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Issues Paper: Challenges and Opportunities for a Just Transition

This paper outlines key challenges and opportunities for a just transition in energy and food and cross-cutting topics including gender, youth, social inclusion, and a just COVID-19 recovery.
Food systems are one key area for just transition (c) Deepak Kumar


The short- and long-term effects of climate change are increasingly felt across the globe, threatening human livelihoods and exacerbating underlying socio-economic issues. These adverse impacts highlight the need to reduce emissions, adapt to changing climatic conditions, and transition into greener, more sustainable economies and societies.

The concept and strategies of just transition were first introduced by labour unions and environmental justice groups and have become key elements for addressing climate change in a more inclusive and just manner. One of the early foundational documents comes from the International Labour Organization, and issues surrounding just transition were addressed in the work on response measures under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as well as the Paris Agreement and the Silesia Declaration. Just transition as a key consideration for climate action and commitments is now becoming a mainstream concept that is endorsed by labour unions, civil society, intergovernmental organizations, and national governments.

Issues of just transition should be a core component of climate action, sustainable development, and the transformation of societies and economies. The objective of this issues paper is to outline key challenges and opportunities for a just transition in the energy and food sector as well as several cross-cutting topics, including gender, youth, social inclusion and protection, and integration of just approaches into climate-related policies and for COVID-19 recovery.


The information contained in this document is assembled from a desk research and the valuable contributions of the session leads, experts, and key stakeholders who participated in SLYCAN Trust’sVirtual Summit on Just Transition held on December 3rd and December 4th, 2020. The Virtual Summit comprised five sessions with panel discussions, Q&As, and breakout groups to further discuss thematic aspects in-depth.

Gaps, needs and challenges for a just transition in food systems

Workers in the food sector are exposed to a number of risks and inequalities. For a successful just transition, frontline workers and farmers must be brought into the discussion beyond tokenism on a local, national, regional and intergovernmental level. Due to existing inequalities, women and other marginalized groups may be neglected and left behind, leading to farming communities ignoring intersectional realities and related impacts they may face in the transition process. The informal, small-scale, or family-run nature of farming also often causes issues related to social security and social recognition that encourage farmers and in particular youth to leave the sector.

Key challenges include a lack of technology access and investment in farming, lack of awareness of the benefits of transition to emission reduction, lack of institutional support for diversification within the food sector, lack of compensation payouts for losses, lack of guaranteed income streams, young people moving away from agriculture, and lack of integration of crop agriculture and livestock into NDCs and other climate and development plans and policies. The initial investment cost associated with transitioning to a low-carbon food system can lead to farmers paying their workers lower wages for more demanding physical labour. Furthermore, there is a lack of financial incentives for farmers, especially rural smallholders, to adopt sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices, as they cannot bear the associated costs and risks on their own.

Gaps, needs and challenges for a just transition in the energy sector

A just transition of the energy sector is a vast undertaking that faces several obstacles and challenges. The negative impacts of an unmanaged transition could include economic decline, decay of community culture and identity, loss of livelihoods and job security in fossil fuel-based industries or businesses, loss of energy access and affordability for poor populations, and rising inequality and poverty in communities dependent on the sector.

Key challenges with regard to the implementation of a clean and renewable energy transition include issues of pricing and investment, limited data availability, poor physical access to infrastructure, issues with securing land permits and land ownership, gaps in communication and coordination between local and national government authorities, lack of regulations or the enforcement of existing regulations, an immature energy service companies (ESCOs) market, and lack of financing mechanisms. On the government side, there are often tensions between local, central, and sectoral needs as well as a lack of stakeholder engagement, capacity-building, and policy coherence. There is also a lack of gender-responsive or transformative actions, a loss of cultural knowledge and technologies, and a lack of integration of just transition into climate-related plans and policies.

Just transition measures are used to mitigate the aforementioned negative impacts whilst maximizing the positive aspects of the energy sector transition. The final outcome or success depends on the strategies utilized and how well they connect to the local context and take into account different capabilities, needs, and scales across developed and developing countries.

COVID-19 and a just recovery

COVID-19 has pushed millions of people into poverty, highlighting and amplifying existing vulnerabilities in economies, food systems, and healthcare. However, the pandemic also offers an opportunity to “build forth better” and focus on a green recovery that integrates elements of just transition, tackling both the health crisis and the climate crisis through a people-centred approach.A green recovery can be instrumental in speeding up the process of transitioning to a low-carbon economy. However, it must be paired with the concept of a just transition to ensure that existing socioeconomic inequalities are not exacerbated but instead bridged to a large degree. This includes measures such as grants, subsidies, loans, and tax relief programmes aimed at stimulating green industries, creating a circular economy, fundingresearch and development, instituting alternativeforms of social protection, promoting improved airquality and waste management, defining moresustainable pathways for society and nature, andincreasing resilience. Civil society organizations andother non-government actors should be encouraged to push governments for a green recovery andadvocate for the integration of climate action,pandemic recovery, and social justice on a local,national, and global scale.

Key Messages

  • Issues of just transition should be a core component of climate action, sustainable development, and the transformation of societies and economies.
  • Just transition measures can mitigate the adverse impacts of economic and societal transition, protect workers, communities, and vulnerable groups, and make sure that no one is left behind.
  • In addition, a just transition can also capitalize on opportunities, synergies, and co-benefits presented by this transition, increase resilience, and accelerate development efforts.
  • Challenges for a just transition include limited data availability, gaps in coordination and communication, limited stakeholder engagement, issues of social exclusion, inequality, and marginalization, lack of regulations or enforcement, lack of access, high initial investment costs and risks of transition, lack of financial resources, and issues of informality.
  • Recommendations for facilitating a just transition include coherent and effective policies and regulations tailored to local contexts, inclusion and participation of all stakeholders, enhanced (re)training and skills development, safety nets and concrete guarantees, creation of trust, support of innovation, identification of entry points and road maps for concrete actions that can be scaled up, and partnerships between diverse actors.

Suggested citation

SLYCAN Trust (2021). Issues Paper: Challenges and Opportunities for a Just Transition. Colombo, Sri Lanka: SLYCAN Trust (GTE) Ltd.

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