Democracy, Human Rights and Just Transition

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Democracy, Human Rights and Just Transition

Below is a list of questions to serve as a starting framework for the discussion in this thread:

  • How is this movement, by reimagining communities away from exploitative systems towards sustainable approaches, related to democracy building? 
  • In what ways do you see the Just Transition movement as a human rights issue? How do you adopt human rights discourse and/or collaborate with human rights organizers while advancing the Just Transition cause? 
just transition

An inclusive process and outcome is critical to a just transition. This is particularly so in southern countries where unemployment is high - about 40% in South Africa. But we do need to recall that the phrase comes from the labour movement and, initially at least, was about security for workers. We (groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa) see just transition as part of systems change. In their formal policy statements the SA labour unions also see it as part of a broad transformation. We need to make sure that workers do see a future for themselves in that process.      

This reminds me of a nice

This reminds me of a nice article I've read today, that says:

“We really see our work in that intersection of economic equity and development, and climate resilience,” said President and Executive Director, Jodi Pincus. “From our perspective, you can’t deal with climate change until you deal with the inequalities. We need to prepare the workforce and future generations to be really thinking about these issues.”

There cannot be a Justice without Human Rights

There cannot be a Just Transition without Energy democracy.  This requires a shift from the corporate, centralized fossil fuel economy to one that is democratically governed, designed on the principle of no harm to peoples and to the environment. It also requires supporting diverse local economies that form the basis of healthy, just and equitable communities.  A first step in this process is to begin to develop planning and policy mechanisms that explicitly account for these goals.  As we grapple with the need to refashion how our energy-economy operates, human rights serves as the cornerstone to guide us towards solutions that achieve carbon and GHG reductions, and revitalize our democracy.

What does it mean to place energy within a human rights framework? It means an internationally recognized framework for development that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is an essential pre-condition to the full enjoyment of the wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water (UN).  To be In alignment with a human rights framework, energy policy and planning requires not only acknowledging the interrelationship between human rights and the environment, it requires that energy organizations and energy governance systems allow for the full and equal environmental protection, which includes access to information, participation in decision-making, and redress in environmental matters.  We can’t on the one hand say that a clean environment is a basic right, and not say that it is the right for everyone.

Guidelines for a just transition

I completely agree that there’s no just transition without human rights, but a huge part of the discussion revolves around the question of how to build a space that succeeds in bringing together different players and stakeholders that can feed answers to the big question of what a just transition actually means.

So many times the common narrative leads us to believe that the energy transition necessarily means fairness, transparency, and inclusiveness, but the renewable energy sector - in spite of being, of course, better for the environment - can carry so many of the social and political problems of the fossil-fuels' one. That's exactly why we need mechanisms to ensure that the transition we so much wanna see will be people-powered and people-oriented. 
We all hold strong ideas of the principles that should guide and orient it, but, overall, I still don’t feel like there’s a consensus around it - even only among civil society itself. In addition to that, it’s important to also bear in mind that the translation of such principles into actions will look different in every region, field, and sector and that it might be important to have key players studying ways to understand this dynamic. A good example here is the study conducted by Greenpeace Spain last year, showing how could one specific Spanish region transition from a coal-based economy into a renewable-oriented one.
That all being said, it would be great to know a bit of what other people here think these guidelines are. 
what a just transition means

In South Africa, we have also seen the the renewable energy sector reproducing the patterns of globalisation. This was in fact by design. Our government put together an RE bidding process - with advice form the World Bank - that effectively meant that RE projects were reserved for large transnational corporations, several of which are also active in coal and gas. The biggest now dominate the field. (However, the whole process has stalled because Eskom, the state owned utility which runs on coal and operates the grid, has refused to sign power purchase agreements.)

Part of the problem is that capitalist corporations need eternal economic economic growth and this is not going to be compatible with reducing carbon emissions and/or repairing the environmental damage from the fossil fuel economy - let alone a just transition. Amongst other things, there will be an ever expanding requirement for minerals - copper, lithium, cobalt, rare earths etc.  

