There is growing evidence that climate change and inequality can be addressed together. As leaders prepare for the September's Climate Action and SDG summits, an increasing number of countries are taking steps to ensure that climate actions benefit the most vulnerable and do not leave poor and working-class people behind.

This momentum for equitable and just transitions was a key highlight from the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2019, which brought together governments, civil society and business leaders from around the world at the United Nations to track progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year, the HLPF reviewed implementation of Goal 10 on inequality reduction and Goal 13 on climate action, providing an opportunity to discuss how countries can ensure social equity while advancing the Paris Agreement. WRI partnered with Peru and Spain—co-leads of the "political and social drivers" track to the climate summit—and Uganda to foster experience sharing on this key issue in a high-level event.

Countries shared new experiences at the HLPF about how climate action can generate strong social benefits. For instance, the European Union's circular economy strategy has put European countries back on the path of job creation: the number of employed workers in the recycling, repair and reuse, rental and leasing sectors has increased by 6%, up to four million workers, between 2012 and 2016.

However, there is also recognition that workers from carbon-intensive activities aren't necessarily those who benefit from green jobs, which might require different skills or be located elsewhere. Many barriers, including price, knowledge and land and housing ownership, can put green practices, goods and services out of reach for the least well-off. To take one example mentioned in our event, in the Philippines, jeepney drivers---many among the poorest Filipinos—oppose the transition to electric models because they fear the vehicles will be too expensive for them to afford, despite financial loan schemes planned by the government. There are also concerns over the impact of transport fare increases—which will pay for fleet electrification—on the urban poor's access to mobility.

Here are some early lessons on how regressive impacts for vulnerable workers and the poorest communities can be avoided.

Anticipation, Participation and Support: Key Success Factors for Inclusive Climate Transition

Most initiatives taken to ensure equitable and just transition have three common ingredients:

  • Participation of affected workers and communities in planning and advancing climate actions

  • Anticipationof negative impactsthrough long-term planning and thorough impact assessments to foresee and address negative impacts, and let people adapt through gradual transition

  • Supportthrough targeted financial programs and capacity building that prioritizes the most vulnerable

The following initiatives illustrate how these three ingredients can help deliver social benefits while reducing emissions.

E.U. Support to Coal Regions. The E.U. long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate-neutral economy by 2050 sets up a "Platform on coal regions in transition" to help 42 regions across 12 EU countries transition to a low-carbon economy. The platform offers tailored technical and knowledge assistance and supports job-intensive initiatives, such as the development of clean energy power plants, e-mobility, tourism and agricultural activities.

Just transition agreements in Spain. The country's Strategy of Just Transition requires "just transition agreements" between the government, unions and businesses in all regions affected by climate transitions. These agreements will support comprehensive strategies to offset negative impacts and finance green projects. The first of its kind was the just transition deal reached in October 2018 for mining regions impacted by the closure of 10 pits and the loss of 1,000 jobs. The deal details plan to invest €250 million ($280 million) in mining communities by 2023 to support early retirement for miners over 48, clean energy initiatives, retraining for green jobs and environmental restoration.

Mexico’s climate priorities for the most vulnerable. Mexico is extremely vulnerable to climate change; it’s also one of the top 20 countries with highest levels of inequality in the world. The government new Administration believes these two challenges cannot be solved separately and has prioritized poverty reduction in its national development plan as well as its climate actions. Mexico’s climate plan (its nationally determined contribution, or NDC) aims to at least halve the number of most vulnerable cities, and a new national adaptation plan—currently in preparation through a participatory and gender-sensitive way—promotes community-based adaptation.Large energy infrastructure projects are subject to social and environmental impact assessments to ensure buy-in and tangible benefits for local people, including improved public services, job creation and priority for local supply chains.

Indigenous people rights and forest protection in Peru. Peru considers halting deforestation and securing indigenous people’s tenure rights to go hand in hand. Indeed, deforestation rates are lower in indigenous-held forestlands than in similar lands managed otherwise. Peru’s NDC includes an Amazon Indigenous REDD+ initiative implemented in partnership with local governments. This program combines indigenous agroforestry techniques with a focus on securing collective land rights. To take one example, nearly 1 million acres in the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve in the state of Madre de Dios have so far been protected by the Amarakaeri community—preserving the land that is vital to the livelihoods of the indigenous community.

From eviction to community planning in Uganda. The government of Uganda’s initial response to the rise in climate change disasters and deforestation rates involved displacing communities away from vulnerable areas, resulting in farmers’ loss of economic and social capital. New pro-poor, long-term and nature-based approaches improve communities’ income and livelihoods. Now, farmers have different options: landowners can receive compensation in return for their land titles or farmers can opt for a two- or three-year transition period during which they can use exposed lands while diversifying sources of income, including through agroforestry and fishing.

Just Transition Declaration for the Climate Action Summit

The coalition on social and political drivers in the fight against climate change, co-led by Peru and Spain, wants to mainstream these experiences, starting with the U.N. Climate Action Summit convened by the U.N. Secretary-General on September 23rd. The coalition has focused on jobs, health and gender equality as three main social issues for which climate transitions present both challenges and opportunities. On jobs, the coalition has invited all countries to endorse a declaration that provide guidance to “Advancing a Just Transition and the Creation of Green Jobs for All for Ambitious Climate Action.”

The declaration highlights key components for national just transition plans, including social dialogue, financial support to help dismissed workers retrain and find new jobs, policies to protect workers and vulnerable groups, development of skills for the new labor markets, an increase in technology transfers to developing countries as well as the promotion of investment in green sectors.

Most national climate plans currently lack concrete actions to ensure benefits for the most vulnerable. To date, only one out of 164 NDCs to the Paris Agreement refers specifically to a just transition (South Africa). Only 39 NDCs address gender equality. The back-to-back Climate Action and SDG summits provide a strong opportunity to ramp up ambition for both climate and justice and make new commitments for revised 2020 NDCs that leave no one behind.