Just Transition: Balancing Economy and Environment in the Global South

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Massive Industrialization, energy exploration, and financial boom! As had been implied in Murphy’s Law, the price of economic development is followed by environmental catastrophe. Humanity needs to find a way to balance it and we have tried it. We call it Just Transition as a policy recommendation on how to mitigate climate change. We would see how it had been impacted and what loopholes should be avoided.

The phrase “Global South” refers broadly to the regions of Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. This term is often used to define low- and middle-income countries that are considered less economically and politically developed than countries in the ‘Global North’. These countries are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and changes in precipitation patterns due in part to poor infrastructure. The Global South countries tend to use non-renewable energy as their main energy resources such as coal, fossil fuel, and natural gases. Many communities in the Global South are exposed to the negative impacts of fossil fuel extraction and use, such as air and water pollution and depletion of natural resources through transnational corporations operating there for the benefit of the Global North.

For example, phasing out coal is the biggest challenge for Indonesia in transitioning to renewable energy. Considering that Indonesia is the third biggest coal-producing country with the prediction of reaching 629.9Mt by the end of 2022. There is this unexpected increase in coal demand due to geopolitical issues between Russia and Ukraine that influenced the gas support to the European Union (EU) countries which left them with no choice but to be back to using coal as a mine support, especially during winter. However, by announcing an ambitious commitment to transitioning to renewable energy, Indonesia has succeeded to gain financial support for G20 with approximately $20 billion has been allocated for Indonesia to advance its energy transition.

Putting an end to non-renewable energy, Just Transition is one way of benevolence. Just Transition means revitalizing the environment while harmonizing the economic sectors; It means greening the economy in a way that is as fair and inclusive as possible to everyone concerned, creating decent work opportunities and leaving no one behind (ILO, 2022). Just Transition would use renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal as these resources are abundant in the Global South. Moreover, the scope of Just Transition’s Policy would also include renewable energy, resource efficiency, and gender equality.

However, the transition for the Global South is not a simple task and would take a huge amount of effort for each government. First, many countries rely on mining, including coal-producing countries, such as Indonesia, Columbia, and Argentina. They have lower technology capabilities to the process of transition and relatively need more time to change. This means it would need a massive transition of green jobs, such as green construction, waste management, mass transportation, sustainable agriculture and forestry, energy supply and efficiency, and biodiversity preservation. This transition would also lead to a big job substitution for coal mining employees. Therefore, reskilling programs and timelines should be considered by the governments in the Global South. Second, in countries like Indonesia and Bangladesh, there are many employees in non-green sectors who can be classified as informal workers, be it unionized, unregulated, or unprotected labor such as the miner and heavy equipment drivers in mining and mineral companies. Thus, there are no legal protections that can be applied to safeguard them from job loss in response to sectoral shifts.

Renewable energy benefits to climate change will always come with a price as well. A large-scale wind farm that can meet the energy needs of the local population will require a significant portion of land to be cleared. For example, Tanzania had been evicted by more than 1,500 people for an energy plant project. This issue appears in most African nations which count the benefits of the large-scale renewable energy industry that is more likely being invested by private sectors against the welfare of local communities and the environment. Therefore, the decision-makers need to take this concern into consideration in order to have a just transition. In Columbia, one-third of the entire country is managed by the Afro-Colombian communities. Ideally, they would be included in the discussion and decision-making process. However, in reality, the decision taken by the transition planners proceeded without a discussion with this Afro-Colombian community, and this has led to a land rights issue that they called ‘land grabbing’. Because of this Afro-Columbians account for 17% of the total number of displacedpersons, approximately equivalent to one and a half times their population share. This is one of the consequences of the renewable energy process that should be mitigated collectively.

There are several ways for the roadmap to Global South’s transition. One of the prominent solutions related to job issues is by implementing the ‘tripartite dialogue’. Tripartite dialogue is a social dialogue that involves governments, workers’ organizations, and employers’ organizations. It had been suggested by ILO and approved by the EU countries that have implemented the solution earlier. Moreover, there should be a transfer of knowledge (ToK) and transfer of technology (ToT) from developed nations in terms of the energy transition. By providing this collaboration, the Global South might sustainably transform its energy usage both in the short- and long-term periods.

In a brief sense, the Global South has a lot to offer and could be eco-sustainably grow in the future. Governments need to prioritize the renewable energy sector which would include green jobs opportunity, energy development, and sustainable infrastructure as it is one of the ways to achieve SDG 2030. Renewable energy might be altered into Just Transition which works as a policy recommendation for governments around the world especially the Global South for the future of energy and human activities

Gerald Sihombing is an undergraduate student that is currently studying international relations at the University of Indonesia. He has interests in the environment and economic realm as he believes the two sectors could work collectively through community development, public policy, and a multilateral framework amongst nation.


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