Just transition you say? Not without good practice on business and human rights

Anna Triponel

November 16, 2020

There is increasing recognition that the transition toward a zero-carbon world needs to be ‘just’, i.e., this transition needs to respect the fundamental rights of those involved – with a particular focus on the most vulnerable. The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) highlights at least four ways in which business and human rights good practice can strengthen just transition efforts – and calls for the integration of the business and climate change and the business and human rights agendas.

Why this matters

  • Climate change and human rights are inextricably linked. This linkage can be simple or it can be quite complex. For example, the environmental impacts of climate change (e.g. warming oceans, desertification, extreme weather) can cause harm to people: they may inhibit people’s ability to catch or grow the food they need to feed themselves and their families; limit their ability to generate income; destroy their homes and property; cause health problems, injuries and death; and more.
  • Conversely, when human rights are not protected, they can also accelerate climate change. For instance, when governments or companies displace indigenous peoples for business activities like logging or mining, a substantial body of research has shown that these ecosystems suffer from environmental harm that accelerates global warming. On the other hand, humans in desperate situations can engage in activities that cause harm to the environment, such as cutting down forests to grow subsistence crops or engage in artisanal mining; build homes in sensitive ecosystems and floodplains when other land isn’t affordable or accessible; and more.
  • The international community is beginning to recognise these linkages and the need for a “just transition”—that is, the dual need to mitigate the impacts of climate change while also ensuring the well-being of people and communities. (The concept of just transition is further defined and unpacked in the IHRB’s report, as well as in the ILO’s 2015 Guidelines on Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies for All).

Key takeaways from the report

IHRB’s report Just Transitions For All: Business, Human Rights, and Climate Action is intended as a primer on the linkages between climate change and human rights for decisionmakers in both communities of practice. The report outlines four key ways in which protecting and respecting human rights can facilitate the just transition:

Source: Institute for Human Rights and Business, Just Transitions For All: Business, Human Rights, and Climate Action (November 2020)

The report also highlights some of the ways in which protecting and respecting human rights in the context of business can help strengthen the just transition movement:

  • The business and human rights framework emphasizes the importance of “procedural rights” (i.e. right of access to information, right to participate in decision-making processes around environmental topics). Fulfillment of these rights is key to ensuring that the just transition is inclusive and effective.
  • Business and human rights can bring “a wider range of human rights perspectives into planning and implementation of just transition strategies,” facilitating “climate justice objectives” and the “positive outcomes [of just transition] beyond the workplace boundaries of businesses directly involved.”
  • “[H]uman rights due diligence offers a practical tool for addressing the implications of just transition processes not only for workers’ rights and procedural rights at community level, but also for land rights, rights of indigenous people, and economic and social rights to decent work, access to education, health, water, and housing.”
  • Effective human rights due diligence can also lend itself to identifying potential adverse human rights impacts of climate change mitigation approaches. For example, the move towards a circular economy—and thus the heightened global demand for recycled materials—can increase the likelihood of human rights harms for informal sector waste-pickers in developing economies. To that end, “[a] human rights perspective that extends understanding of just transition’s implications into value chains and business relationships can achieve better human rights and development outcomes.”

Read the full report here: Institute for Human Rights and Business, Just Transitions For All: Business, Human Rights, and Climate Action (November 2020)

See also this video discussion between Halina Ward, author of the report, and IHRB CEO John Morrison

“The relationship between the climate change and human rights agendas points to significant potential for integration of ongoing efforts in these areas to increase positive impacts. This includes contributing to adaptation in ways that multiply the positive outcomes of public policy priorities on climate change; working with civil society and others to prevent climate responses from triggering roll-back of civil and political rights protections; and championing human rights as part of public policy processes associated with just transition. Leadership from across government, business, trade unions and civil society on rights-centred approaches to climate action could make a significant contribution to securing processes of transition that benefit all people. The transitions that are needed mean rapidly scaling up the green and decent jobs of a sustainable and net zero future, and they span both strategies rapidly to wind down production and consumption linked to greenhouse gas emissions and those associated with climate adaptation and resilience to climate disruptions at every level.”                      

        Institute for Human Rights and Business, Just Transitions For All: Business, Human Rights, and Climate Action (November 2020)

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