By Heiner von Lüpke

Marking a watershed moment in the history of international climate policy, the Work Programme on Just Transition (JTWP) was launched at COP27 and incorporated into the Sharm El Sheikh Implementation Plan.

Last month, negotiators at the Bonn climate talks were tasked with establishing the foundation of this work programme. Read on to hear from Heiner von Lüpke – Research Associate at DIW Berlin – about the JTWP discussions at Bonn, and the vital need for international cooperation, finance and research to enable its success.

Just transitions – conceptualized as transitions towards climate-compatible development on sectoral levels, which build on social justice and equity – signify the real-world integration of climate and development objectives. By developing just transitions, Global South countries address climate action through the lens of development objectives, and highlight the social challenges of such transitions. For instance, a just transition in land-use sectors might include identifying options to increase productivity and income for smallholders who begin to engage in deforestation-free agriculture.

Just transitions require significant amounts of domestic and international support, with the latter including financial assistance, capacity development and technology cooperation (referenced in article 9 of the Paris Agreement).

Early indications from the energy sector (e.g. the JETP of South Africa) show that the amounts and types of finance and support matter as much as the cooperative modalities between funders and recipients.

Adequate governance, instruments and institutional arrangements for the negotiation and implementation of support priorities are still in early stages of development, or are based on structures of Official Development Assistance (ODA) principles and institutions. Given that ODA is the main channel for international public climate finance (see the OECD Development Assistance Committee), a question arises: are these channels still appropriate for meeting the demands and needs for just transitions in the global south?

The discussions during UNFCCC SB 58 meetings on the JTWP at Bonn, revealed two prominent viewpoints amongst participants:

  • Just transitions are of national concern as well as of global importance.
  • Climate policy cannot be detached from development policy.

The discussions and the conclusions by the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies in Bonn highlighted a wide range of viewpoints on what the JTWP should entail. This included process-related elements (for instance, the duration of the work program from one year to the subsequent global stocktake) and a variety of content related items, such as broadening the scope to include resilience and adaptation.

Another aspect discussed was the character of national just transitions: opinions differed in regards to whether the global dimensions of just transitions should be recognized or not.

This divergence of viewpoints resulted in an informal note by the UNFCCC which included reference to the overall duration of the JTWP, ranging from a one-year duration to a long-term process which connects to the calendar of the global stocktake.

The role of research in the JTWP

To move forward with these discussions, research can focus on at least three items:

  • Advancing conceptual work on just transitions in priority sectors of countries of the Global South.
  • Addressing knowledge gaps between Global North and Global South about the reality of just transitions, including in the work programme.
  • Developing climate finance and support modalities for just transitions in the Global South which are built on an improved understanding of international cooperation factors.

The success of the JTWP hinges critically upon a solid knowledge base on the above items. By taking an interactive approach, including conducting research in a consultative manner with participants on a needs basis, research can contribute a great deal to this work programme. In particular, it can help overcome the possible polarization between the viewpoints identified above regarding the national/global importance of a just transition, and the need to incorporate climate policies and development policies.

The triangle of topics discussed in Bonn – how to describe just transitions in terms of contents, how to describe the global goods character of just transitions, and how to support them through global climate finance – is a field where research can make a key contribution.