of historically marginalized groups.

Seizing the Urban Opportunity: How National Governments can Recover from Covid-19, Tackle the Climate Crisis and Secure shared Prosperity through Cities

This collaborative report examines how national governments can leverage cities to help address the triple challenge of Covid-19, sustainable development, and climate change.

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The authors discuss how national governments can harness cities to bring about a sustainable and inclusive post-pandemic economic recovery while achieving climate goals. They focus on six emerging economies to demonstrate how fostering zero-carbon, resilient, and inclusive cities can advance national economic priorities for shared prosperity.

Referencing case studies from China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa, the authors explore three themes: 1) the need for a low-carbon urban transformation and its associated socio-economic benefits; 2) the importance of both resilience and decarbonization; and 3) the availability of resources to foster low-carbon, resilient, and inclusive cities. To inspire countries ahead of the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), they analyze how cities can help national governments not only achieve their climate goals and shared prosperity, but also accelerate the Covid-19 recovery by making them more connected, inclusive, and clean.

The authors conclude with a global call to action, urging national governments to develop climate and sustainable development strategies centered around cities. While governments are essential to implementing transformative policies, the authors urge national leadership to partner with the private sector and local climate-action groups to finance sustainable and resilient urban infrastructure.

Advancing Equity in California Climate Policy: A New Social Contract for Low-Carbon Transition

This report offers a Climate Policy Equity Framework for California’s low-carbon transition based on three principles: environmental justice, economic equity, and public accountability.

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This report presents a Climate Policy Equity Framework meant to help California policymakers develop and evaluate climate policy. The framework includes specific criteria for tracking progress in meeting three main goals of environmental justice, economic equity, and public accountability. The authors use these criteria to analyze how close a particular climate policy or program has come to meeting these equity goals. They highlight indicators and corresponding data sources that can better track the impact of climate policy on equity.

The authors look at the framework through evidence available from carbon-reduction legislations in California, including the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act (Assembly Bill 32), Senate Bill 350 (2015), and Senate Bill 32 (2016). Evidence and examples from the state’s past interventions in energy efficiency and renewable energy guide their recommendations. While the low-carbon transition has not (yet) resulted in a net loss in jobs, the authors highlight the policies’ distributional impacts, the potential for increasingly ambitious greenhouse gas–reduction targets to worsen job losses, and the lower wages and career prospects associated with some of the created jobs. They recommend tangible public policy steps, including requiring labor standards for public projects, equitably distributing public incentive funds, and monitoring the equity performance of California’s climate policies.

Just Urban Transitions: Toward a Research Agenda

This article proposes a new approach to just urban transitions and identifies additional research priorities to inform them based on gaps in the underlying justice literature.

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Despite growing policy discussions around urban climate action and just transitions, the requirements for a just urban transition (JUT) are not well understood. This article explores JUTs by examining the intersection between urban climate action and just transitions.

The authors examine the different areas of justice scholarship—including environmental, climate, energy, and urban justice—that can inform JUTs. These various fields have elevated distributional impacts and demonstrated the importance of decisionmaking processes. However, the authors conclude that justice scholarship is largely retrospective and focused on “redressing harms rather than identifying and elaborating on agency in the process of change moving forward.”

To address this gap, the authors argue that “shifting from an evaluative perspective to a change and process-oriented perspective is critical to forwarding a JUT research and policy agenda.” Consistent with just transitions policy discussions, they call for a forward-looking approach that integrates justice principles and emphasizes change processes, alternative futures, and political and structural barriers. They conclude by identifying key questions for subsequent research on JUTs.

Indigenous Struggles, Environmental Justice, and Community Capabilities

This article discusses how Indigenous peoples’ struggles for environmental justice have redefined the justice discourse by incorporating concern for nature, culture, and communities into a range of demands for equity, recognition, and participation.

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This article examines how the concept of justice is being used by various environmental groups and discusses the “capabilities-based approach” to justice used by Indigenous communities in their struggle over various environmental issues. It then presents two case studies from Arizona and southern Chile to illustrate the different conceptions of environmental justice among Indigenous communities around the world.

The authors first discuss scholars and activists’ historical conception of justice and explain the capabilities-based approach to environmental justice. They criticize an earlier focus on equity as the core principle of environmental justice, which they argue should go beyond fixing mere distributive and procedural inequities to enabling communities to thrive culturally.

They present two case studies on Indigenous environmental justice movements and argue that their conceptions of environmental justice offer a broad, integrated approach to development. They conclude that such an approach allows for diversity and provides an “integrative way” to understand environmental justice concepts from an Indigenous perspective, which includes a concern for the basic functioning of communities, their culture, and their relationship with nature.

A Discussion of Systemic Challenges for a Just Transition towards a Low Carbon Economy

This brief discusses structural problems in South Africa’s economy and proposes an alternative model that can support the country’s sustainable development and environmental goals.

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This brief presents a conceptual definition of a “just transition” and related concepts within the context of the current South African political-economic model. The author highlights the structural dysfunctions of this model and how it is failing to achieve developmental and environmental sustainability. The author discusses the opportunity for a new developmental approach centered around just transitions and highlights policy questions that are important to ensuring climate adaptation and mitigation efforts to promote economic democracy.

The author proposes that South Africa abandon its current market-led economic model and adopt a new one led by the state. The new model would involve labor-intensive industrialization that moves away from extractive models and addresses the needs of local and regional markets. The author examines potential strategies and enabling conditions for ensuring that economic activities support a just transition and overcome various challenges in the context of South Africa. The brief concludes with a call for a new economic growth indicator—one that can measure growth through education, housing, health, access to services, or happiness and well-being.

Transition to a Post-carbon Society: Linking Environmental Justice and Just Transition Discourses

This paper discusses how two community-led campaigns effectively challenged the hegemonic power of the fossil fuel industry in Australia, arguing that capturing environmental justice and labor concerns can further strengthen the just transitions movement.

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This paper examines how community-led campaigns rooted in environmental justice and local interests successfully disrupted the long-term dominance of fossil fuel interests in the Hunter Valley region of Australia. The authors argue that these campaigns would benefit from engaging with the labor community through the just transitions discourse, which offers common ground for all stakeholders.

The authors chronicle the long dominance of the fossil fuel industry’s interests in Australian government and society and discuss the origins of two community-led campaigns in Hunter Valley: Stop T4 Coal Export Terminal and Groundswell. They argue that these sorts of social movements, which are framed around environmental justice and just transitions, can serve as a unifying force against the hegemonic power of the coal industry. By examining how different types of unions align with the practices and principles of just transitions, they provide insights into the challenges and opportunities for such campaigns to engage the labor community effectively.

The authors conclude with lessons learned, highlighting insights from the closure of former steelwork factories in the 1990s. They reiterate the potential benefits of increased collaboration with labor and community actors for environmental justice and just transition campaigns.