COP28: To save the planet, we need a just and fair renewable energy revolution
The key to ensuring that communities – especially the most vulnerable – can leave fossil-fuel based economies behind, is to create space for a just transition to a green economy, clean energy advocates and representatives of indigenous groups argued on Tuesday at COP28.
As the two-week UN climate conference underway in Dubai’s Expo City reached its midway point, attendees stressed that the move towards clean energy sources must involve careful consideration of the concerns of people and communities who will be most affected by this transition.
As most of government ministers and world leaders have wrapped up their events, a sense of urgency is building around the iconic domed venue as COP28 climate negotiators ramp up the intense climate diplomacy necessary for a successful sprint to the finish line next Tuesday, when the conference is expected to wrap up.
These negotiations are mainly focused on three key issues: phasing out or reducing the use of fossil fuels, building resilience to climate impacts, and financial support for vulnerable countries coping with a climate catastrophe they played little to no role in causing.
We at UN News saw – and heard – ample support for these demands on Tuesday morning as we made our way to the media center at Expo City’s sprawling campus.
Protests, albeit subdued
Large scale protests, often seen as a key feature of annual UN climate talks have largely been missing in Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, but following the relative quiet of conference’s early days, demonstrators are slowly but surely beginning to make their voices heard.
On Tuesday, a small group of demonstrators in the UN-managed Blue Zone area enthusiastically chanted slogans over the presence of oil and gas fossil companies and the participation of lobbyists, whom, they argued, have been given an undue platform in climate negotiations.
The protestors’ call, albeit subdued compared to other COPs, has echoed with phrases such as “1.5-degree goal”, “NDCs”, “Net-Zero” and “just transition”, which is on Tuesday’s agenda for discussion.
What is a just transition?
Broadly speaking, ‘just transition’ means that after decades of economic growth fueled by oil and gas, as the global economy now embarks on decarbonization, it needs to do so in a way that ensures workers and communities that are reliant on fossil fuels are not left behind.
Their futures and job security must be protected in a net-zero world – which entails cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible.
But Ms. Sunita Narain, an Indian environmental expert and Director General of the Center for Science and Environment, believes that the term is being used in a very short-sighted way.
Transition through a ‘myopic lens’
Speaking to UN News she said, “it is very important to have just transition for coal labour, for miners, for thermal power point workers. But that’s not just transition.”
“It is about the fact that we need a global transition and that … our part of the world is going to have to move to the cleaner sources of energy.”
“The rich, the industrialized world needs to reduce its use of [fossil fuel] energy and in that transition, we must make sure that it is fair. And that is how we must interpret just transition,” she explained.
“The transition [needed to create] a sustainable world has to be fair and just.”
Such differences over even the definition of just transition, signal the complexities involved and the possible uphill battle ahead for negotiators.
Meanwhile, the effects of climate change continue to spread, reaching the far corners of the world.
Even to communities that played little role in causing crisis but are now bearing the brunt of it.
Climate justice, on the agenda nearly every day in one form or another at COP28, calls for more equity and human rights at the core of decision-making and action on climate change.
Even among those affected, some groups and communities are the more impacted, namely women, and disabled and indigenous peoples.
Some representatives of these groups, including from indigenous communities, are taking part in the side events and discissions today.
Ms. Pratima Gurung, from the Gurung indigenous community, lives in the Himalayan foothills of western Nepal. She became disabled after losing her hand in a truck accident at the age of seven.
Now as chair of National Indigenous Disabled Women Association Nepal (NIDWAN) and a prominent voice on the rights of indigenous women with disability, she is in Dubai taking part in events exploring women’s rights, disabled persons and indigenous communities.
All voices must be heard
Speaking to UN News, she lamented that, “when you are a woman, you have patriarchal norms and systems. When you are a woman with a disability, the issue of accessibility, meaningful participation, and engagement, and looking at the disability as a stereotype or stigma are the perceptions that exist in the society.”
“And as an indigenous woman, you have challenges related to your culture, with your language, resources, and in exercising your collective rights.”
Representing people and communities faced with such multiple challenges, what is her wish for COP28?
She answered: “Negotiations must be framed in a way that includes concerns of indigenous peoples and women with disabilities and ensures their meaningful participation and their voices need to be heard by all stakeholders.”