How to ensure a Just Transition Makes and Not Breaks the Journey to Net-Zero

How to ensure a Just Transition Makes and Not Breaks the Journey to Net-Zero

Picture of Nian Sayoc, Associate

Nian Sayoc, Associate

Decarbonizing the energy sector requires urgent action at the global level and while a global energy transition is making progress, further action is needed to accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.

As governments define a pathway out of COVID -19, we must ensure that all countries can seize the opportunities to significantly improve the well-being of people and the planet. Energy can create transformative opportunities for the 759 million people in the world who lack access to electricity, providing essential services such as improved healthcare, better education and affordable broadband, creating new jobs, livelihoods and sustainable economic value to reduce poverty: this is a huge opportunity to catalyze structural transformations in energy and relevant sectors, increase positive synergies and reduce trade-offs related to the SDGs, while meeting the 1.5°C targets set out in the Paris Agreement.

To ensure such a transition, we need to support countries and communities to adapt to a green economy and ensure that all who need it are able to take advantage of the 30 million new green jobs expected by 2030 as noted by a report from McKinsey Global Institute.

However, this will not be an easy task, as the economic and social impacts of the energy transition will vary greatly depending on national and local contexts, especially when ‘greener’ jobs in a just and inclusive transition often require different and sometimes higher-level skills. Therefore, adequate training and development opportunities, including retraining of workers, must be available and easily accessible to all in order to minimize the disadvantages for affected populations.

If we now look at supporting the energy transition on a practical level, how can we connect the energy transition and the future we want?

Since there is no formalized step-by-step guide on top of globally accepted JUST transition principles asset owners are required to follow, much depends on the financial capability and commitment of the company.  We have outlined key considerations below for interested asset owners :

  • Balance accelerated coal transition with moral hazards. Decarbonization in SEA needs to catch up with its northern counterparts to reach 2040 Paris Accord targets, however, a balance is needed to safeguard any chosen action against potential moral hazards.
  • Accelerate renewable energy and energy storage development and deployment and energy efficiencies. Accelerated deployment of renewable energy and energy storage is required to properly undertake an energy transition and ensure adequate power supply. 
  • Grid stability and security. Coal plant shutdowns are to be scheduled and coordinated with national governments to avoid supply and price issues in the future. There is also a need to upgrade existing grid systems and ancillary services, to anticipate intermittency due to greater renewable energy share in the power supply.
  • Support affected employees, communities, and regions. Need for continuous dialogue and support for employees, communities, and regions previously reliant on the coal business. For employees, re-skilling may be needed to prepare for the shift in technologies and make sure that adequate safety nets are set in place. There is also a need to make sure that the rights of workers are not affected. For communities and regions previously reliant on this –  providing new opportunities and additional investments in the area may also be needed.
  • Any coal transition is governed by global standards on JUST transition. Ensure that any coal transition is anchored on JUST transition principles on top of the principles noted above.


There is no magic bullet for an energy transition existing today – but at this point, a well-timed,  just and orderly coal retirement initiative and accelerated renewable energy and energy storage deployment can be a strong foundation to begin. Recognizing the need for energy transition is the first step but concrete actions by public and private sector players are important to translate these theories into real action.