Sustainability & CSR
Embarking on a Just Transition
Navigating Taiwan's path to energy equity and sustainability
As Taiwan prepares for its upcoming presidential election on 13 January 2024, all presidential candidates have integrated net zero emissions and green transition into their policy platforms. However, a socioeconomic transition of this scale will inevitably have adverse effects on society’s most vulnerable groups. How to promote the net zero transition while keeping fairness at its core is a crucial issue for both the world and Taiwan; it is important that candidates take notice.
By James McCatherin and Jason Wang
The Net zero transition will lead to restructuring of the global economy and society. According to Net Zero Tracker, 151 countries, 157 regions, including Taiwan, as well as 260 cities, and 1,009 companies have now declared net-zero emission goals for 2050. These declared net zero regions account for about 89% of the world's population, 88% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 92% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, the net zero transition cannot be just empty words as it will dramatically change economic and social structures at micro and macro levels, affecting the very fabric of economic and social structures across the world and in Taiwan. Despite inclusion of the Just Transition into Taiwan’s energy policy and laws in recent years, practical implementation, and general awareness of the concept of Just Transition remains lacklustre in Taiwan. As Taiwan forges ahead in its green energy transition, significant capacity building is needed around this topic to ensure that fairness and equity are a part of this essential process.
Global Just Transition
The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines the Just Transition as “Greening the economy that is as fair and inclusive to all, creating decent work opportunities and leaving no one behind.”
Despite the need for a swift and effective energy transition as well as the undeniable opportunities it is likely to bring, a socioeconomic shift of this scale and scope will not affect all communities equally. A Just Transition seeks to optimize the economic potential of climate action while minimizing and effectively addressing associated challenges. This is achieved through fostering meaningful social dialogue involving all affected stakeholders and upholding essential labour principles and rights.
In the Just Transition Declaration 2021 at COP 26, 32 countries committed to:
- Support workers, communities and regions that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the move away from carbon-intensive economies.
- Promote social dialogue and engagement between governments, employers’ and workers’ representatives, and other groups affected by the transition to green economies.
- Implement economic strategies that support clean energy, foster resource-efficient economic growth, create income and decent jobs, and reduce poverty and inequality.
- Create decent jobs for people in their local areas, coupled with reskilling and training, and social protection for those in need.
- Ensure that existing and new supply chains create decent work for all, including the most marginalized, with respect for human rights.
Just Transition Taiwan
In 2020, Taiwan announced its ambitions for net zero emissions by 2050, releasing its official roadmap to net zero two years later. In accordance with the COP 26 declaration, the Just Transition was listed as one of the 12 primary items. The Just Transition has now been enshrined into Taiwan’s law as part of the Climate Change Response Act (氣候變遷因應法) based on the principles of “respecting human rights and dignified labour”. The law calls on transition actors to “consult all communities affected by the net zero emissions transition to assist industries, regions, workers, consumers, and indigenous peoples in stable and just transition.”
The Just Transition remains a fairly new concept internationally, and in Taiwan is virtually unknown amongst the public. Simultaneously, resources and education for the Just Transition initiative are not only limited but also underutilised. This has meant that, to date, there has been little progress and there are still significant gaps in the implementation of Taiwan’s Just Transition policy. Taiwan’s heavy reliance on imported fossil fuels has led to less focus on replacing jobs in the fossils fuel industry such as in the US, or EU and more focus on the interplay between the renewable energy industry and land or sea users such as farmers or fishers. Regardless, workers in Taiwan’s many fossil-related or high carbon emission industries are important stakeholders, who need to be engaged and accounted for.
Progress in Taiwan’s Just Transition
Taiwan’s National Development Council (NDC) has entrusted NIRAS Taiwan, along with Taiwan Youth Climate Coalition (台灣青年氣候聯盟) and the Green Energy for Charity Association (台灣綠能公益發展協會) to spearhead a project on capacity building and policy adaptation for Taiwan’s Just Transition. Central to the purpose of this project, the partners are working with citizens to ensure their views are heard and working to develop better strategies for ensuring a just transition. As the energy transition will likely affect all people in some way, the scope of who is an important stakeholder in the Just Transition can be difficult to determine. Nonetheless, for this project the role of women, young people, and marginalized populations has been identified as key areas for initial capacity building. The project which, will be wrapping up in December 2023 consists of, among other tasks, a series of three targeted just transition workshops and an international conference. At the time of writing, the workshop series has been completed.
