A Just Transition, Grounded in Human Rights: The Role of Businesses

By: Victor Bernard,

Businesses play a leading role in accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy. The effects of climate change that scientists have predicted are now a reality. Accelerated sea level rise, increasing incidents, an intensification of disasters and extreme weather events, biodiversity loss, and desertification—these threats risk destroying the natural system, and environmental services have affected 1.2 million jobs around the world that depend on them. These impacts also have an influence on a wide range of human rights, particularly for the most vulnerable and future generations.

To address this issue, governments and businesses must urgently find ways to transform key societal systems that drive environmental degradation and climate change and rethink not just technology and production processes but also consumption patterns and ways of living. And to enable this systemic change to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, immediate and quick action is required, engaging diverse policy areas and actors across society. A green transition would be one of the best solutions to overcome it.

At COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Victor Bernard, RWI Asia Pacific programme officer for human rights and environment, led the discussion titled “A Just Transition, Grounded in Human Rights: The Role of Businesses” at the Swedish Pavilion. The discussion featured prominent speakers from Business Sweden, the Youth Task Force, and a human rights and business expert. Maria Simonson (Head of Sustainability at SEK), Christina Friborg (Executive Vice President and Head of Sustainability at SSAB), Eija Hietavuo (Vice President Corporate Affairs, Tetrapak), Yoko Lu (Country Contact Point and Regional Contact Point, Youngo/Stockholm +50 Task Force)

Accelerating green transition would have preserve jobs dependent on the ecosystem services and create new jobs in green technology and sustainability fields.” said Victor.

Businesses can help to reduce carbon emissions while also ensuring that the transition is just, equitable, and inclusive. meaning that businesses should address human rights implications when they plan and implement action strategies to address climate change. In this regard, the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, as well as the EU’s mandatory human rights environmental due diligence, could serve as a model for businesses.

Our starting point we work on the sustainability on holistic perspective in order to assess all business risk there are including the green transition.” revealed Maria

She added that SEK collaborate with the IFC performance standard and the OECD as part of our commitment in this area. SEK unveiled that this is a complex area, but they have been working a lot on it in areas such as policy, analysis, and products. One thing that we do a lot is infrastructure projects that involve working with communities and people; that’s why human rights are relevant for us, and it is amazing to know that a Swedish company is taking action on this.

On the other hand, Christina Friborg (Executive Vice President and Head of Sustainability at SSAB) exposed that:

We also account for 10 % CO2 emission in Sweden and 7 % in Finland  so we are one of the bad guy really in Sweden until now,” said Christina

Christina revealed that SSAB, a Swedish steel company, imports materials like iron ore and scraps, from which SSAB manufactures steel from scraps in the United States and iron ore in Sweden and Finland. We need the blast furnace to produce steel from iron ore, which is where the CO2 emissions come from. However, she admitted that SSAB will change it, electrify it, and build an electric blast furnace, and the problem is there is no scrap supply enough in this world. This is why SSAB is doing the research to keep producing steel with iron ore by using hydrogen gas, and by doing so we have created a value change initiative.

On the other business sector, Eija Hietavuo (Vice president corporate affairs, Tetrapak revealed that:

We are one of the world largest packaging company but also the largest food processing solution technology and equipment” Told Eija in the discussion

Eija stated that because Tertapak has significant responsibilities in the food and dairy industries, it is important to discuss just transition in general in this context. We have been working on environmental issues and have come up with low carbon, circular economy on packaging products in particular that have special features because they use unique technologies called aseptic technology that allow food to be preserved for a longer time by quick super-hot heating that has implications for social sustainability and responsibility.

In addition, Haley St Dennis (Head of Just transition, Institute of Human Rights and Business) mentioned that:

Just transition means everything to everyone and they also means nothing at all” Haley revealed.

To illustrate that statement, Haley revealed that in South Africa, based on her experience, there are extensive decarbonization initiatives and just transitions, but when it comes to defining human rights and just transition, the answers are very wildly varied. As a result, the definition of the just element varies greatly depending on who you ask.

Lastly, the discussion also give a space for youth representative and Yoko Lu (Country contact point and regional contact point, Youngo/ Stockholm+50 Task force) said that:

In youth perspective, within the business world is really difficult to talk about human rights because youth is the beginning and opening door for career and green jobs in just transition” said Yoko

She said that the youth community supports the green transition in businesses, and it is important to include youth in the just transition and human rights aspects of business.

For full recoreded session of the event here 

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