Just Transition Thoughts...

"Discussions on climate action must start with those people and areas which are going to have greatest of the impact from climate change."[Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India during the launch of 'COP26 Charter of Actions']  - This underscores the significance of drivers and impacts from green energy discourse and transition pathways emerging out of concerted climate action.

Just transition lens offers an insightful understanding about how one takes a holistic view of energy, climate and development considerations in order to effectively deal with energy, technology and socioeconomic barriers and envision newer opportunities. Insights into interconnected barriers and drivers of energy transition would help create a futuristic agenda and a multi-stakeholder dialogue for determining the transition pathways. Just transition prism offers a rainbow of opportunities to assimilate multiple factors and induce change at various institutional, systemic and process levels. It offers a new canvas to examine:

·         inter-relatedness

·         inclusivity

·         interdependence

Eventually such insight triggers collaborations with multiple actors in energy, technology and social development spheres. More one digs into it, more one comprehends the complexities, non-linear pathways towards transition to an alternative that is holistic, forward looking, inclusive and all encompassing.

The fundamental question that crops up here whether ‘transition away from coal and switching to a cleaner choice’ is a plausible construct that may be translated into a reality in a phased manner through a sustained policy push, simultaneous and multi-pronged approaches towards a balanced socio-economic growth and scaling of tested solutions across larger geographies. It appears a tall order, however, a concerted effort towards converting a vicious cycle to a virtuous one by recognising basic issues of reluctance to change, vested interest, lack of local and political will, inadequate preparedness and ability to leverage resources etc. would perhaps provide the necessary impetus to adapt to the changing context, eventually ensure a sustainable and a resilient future.

While retaining focus on decarbonisation and seeding cleaner energy options, we cannot afford to lose sight of the human dimensions as socioeconomic factors like lives and livelihoods of vulnerable segments of population who are at a greater risk, access to services and opportunities, rights and entitlements, local and institutional capacities etc. and a shared goal would create the conducive climate and ground for the envisaged switch from a conventional practices to a newer worldview. Consequently, adoption of best and greener practices would ensure a humane and egalitarian co-existence.

In India especially resource rich geographies contributed significantly towards State and national revenue generation and created islands of prosperity and affluence. On the other hand, ironically one also comes across inherent paradoxes,which seems all pervasive as one sees:

·         pockets of insufficiency

·         extreme poverty

·         social and economic disparities

·         dissolved community ties & weakening of social capital

·         inherent inequities

Such vulnerabilities and paradoxes deepened further during the unprecedented pandemic that has hit the humanity hard than ever before, globally.

Such stark realities may be better understood as one takes closer view of the coal based economy like in resource rich States like Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh, which is mostly tribal dominated, recognised for its backwardness, poverty and poor human development scenario. The state encroaches upon forest and agricultural land resources to mine coal for so called ‘larger good’ and GDP rise but the reality is, electricity generated is consumed in the coal and other big and small industries and large volume of power is transferred beyond the state and the local people who are engaged in the coal value chain, are hardly benefitted as supply is erratic and all areas are yet to be grid connected. 87%of the rural households in Jharkhand has electricity access and out of this 97% have grid connection and average supply is about 9 hours a day that too has poor quality and voltage fluctuation. Hence, kerosene remains a major source of lighting (ET Energy World Power, April 8, 2020 Bran Blankenship, University of Miami).

Coal mining offers opportunities to many upstream and downstream but it also brings miseries, exploitation, health hazards, land degradation, depletion of top soil and ground water, illegalities and exploitative forces, environmental damages and enhances climate related risks. In other words, historically, costs of such coal-based economy, poses greater environmental and socioeconomic risks and vulnerabilities than a fair and a sustainable future.

Looking beyond coal and exploring alternative economy that promotes entrepreneurial ecosystem, other natural resource based and agriculture based on farm and off farm based diversified livelihood strategies is the way forward and an essential prerequisite for a fair and just transition. It certainly opens up the debate for a transition and hence creating a green charter to move away from coal. Hence, switching to a cleaner renewable energy choice, scaling and mainstreaming it comprising a clear and a consistent pathway towards a balanced demand-supply ecosystem, appears the only viable alternative. Adoption of this alternative trajectory could trigger incremental and transformative changes at various layers of community-industry-State-civil society-market existence and promote common good.

Journey towards a climate resilient world, predicament, and question looming large on livelihood security and alternative business models, propels one to look beyond the obvious. Varied segments of population will be impacted in varied degrees and communication at the local level is the key in creating a pro-non-coal oriented solution. For this, a community mobilisation strategy, interface with local democracy (PRI), farmer cooperatives, SHGs and other stakeholders in the coal value chain are essential prerequisites.