What needs to be done for climate change’s ‘Just Transition’ in India?

For net-zero emission pathways, coal and oil consumption will go down sharply. Workers dependent on fossil-fuel industries should not bear the brunt of the transition to a low-carbon economy. For a Just Transition, iFOREST suggests five R’s.

Gaon Connection
| Updated: June 29th, 2021

A coal mine in Godda, Jharkhand. Photo: Nidhi Jamwal

Since its inclusion in the Paris Agreement in 2015, Just Transition has become an important component of climate action. As rapid decarbonisation has become necessary to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change and limit global warming to 1.5°C, decisive action and transformative changes are needed too.

For India, this will involve decisions on production and use of fossil fuels —  particularly coal and oil —  transforming energy systems, and re-inventing supply chains. This was suggested by iFOREST, an independent environmental research and innovation organisation. It stresses on a framework climate legislation to provide vision, coordination, target and predictability to mainstream climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Also Read: India needs a legislation on climate change to enhance climate action: iFOREST report

The India Just Transition Centre (IJTC), a iFOREST initiative, is being set-up as a platform to work comprehensively on just transition through multi-stakeholder engagement.

At the launch of the initiative today, June 29, the organisation suggested that workers and local communities dependent on the fossil-fuel industry for income and livelihood support should not bear the brunt of the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Simply put, ‘just transition’ ensures that the workers and the local communities dependent on fossil fuels like coal do not suffer due to the phase-out of coal to meet the climate change goals listed under the Paris Climate Agreement. It ensures decent work opportunities and social support systems for the people whose livelihood is likely to be affected by the energy transition.

As per iFOREST, at least 21.5 million workers are currently engaged in fossil-fuel and fossil fuel dependent industries; they will need job replacement and reskilling.

The fossil-fuel transition and low-carbon economy must be planned in a way so that overall positive environmental, social, and economic outcomes can be achieved, suggested iFOREST.

Also Read: The mining of coal has continued even during the COVID-19 lockdown. But, what about the mineworkers’ health and safety?

Just transition should be prioritised

Of the 718 districts in the country,  120 have a sizeable presence of fossil fuel or fossil fuel dependent industries. These include coal mining, oil and gas production, thermal power plants, fertiliser (urea). 

Of these 120 districts, there are 60 where just transition should be prioritised as these districts account for 95 per cent of coal and lignite production, 60 per cent of thermal power capacity, and 90 per cent of automobile and automobile component manufacturing, shows the report.

Jharkhand has the highest number of districts (8), followed by Maharashtra (6), and Chhattisgarh and Karnataka (5 each). About one-third of the districts are concentrated in the coal belt of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and West Bengal.

The sectors that need to be prioritised for Just Transition include coal mining, thermal power plants, road transportation, other industries, and agriculture soil (urea use). 

These sectors collectively emit 64 per cent of India’s greenhouse gas (GHG), and 90 per cent of technologies required for transition in these sectors will be commercially available in the next five years. 

Also Read: Half of Jharkand’s coal mines shut, several others unprofitable; transition away from coal must benefit local communities: iFOREST report

The five R’s

At the event of the virtual launch, iFOREST released a report titled Five R’s A cross-sectoral landscape of Just Transition in India. A just transition in India will need policy and planning for five key elements.

1. Restructuring of the economy and industries

2. Repurposing of land and infrastructure

3. Reskilling existing and skilling new workforce

4. Revenue substitution and investments in just transition

5. Responsible social and environmental practices. 

All of these need to be considered appropriately in a sectoral and region-specific manner to ensure targeted interventions and achieve just socio-economic and environmental outcomes, suggested iFOREST.

Also Read: Baoris, Bijli Swaraj and Biomass Plants: How the states are responding to climate change