International forum on net zero Just Transition
To help facilitate international exchange on the topic of the Just Transition, we have organised an international forum and experts from different sectors, who have been involved in the development of the Justice Transition will share their current developments and first-hand observations of the Just Transition.
This year’s COP 28, held in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December 2023, also listed Just Transition as one of the most important core issues. Several speakers were present at COP28 and shared the current international discourse and perspectives of key stakeholder groups. The international forum featured a number of thought leaders in the Just Transition from Denmark, United Kingdom, Vietnam, South Korea and Taiwan.
The International Forum on Just Transition will be held on 17 December is open to the public and will be live-streamed. Readers can register here.
Looking back on the workshop series
In the leadup to the international forum, NIRAS, Taiwan Youth Climate Coalition, and the Green Energy for Charity Association have already helped Taiwan’s NDC to design and host a three-part capacity building workshop series for three key stakeholder groups in Taiwan’s Just Transition.
“Female Action in the Just Transition”
Women play a very important role on the road to net zero transition. It is vital that female voices and action are equally present throughout the Just Transition process. Given the prevailing gender inequality in Taiwan, the seventeen attendees expressed concerns about the traditional cultural expectation for women to take on caregiving roles for children and the elderly. As a result, the concern voiced is that women may not have the time to engage in skills training courses related to the net-zero transition. This could lead to a mismatch in their abilities when re-entering the workforce within the rapidly transforming new economic and social paradigm. Post-event discussions with Taiwan's gender issue opinion leaders all concurred on the need to establish a women's climate network for ensuring that women are not left behind in the net-zero transition.
“Young People in the Just Transition”
Young people will endure the direst consequences of climate change in their lifetimes. In the process of net zero transformation, Taiwan’s youth face a particularly strong sense of uneasiness about the future. Youth workshop participants consisted of thirty young participants from various regions in Taiwan. To focus the discussion, particular attention was given to the impact of policies promoting electric vehicles and the transition to solar energy at the local level. The EV discussion focused primarily on the impact of workers in the traditional automotive industry supply chain and the need for upskilling and reskilling. Throughout the discussion, it became evident that young people are generally interested in net zero issues and are keen to learn more about net zero and how it will impact their careers and life. Several participants emphasized the importance of assessing the impact and planning supportive measures before directly jumping into implementing policies. They stressed the need to balance the interests of existing industry workers.
“Net-zero health inspectors”
In the third workshop, seventeen volunteers who aspire to become “net zero health inspectors” in the future were invited for a capacity building and training programme. The responsibility of a net zero health inspector is to support leaders within vulnerable populations in conducting greenhouse gas inventories, planning energy-saving initiatives, assessing the feasibility of rooftop solar energy, and facilitating resource matching between public and private entities. The goal is to help those groups reduce carbon emissions and to identify and address the needs of marginalized populations who face the effects of climate change most. After the workshop, most volunteers expressed their willingness and excitement to participate in the upcoming “net-zero health inspectors” volunteer programme.
Whether it is the international community or the Taiwanese community, or even the current presidential candidates of Taiwan, the core concepts and values of Just Transition should be taken seriously, just as the concept of SDGs has been implemented in every corner of the green transition.
Likewise, as a key voice in the global CSR movement and a leader in the green energy transition, the European business community is an important stakeholder in Taiwan’s Just Transition. We strongly encourage the European business community in Taiwan to further carry on and actively join the discussion on Just Transition.
James McCatherin is a Consultant working for NIRAS. He supports social & political considerations for Offshore Wind as well as Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) in Taiwan and the APAC region. His background is in International Development and Political Science.
Jason Wang is a Senior Economist for NIRAS, a Danish multi-disciplinary engineering company, focused on energy policy and market forecast consultancy for clients and supporting NIRAS’ efforts in Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) offerings in the APAC region.