We think that democratic control of the energy system as a whole and of local energy in particular is intrinsic to the idea of a just transition. But that needs to be put in the context of growing democratic control of the economy as a whole. So we want to start with energy and food (energy for people). But it is also critical that people get democratic control of their settlements & transport etc. Settlement is also part of a just transition as planning needs to take account of climate impacts. And in South Africa there's a lot of work to be done in providing proper services. Similarly, old coal mines which were badly rehabilitated if at all, need to be restored as best they can be.   


Agree that democratic control

Agree that democratic control of energy systems is central to a just transition. Energy frames much of the ecnomy  - transport, water, public health for example. The democratisation of those sectors is also essential to a just and equitable transition.  Decent work for women is often left out of the just transition discussion because most of the workers in fossil fuel industries are men. Yet women's economic lives are often framed by energy prices, by the environmental harms caused be extractive industries, and by the broader economic context that energy capital has framed. Public investment in areas like transport, health, water  as well as energy can support a transition for both workers and community. 


a Just Transition Framework from the u.s.

Appreciating the comments on this thread. I agree with what David from South Africa said about the energy transition. We're seeing the same here in the US in terms of finance capital dictating the terms of the transition and then extracting the wealth from it. We can have 100% renewables but still have an extractive energy economy!

I wanted to share the strategic framework for a just transition that Movement Generation, along with many grassroots organizations that are part of the Climate Justice Alliance, has developed. It's a continually evolving framework and we are learning a lot from women-led movements that have a strong feminist lens, indigenous and native movements, and others.




That's an inspiring resource

That's an inspiring resource Michelle. There's so much in it that resonates with the vision of a just and equitable transition our members have for a Feminist Fossil Fuel Free Future and also the framework of Development Justice that civil society in the Asia Pacific region have adopted. Your framework though goes further in its focus on self determination and deep democracy over all governance: "This is not the right to have our needs met, but instead the right to meet our needs". 

It's great to see the analysis of patriarchy and colonialism within a critique of extractivist economies but also the recognition that justice requires reparations. One challenge we've had discussing a just transition within national contexts of wealthy countries is the need for global redistribution. It's not difficult to imagine an economy that is low carbon and provides decent work in already wealthy countries (although the US is very far from that it might be achievable in Sweden at a national level for example). But that vision doesn't address global inequalities and the need for redistribution and reparations. I'm wondering if you've used this framework to think about reparations and redistribution on a global scale or thought about what kind of global governance is required for this vision?

Inspiring resource

That is indeed an inspiring resource. I'll circulate it around our networks. I agree about the need for a transformation in the meaning of work as well as economy etc. But we'll still need a way of talking to people who are anxious about their 'jobs'. 

Energy democracy can't happen without work on the ground

In an article I co-authored entitled "Relocating Energy in the Social Commons", we wrote "The problem with creating an energy democracy is that energy and the natural environment has become understood and treated as purely a commodty.  In turn, social progress has been measured by material affluence. Assuring wealth and its increase has been the responsibility of a set of institutions capable of planning for and (hopefully) delivering a boundless frontier of expanding production and consumption. Indeed, living well in modern times means an existence assured of a free and constantly rising flow of goods and services delivered conveniently and, ideally, at low cost. Perpetual acts of buying and selling adorn daily life as moderns dedicate time and imagination to shopping at levels unknown in human history. This commitment to the search for and absorption of more represents a “cornucopian” predisposition embedded in the micro- to macro-scales of modern life—from the personality of the modern individual to the culture and political economy of modern society."

This is our challenge in creating an energy democracy: shifting an entire economic infrastructure including governing institutions that were built to deliver what we have named an "obese" energy economy. It requires intellectual creativity, but this is certainly not sufficient. On the ground engagement in the sausage making local, state and national policy agendas is the the true challenge. At the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy we try to integrate intellectual and theory of change with the reality of moving policy with organizing on the ground toward Energy Democracy.