Asia’s informal workers cannot be left behind in the green transition

February 14, 2022

During COP26, wealthy nations committed to a $2.5 billion funding programme, to support various Asian countries to make a socially aware shift away from carbon-intensive industries. Recipients of the funding include India, Indonesia and the Philippines, where many of the population are low-skilled informal workers. While the funding provides much-needed support, officials in the region are arguing for greater policies and guidelines, to ensure vulnerable communities are not left behind.

The challenge of achieving a just transition is particularly acute in Asia, where many of the world’s informal workers live. These vulnerable communities are often dependent on exactly the industries we are trying to move away from, such as coal, gas and manufacturing. Green transition plans that do not adequately take into account the socio-economic context, can have unfortunate repercussions for these communities. A clear example of this, is the programme to replace Jeepneys (cheap public transport) in the Philippines. Government plans to remove older Jeepneys from the roads, mean that many traditional drivers could be at risk of losing their income. The newer vehicles, while environmentally friendly, are expensive, meaning traditional drivers may not be able to afford them. As a result, the drivers have protested against the programme, which many have called “anti-poor”.

Without proper planning, unintended consequences, such as those of the Jeepney transition scheme, could become commonplace. This point was made by Kate Hughes, a climate change specialist at the Asia Development Bank, who highlighted that while there’s widespread recognition of the need for a just transition, there are “limited practical examples”. Clear frameworks for the inclusion of social risks within climate transition plans, are essential for the future success of a just transition. Without clear guidelines, we are at risk of causing further harm to already vulnerable communities, who are the least to blame for climate change.

Author: Laura Coomber