On 6 July 2021, UNU-IAS brought together leading experts to discuss the social and economic transformation needed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and how to ensure a transition that is just and inclusive. The online side event of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) identified key requirements for achieving carbon neutrality and opportunities for a green transition in Africa. It explored pathways to a transformation that stays true to the principle of leaving no one behind, and synergies between carbon neutrality and the SDGs during the Decade of Action to deliver on the goals.
A key message was that people should be at the centre of ensuring equity for a just transition, including universal access to energy and resources, innovation and technology, inclusive engagement, and integrating indigenous values in the transition discussion. The discussion highlighted the potential of nature-based solutions to create livelihoods, jobs, and added economic and social value. Speakers welcomed the commitments and actions towards carbon neutrality by governments, the private sector, and civil society, and called for a truly global effort to build on this momentum, including multi-stakeholder partnerships to support knowledge dissemination and technology transfer.
With over 180 participants, the event was organised by UNU-IAS, the UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), the UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat.
Presentations delivered during the event are available on the Related Files tab.
The event was opened by Shinobu Yume Yamaguchi (Director, UNU-IAS), who acknowledged the multiple challenges facing the globe and the profound impact of COVID-19 on efforts to achieve the SDGs and tackle the climate crisis. Recognising the role of equity for a just transition, she emphasised that a global effort with engagement by all stakeholders was imperative to transform society and key economic sectors to realise carbon neutrality.
In a video message, H.E. Hiroyoshi Sasagawa (State Minister of the Environment, Japan) acknowledged the universality of the SDGs and the critical need for countries to integrate the goals into their national strategies. He underlined the commitment of Japan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, with a midterm goal of 46% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 from 2013 levels. He noted that opportunities to create synergies between carbon neutrality and the SDGs could lead to transformation for a just society through, for example, policies targeting employment and growth.
A keynote speech by Yukari Takamura (Professor, University of Tokyo), noted that non-state actors, especially businesses, were leading decarbonisation efforts through better awareness of climate risk in value chains, greater accountability and transparency, and innovation. Her recommendations for achieving a just transition included developing appropriate policies and measures for transforming industrial and labor market structures, setting a clear long term vision, and integrating transition strategy into sectoral plans. She called for policies to encourage companies to prepare for transformation and to be more resilient to climate risks. It is also vital to respect ownership and due process, ensure an inclusive and human rights-based transformation, and provide adequate safety net policies.
A panel discussion moderated by Xiaomeng Shen (Vice-Rector in Europe, UNU and Director, UNU-EHS), engaged speakers from UN agencies, the private sector, and civil society organisations. The panellists responded to two key questions: how is equity in the context of transformation interpreted and understood by different stakeholders; and what are the preconditions for a just transformation?
Minoru Takada (Team Leader, Sustainable Energy, UN DESA) highlighted that a just transition was crucial to achieve the two key milestones — net-zero carbon by 2050 and the 2030 Agenda. He emphasised the need for national transitions to have clear plans and explicit targets and indicators, and suggested that embedding the SDGs in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and energy transition strategies could provide a starting point for a just transition.
Youssef Nassef (Director, Adaptation Division and Chair of World Adaptation Science Programme, UNFCCC secretariat), underlined the fundamental inequities facing adaptation, including differences in exposure to impacts, levels of adaptive capacity across and within countries, and communities, and access to resources. He noted that tradeoffs and spillovers of mitigation actions could lead to uneven costs and benefits. To achieve intergenerational equity he called for ensuring inclusiveness by involving all stakeholders; tapping into indigenous values and wisdom, and exploring frontier technologies through foresight analysis.
Fatima Denton (Director, UNU-INRA), emphasised the possibilities for Africa to chart a different course of development; one that is not carbon-intensive. She identified transition opportunities for green recovery in Africa such as transforming agriculture to foster green industrialisation; trade investment, especially with the European Union; investments in natural resources and rare earth materials; affordable technology; and growing urban populations with increasing demands for services. She stressed the need to include the informal sector in the green recovery. As just transition is linked to sovereignty and the capacity to deploy technology, both political economy and political ecology must be key considerations.
Jean-Paul Adam (Director for Technology, Climate Change, and Natural Resources Management, UN ECA) reiterated that just transition was imperative for Africa, noting gaps in capacity to address climate change and that Africa was not on track to achieve SDGs 13 and 16. He suggested that some sectors provided better investment returns for green recovery and a just transition, such as renewable energy, climate-smart agriculture and food security, and nature-based solutions. It is important to link finance, including private investment and green bonds, to green sectors to enable transformative change in Africa.
Hiroyuki Tezuka (Chair, Working Group on Global Environment Strategy, Committee on Environment & Safety, Keidanren) highlighted the need to link climate actions to green growth in order to promote energy conservation and decarbonisation of energy supplies. He elaborated on the four pillars of Keidanren’s carbon neutrality action plan: reducing emissions from domestic business operations; cooperating with other interested groups; promoting contributions; and developing of innovative technology. The action plan aims to accelerate business actions towards carbon neutrality through innovation, dissemination, implementation, and engagement with the finance sector. Additionally, he stated that Keidanren also strives for cooperation in global efforts toward decarbonisation.
Mailes Zulu Muke (CEO, Save Environment and People Agency), discussed implementation challenges involved in achieving carbon neutrality and social transformation — including limited participation, lack of access to resources and green financing, and unsustainable extractive activities. She underscored that Africa had been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and was particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. She called for all stakeholders to actively engage people at all levels to ensure a just transition in Africa.
In closing the event, Shinobu Yume Yamaguchi highlighted the crosscutting implications of planning for a carbon-neutral economy and society. She emphasised that a global transition could only be genuinely transformative if it protected those affected by the transition and stayed true to the principles of the 2030 Agenda. This requires us all to play a part in building the momentum of ongoing multi-stakeholder efforts towards carbon neutrality and strengthening this collaboration.