We need Just in Sustainable Development

Sustainable has become a buzzword recently. We always heard words like sustainable growth, sustainable development, sustainable lifestyle, etc. So, is sustainable really the only way moving forward?


Sustainable development is insufficient, we also need justice in it. For an instant, sustainable electricity is not just about counting on how many kilowatt (Kwh) one can saved or how high the efficiency is, but also accessible of electricity to public. In my opinion, is pointless to generate high efficiency electricity but the accessibility to it is only for urban dwellers.

MYD attended a side event during COP23 called “No job on a Dead Planet – Ensuring a Just Energy Transition” organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) with Bread for the World (BftW)

The so-called sustainable development cannot be achieved without addressing climate change and the much needed element of JUSTICE. Raju Pandit Chhetri gave a good case study on Nepal during the workshop.

Nepal is a least developed mountainous and landlocked country. It is also one of the least contributors to the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Based on the NDC, Nepal is going to scale up renewable energy production to meet the country’s energy demand and also reduce dependency on fossil fuel. They are heavily invested in hydropower and planning to scale up to 13,000 MW by 2030.

So now here is the question. Is hydropower really a clean energy? Building hydro dam will destroy a vast landscapes, which will cause lost of biodiversity and lots of people are going to be displaced. Besides, the damn project are mostly outsourced to other countries like China and India due to lack of capacity. In other words, this does not help in employment and poverty eradication. Ultimately, anything happens to the dam in the future (i.e earthquake) is devastating to even think about it.

As he said, moving away from fossil fuel is not just, we need to see justice from many angle.

Different countries also have different starting points. For developed countries, they are shifting from one lifestyle to another while developing countries are solving poverty to development. Thus, the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) is essential.

In laymen term, CBDR means every country acknowledges climate change is a common issue where each country should be responsible for addressing it YET NOT IN AN EQUAL MANNER.

But in reality, this is not always the case. Image extract from GWPF

It recognised that developed countries, which had been able to develop for longer time without any environmental restrictions, now need to take a greater share of responsibility. And one of the responsibilities should be providing support to developing countries. This is part of JUSTICE as well. In short …

CBDR is an expression of general principle of equity. 

Furthermore, justice is subjective. It is easy to understand on the surface level but once we dive deep into detail, the line is blurred as there are a few dimensions to it.

Just transition originate from the struggle of trade unions to support those whose entitlements are threatened by climate action (i.e coal miner, workers from coal fired power plant).

Those who live in climate vulnerable countries call for justice in term of more ambitious climate action (Loss and Damage, Mitigation, Adaptation) in order to secure their survival.

As for us the youth, we call for justice in term of intergenerational equity.  It means we inherit the Earth from previous generations and have an obligation to administer and preserve it to all future generations.

Climate Action in Bonn Zone during COP23

From the 3 examples given above, we can see that the concerns arose came from different domains of justices. Workers are asking for recognition and support; vulnerable countries are asking for distributive justice while the youth are seeking for intergenerational justice.

Real justice only can be achieved if we welcome everyone on-board. Leave no one behind


Written by: Thomas Lai

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