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Report on the “just transition” in the economic recovery: eradicating poverty within planetary boundaries

9 October 2020
Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
To the General Assembly at its 75th session


This report examines how the fight against poverty can be combined with the search for a development model that mitigates climate change and halts the erosion of biodiversity. The “just transition” requires that the workers and communities affected by the ecological transformation be protected from its impacts. But the transformation required also needs to open up new opportunities and strengthen the rights of people living in poverty. In specific areas, such as energy, buildings, food or mobility, “triple-dividend” actions can be taken that would reduce the ecological footprint while simultaneously creating employment opportunities for people with low levels of qualification and facilitating access to goods and services essential to the enjoyment of human rights. Such actions should be underpinned by a different development model that places the fight against inequalities above the exclusive focus on economic growth and that combats wasteful consumption rather than seeing it an ingredient of growth. “Building back better” does not mean returning to the status quo, but instead taking public action towards the eradication of poverty within planetary boundaries.

Inputs received

The Special Rapporteur invited all interested governments, civil society organisations, academics, international organisations, activists, corporations and others, to provide written input for his thematic report.

The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights was particularly grateful for comments, observations and examples of good practices in the following areas:

1. Energy: the switch to renewable energy sources and improved energy efficiency

1.1. Which policies (such as relocation grants, job-search assistance and re-skilling programs) have proven to be the most effective to support workers who are affected by the transition to renewable energy and to overcome barriers that low-skilled workers may face in entering the renewable energy sector?

1.2. Which innovative fiscal and financial incentives can be relied on to reduce cost gaps between renewables and fossil fuel technologies, in order to make clean energy affordable to all?

1.3. Evidence suggests that in rural areas in particular, large-scale on-grid energy production is not cost-effective, whereas mini-grid and off-grid renewable energy systems, deployed in a decentralised manner in collaboration with local communities, are more promising and economically viable. Which obstacles does the establishment of such decentralised renewable energy systems face? Which experiences could provide a source of inspiration in this regard?

2. Housing: encouraging energy performance of buildings

2.1. Which tools have proven successful to ensure that the imposition of higher standards related to the energy performance of buildings do not lead to an increased level of rents, making housing less affordable for low-income households?

3. Planned obsolescence and life cycle of products

3.1. What have proven to be the most effective ways to combat planned or "built in" obsolescence of products, i.e., to prohibit or to discourage manufacturers' practice of deliberately designing products to fail prematurely or become out-of-date? What are the obstacles in implementing regulations banning such practices?

3.2. Consumers of long-life products incur greater purchase costs upfront, but lower total costs per annum, compared to consumers of short-life products (excluding repair costs). What policies should governments consider implementing, in order to encourage consumers to choose long-life products, whose environmental impacts are much less significant? In particular, for persons in poverty, their limited disposable income at the time of the purchase may discourage buying long-life and thus more sustainable products. Which policies could help overcome this obstacle?

3.4. Functional economy and sharing economy (collaborative consumption) initiatives, such as the sharing of tools, cars, or tractors, encourage and facilitate the exchange or sharing of underutilised assets, and enlarge access to goods and services whilst reducing environmental impact. Which regulatory or policy measures have been most successful in encouraging such forms of consumption? Which are the most important factors limiting the growth of the repair sector (for example, availability of spare parts, skilled labour, time constraints facing consumers, costs)? And how might such obstacles be overcome?

4. The impacts of the transition on employment

4.1. Payments for ecosystem services (PES) schemes, when carefully designed, can both help maintain healthy ecosystems and provide additional revenue for individuals and communities in poverty. This requires the careful and complex integration of economic, ecological and social criteria into the design and implementation of PES to promote economic resilience, environmental integrity and social development. How could PES be designed to ensure that people in poverty (landless poor and smallholders) are not excluded from them, which could occur by requiring formal land title, minimal land size or expensive application processes?

4.2. For green restructuring, new skills will be needed by workers in many existing occupations and industries. Governments, worker representatives and employers should work together to: (1) identify early potential job losses in emitting industries and (2) propose skills upgrading and training to the workers of those industries either to adapt their skills to a new green technology or to move to green industries.  What labour market policies or measures can ensure that the most vulnerable workers in the labour market receive targeted assistance and preferential treatment to identify their skills' deficiencies and ensure their access to green jobs through tailor-made training, directly linked to specific job openings?

The Special Rapporteur greatly appreciated the efforts that went into making such contributions.

The inputs received are listed below:

Member States

NGOs and Civil Society Organizations