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The path to a just energy transition: Ensuring a fairer and more resilient world

–  Prioritizing social equity, job creation, community engagement, and environmental sustainability, we can navigate the path towards a fairer and more resilient world

By Ariadne BenAissa

DETROIT, USA – Those of us who work on energy issues in APEC know how fundamental it is to absolutely everything in our economies.

Energy is the foundation on which our economies are built, from charging our phones to cooking our food to moving goods and people. At the same time, our current energy systems are the primary driver of climate change, the greatest existential threat we face.

The United States has set an ambitious energy agenda for its 2023 APEC host year. With increasingly negative impacts of climate change already upon us and only getting worse, the United States has prioritized power sector decarbonization and methane abatement in the energy sector as areas for particular focus in APEC.

Another US priority, advancing the just energy transition, recognizes the need to take care of our people as we evolve to a new energy paradigm.

A comment made by one of the speakers at the APEC Energy Resilience Task Force meeting, held in Detroit in May, grabbed my attention. The speaker noted that typically, when we talk about energy resilience, we talk about energy infrastructure resilience – the ability of the grid, for example, to withstand shocks. The speaker offered a reframing of the concept of energy resilience to instead focus on society’s ability to withstand such shocks.

I think this goes to the heart of what the just energy transition is about – preparing society for the transition from traditional energy systems to the systems we need to safeguard the planet and its precious inhabitants.

During the APEC Just Energy Transition workshop organized that same week, I lost count of the number of speakers representing APEC economies who used some variation of the expression, “making sure no one is left behind.”

At its core, a just transition seeks to ensure that individuals, groups and communities at the frontlines of energy production, carbon-intensive industries and the climate crisis receive the benefits of the transformation to a clean energy economy. By prioritizing fairness and social equity, a just transition aims to address the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability.

A policy brief by the APEC Policy Support Unit from 2022, Transitioning to a Sustainable Economy while Ensuring Inclusion, describes the just transition as a framework that maximizes “the advantages of transitioning to a low-carbon economy while promoting equity and inclusivity.”

The report recognizes the devastating impacts of climate change, both on human lives as well as the economic costs in the APEC region and globally. It calls out the vulnerable populations that are disproportionally affected, including women, the economically disadvantaged, workers, people with disabilities and indigenous peoples. It calls for APEC economies to ensure that the clean energy transition includes these groups and ensures their access to decent work, education, job training, reskilling, and upskilling as well as career development.

The report also points to structural reforms that will be essential to the success of the just transition, and the particular need for reforms to focus on promoting sustainable practices, supporting vulnerable groups, stimulating enterprise innovation and boosting the growth of green industries.

Thirteen APEC economies have already incorporated a target to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by a specific date either in their laws, policy documents or other announcements. APEC economies have also engaged in various other actions supporting a just transition, including social dialogue and stakeholder engagement; establishing government institutions to support the transition and ensure fairness and social inclusion; and creating high-level partnerships and commitments between governments, international governing bodies and non-governmental organizations.

The principles in the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040 and the Aotearoa Plan of Action included sustainable and inclusive growth that promotes resilience, equity, human resource development, and a commitment to addressing climate change. In the 2022 Leaders’ Declaration, APEC Leaders recognized that more intensive efforts are needed to address climate change and sustainable energy transitions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A just transition is not only an ethical imperative but also a practical approach to tackling climate change and fostering a sustainable future. Embracing the principles of a just transition requires collective action, collaboration between stakeholders and political will. We need to work together to build a future that leaves no one behind, where sustainability and equity go hand in hand. We may be talking about offshore wind deployment, hydrogen infrastructure or digital solar maps, but at the heart of all this, what we are talking about is taking care of our people.

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