Towards a just energy transition
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Towards a just energy transition

Participants holding placards as they march on a street in Jakarta, Indonesia, ahead of Earth Day today. AFP
Participants holding placards as they march on a street in Jakarta, Indonesia, ahead of Earth Day today. AFP

Established in 1970, Earth Day is commemorated annually on April 22 to raise public awareness on environmental issues. Therefore, it is crucial to contemplate the strides made in combating pressing environmental issues, such as increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. When it comes to reducing or removing GHG emissions from the atmosphere, the transition away from fossil fuels becomes inevitable. However, it also prompts questions about whether this transition is simply just a transition or if it's a truly equitable and fair transition.

The term "just transition" emerged during the 1970s within the US labour movement, with the objective of protecting workers affected by new regulations addressing water and air pollution. Moving away from emission-intensive economic sectors affected labour, leading to job losses and reduced opportunities for livelihoods due to the rise of green industries. Hence, history wise, labour concerns take precedence in just transition dialogues. Nonetheless, such a view is bound to attract criticism, leading to conflicts that pit jobs against the environment.

In Indonesia, the concept of just transition began to gain momentum in 2021, when the country explicitly declared its commitment to advance just transitions in the updated version of its nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and Long-Term Strategy: Low Carbon & Climate Resilience (LTS-LCRR). Indonesia showed its intent to craft a path toward just transition three years earlier in 2018, when the government endorsed the Silesia Declaration on Just Transition during COP24 in Katowice, Poland. Nonetheless, there remain in Indonesia discussions on what just transition entails.

The first contestation comes from many stakeholders in Indonesia who view just transition as a sectoral shift in energy, rather than an encompassing transition involving other sectors. The Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), the nation's most ambitious transition package, was established against an energy backdrop.

Second, labour matters fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Manpower, whereas environmental issues are managed by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. The lack of synergies between governmental agencies creates a bottleneck which prevents sound coordination that is needed to facilitate the needs of the labour force, as well as addressing environmental issues. Synergy can be improved by promoting transparency, as well as establishing a reliable monitoring, reporting, and evaluation (MRV) system, crucial to advancing just transition strategies in the country.

Third, just transition is still perceived as a national-level discussion. Local involvement and actions remain limited, leading to lingering questions surrounding the urgency of just transition.

To quash doubts surrounding the interpretation of the concept, it is necessary to identify the narratives that stand out from each stakeholder in Indonesia.

From the government, energy justice focusing on ensuring affordable energy access is most evident considering there were more than 200 villages in the country that remain disconnected from the national power grid as of 2022. Labour unions prioritise safeguarding workers impacted by the rise of green sectors to prevent job losses because of the phasing out of fossil fuels. Meanwhile, businesses are grappling with immediate costs and uncertain future expenses associated with transitioning to low-carbon business models to align with Indonesia's climate policies, all while ensuring profitability. Civil society organisations strive to ensure a just transition will not neglect the socioeconomic needs of communities.

Based on this, there are four steps each stakeholder group can take to promote a just transition.

The government can create a thorough roadmap outlining policies, strategic plans, and regulations for various sectors to facilitate a fair transition across the country.

Civil society organisations and academics, in collaboration with the government, can lead research projects and initiatives to encourage collaborative efforts and inclusive dialogue among stakeholders. Businesses and labour unions, on the other hand, can work together to develop business models that gradually shift away from fossil fuels toward a low-carbon economy, ensuring the sustainability of both employment and profitability in the midst of surging green industries.

Lastly, international organisations and the public should act as the supervisors, monitoring the progress of each stakeholder in delivering their pledges. In doing so, Indonesia will not only stand a better chance of progressing beyond mere transition, but also of ingraining values of fairness and inclusivity in its energy transition processes, which would help ensure decent work for all and progress that leaves no one behind, and eradicating poverty.

Earth Day is widely recognised as a moment to focus on the planet, environmental concerns, and ecosystems. However, there tends to be poor emphasis on people and socioeconomic factors in environmental advocacy efforts.

It is important to remember that the 2030 agenda for sustainable development was founded on five pillars: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. Neglecting or disregarding any one of these pillars can jeopardise the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants, both now and in the future.

Ayu Pratiwi Muyasyaroh is Research Associate, Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA).

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