Photo by: Albert Hyseni

SEI, through its offices in  Asia, Europe,  Africa, and  Latin America, as well as our proposed country partners: the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) in Colombia, University of Cape Town/Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS) in South Africa,  and the  Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR) in Indonesia, have been at the forefront of research and policy engagement in recent years on the themes of just transition, carbon lock-in, resource governance, and productive diversification.

This research and policy engagement aims to deepen understanding of barriers to a just transition in order to help change agendas and enhance capacities of civil society,  governments,  international donor agencies, and other boundary partners, to improve policy decisions, and to amplify lessons and impact by facilitating cross-regional collaboration.

Common challenges for a just transition

Colombia, South Africa, and Indonesia are important coal exporters but face very different market conditions. As lead producers in their respective continents, coal-producing regions in each country are heavily dependent on these industries for regional employment and public budgets, and in the cases of both South Africa and Indonesia, also for electricity generation, generating unique vulnerabilities in the context of the global energy transition  

All three countries have made public statements or commitments to a “just transition” beyond coal, though these are at different points of public debate. At the same time, all three countries have plans (ranging in ambition) to maintain or expand their respective coal industries either through new mines or new coal power plants, or both.  

Colombia, South Africa, and Indonesia share some common challenges which shape each countries’ approach and ability to convene a just transition, including high levels of inequality, a high proportion of informality in the labor sector, and lower regulatory, institutional, and financial capacities than many higher income countries. Nonetheless, each country also faces different political, social, and economic landscapes and histories in which domestic coal production and consumption is embedded.  

Through a participatory approach, this collaborative action research project seeks to take into account the diverse histories and political contexts as well as common challenges of each country, to identify meanings and visions of just transition on the ground in each regional context, as well as possible openings for leveraging change and sharing lessons. It will also help provide important cross-country lessons and shared learning around policy design and implementation toward just transition processes in developing fossil-fuel producing countries and regions. Overall, it will help understand constraints to transition in coal-dependent, lower and middle-income country contexts, and in doing so may also have implications for understanding transition in high and low/lower-middle-income contexts. 

SEI serves as the programmatic lead for the project in terms of management, administration, and strategic direction, while each participating organization brings unique and complementary skills to the partnership. 

The project is supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation and complementary funds from the Carbon Lock-In Initiative.