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'Just transition' to renewable energy central to Covid-19 recovery in Asia

A group of civil society leaders from the environmental and labor movements, climate and energy experts and policy leaders, called for a socially just and equitable energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy as part of the Covid-19 recovery at the first-ever Just Transition Forum in Asia (JTFA) on Thursday.

Amidst massive job losses due to the Covid19 pandemic - 81 million in Asia-Pacific in 2020 alone - the groups urged that a shift away from coal and other fossil fuels to clean energy may provide much-needed influx of new jobs and economic opportunities, and address the climate crisis that is impacting the region especially vulnerable communities.

At the same time, just transition is about providing pathways to communities who might be negatively affected by climate mitigation policies, such as workers and their families currently employed in fossil-fuel-intensive industries, so that nobody is left behind.

“We are in a jobs crisis and a climate crisis. The way forward is just transition - a social dialogue between unions, employers and government to create and retain decent jobs, along with social protection and care,” said Samantha Smith, Director of the Just Transition Centre, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

“A green and just recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic needs to be aligned with the Paris Agreement. Accelerating the energy transition can create win-win-situations for countries who are looking for ways to re-boost their economies without falling back into financing fossil-fuel intensive industries,” added Claudia Ehing, Director of the FES Climate and Energy Project in Asia, the organizer of JTFA.

FES and CANSEA recently published a report calling on a “moratorium on new coal and the development of national transition plans to phase out existing coal-fired power generation by 2040” especially in the emerging economies of Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Loren Legarda, the Philippines’ Deputy Speaker at the House of Representatives said: “the transition to renewables is not a sacrifice; it is an opportunity—an opportunity for more jobs, for cleaner air, for healthier communities, for a truly inclusive, sustainable, resilient development.”

“Because of the pandemic, our ways of life have already changed so much in the past year and a half—and may fossil fuels be one of the things we leave behind for good. Fossil fuels are a thing of the past; and if humanity wants to survive, it must recognize that renewable energy is the present and the future. It is not just the right thing to do; the truth is it raises the bottom line for all—for our economies, for humanity, for the planet,” the Filipino lawmaker added.

Urging other policymakers in the region to follow suit, Nithi Nesadurai, Director and Regional Coordinator of Climate Action Network Southeast Asia (CANSEA), co-organizer of JTFA said: “governments in Asia have to prioritise creating an institutional framework to mainstream climate change impacts in decision-making at all levels. Facilitating a just transition away from fossil fuels, with multi-stakeholder involvement, must be a core component of this framework.”

Quotes from international experts:

“Renewable energy is not only a proven and effective energy solution, but it is also a critical climate change intervention, it is imperative for the climate. The challenge is how do we accelerate this imperative with equity which can also offer wellbeing for all in such a world of conflicts, including conflicts in making use of energy resources.”
- Dr. Hang Dao, Vietnam Country Representative, World Resources Institute (WRI), Energy Program & Co-Lead, Clean Energy Investment Accelerator, Vietnam

“Climate change has made us realise how interconnected our problems are but also how interconnected our solutions must be to tackle this massive challenge. What we need right now is an ASEAN Green New Deal. Opportunities are immense and we need to seize them while rebuilding our economies.”
- Dr. Renard Siew, Climate Change Advisor, Centre for Governance and Political Studies, Malaysia

“Climate crisis is real and serious, but the top-down approach alone would not deliver - hence, let us build a bottom-up approach, too, connecting every citizen, every business, every stakeholder!”
- Narendra Taneja, Chairman, Independent Energy Policy Institute, India

“Green and Just transition should go hand in hand and become key principles for all countries in Asia to help us smartly address dual our social and environmental challenges.”
- Nguy Thi Khanh, Goldman Prize recipient and Director, GreenID, Vietnam

“A just transition requires that we give attention to procedural justice (who gets to decide) and distributional justice (who gets what) as we transition towards sustainable development. It also requires that we increase our ambitions from incremental reform (reacting to symptoms of climate change) to transformational change (addressing underlying causes) given the scale and urgency of the climate crisis.”
- Mike Ward, Senior Evaluation and Sustainability Specialist, Climate Investment Funds (CIF)

“It is highly critical for Southeast Asia to peak coal immediately and phase out by 2037 at the latest in order to be Paris Agreement compatible. The transition from coal and other fossil fuel sources to green and sustainable sources should be just, making sure no one is left behind. This means the process should involve the government, the civil society, the private sector and all stakeholders of all aspects of economy and society.
- Bill Hare, Director, Climate Analytics, Berlin-based think tank

“Asia is home to close to more than half of the world’s population. This makes it particularly important to understand what initiatives are being planned, but also what still needs to be done in order to transition towards a climate-neutral and sustainable regional economy.”
- Prof. Dr Miranda Schreurs, Chair of Environmental and Climate Policy, Technical University of Munich, Germany

“There is no justice when 4 billion people have no access to clean cooking and almost one billion don’t have access to electricity. Affordable renewable can promote gender justice when it first and foremost reduce women’s time poverty and drudgery and provide clean cooking solutions that reduce household air pollution that leads to 4 million premature deaths each year of mostly women and children. Women’s economic empowerment is also critical for gender justice and so renewable for productive uses can facilitate this when it is appropriate, affordable and convenient for women’s businesses.”
- Dr. Sheila Oparaocha, International Coordinator and Program Manager, Energia

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