Companies must do better to ensure fairness in energy transition 

Part 1: ‘Include everyone’ – the advice to companies starting their low-carbon journey


The journey to a low carbon future is still in its infancy, delegates at COP26 heard on Wednesday.

Vicky Sins, climate and energy lead at the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA), told delegates that the alliance’s latest research showed that companies were still very much at the beginning of their transition.

Sins was speaking at a media briefing at this year’s climate talks in Glasgow. She discussed the findings of the recently launched World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) Just Transition Assessment Report, which assessed 180 globally influential companies on their respect for workers’ rights, communities and the most vulnerable as they work towards low-carbon goals.

This year’s report specifically covered the oil and gas sectors, as well as the automotive sector. 

From an economic and social perspective, countries’ reliance on fossil fuels to power their economy is driving climate change and in slowing down warming. The transition to a future of clean energy means that the emissions will need to be cut, and companies in high-emitting sectors are central in this transition.

Sins said the question has to be asked whether these companies are ensuring that no workers were left behind in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Civil society has pointed out that the coming energy transition holds many opportunities to address social issues plaguing countries, but only if everyone is included in this conversation. How the plan addressed economic and social issues had the potential to either ignite or hamper the transition to a low-carbon future.

At the centre was job creation, because many jobs in the fossil fuel industry were expected to fall away. But a new, clean-energy sector could deliver better quality jobs, and if companies made the right policy decisions it could actually create even more jobs, the briefing heard from several speakers commenting on the report. 

WBA’s JustTransition assessment examined how the most influential companies in high-emitting sectors could ensure that no one was left behind in the transition. But the result showed that companies still showed a disturbing lack of action.

“We really need the private sector to step up and include people,” said Sins, adding that reskilling and upskilling workers will be extremely important. Communities must also be included in a company’s journey to a low-carb future.

Respect for human rights formed the basis of a just transition, she pointed out.

Moustapha Kamal Gueye, coordinator of the Green Jobs Programme at the International Labour Organisation in Geneva, said it was important to realise the journey to decarbonisation was a global effort. 

Trends that decarbonisation would deliver include new employment creation, but also loss of income he explained. “There will be broad changes that we will observe in labour markets.”

But his analysis of the report suggested that the world is on a positive narrative. 

“The big picture is that the transition had the ability to deliver 100 million jobs, but there is a risk of losing 180 million jobs as well.”

He said the need for reskilling and upskilling was immense. 

South Africa’s head of climate finance and innovation at the Presidential Climate Commission, Dipak Patel, said that each country, especially developing countries, will have to carve its own pathway in the transition. 

“We have to make this a pathway to development and growth in the electricity sector in South Africa.”

He said that there might be a negative impact felt by workers, communities, and small and medium enterprises in South Africa’s coal chain, and that the country had to use its climate funding to ensure a just transition. 

Read part two here.

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