The inaugural Just Transition National Summit was held in Taranaki in early May. The Summit was billed as a chance for people from across the country to have their say in defining what a ‘just transition’ to a low emissions future looks like in New Zealand.

The two-day Summit provided a chance for those in attendance to hear from and engage with local and international speakers and experts in the field, including from government, business, workers, iwi and the wider community.

High profile speakers included Prime Minister Ardern, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Henry Puna, Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, and economist at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, Kate Raworth.

The Summit opened with speakers emphasising the dramatic change required to meet the targets set out in the Zero Carbon Act, in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Global Warming of 1.5 ºC special report. In opening the Summit, Prime Minister Ardern described the New Zealand economy as entering “a period of dramatic transformation over the next 30 years” with change “on a scale and pace we haven’t seen before”.

The idea of a ‘just transition’ recognises that responding to climate change will be a mix of positive opportunities and necessary changes. It acknowledges that we will only be successful if we find a way forward which is inclusive and equitable.

The Summit emphasised that no one be left behind during transitioning to a low emissions economy, and that any transition must ensure dignity for all people and communities. Particular reference was made to past rapid social change in New Zealand that had been destructive or uncaring, including colonisation and the neoliberal ‘reforms’ of the 1980s.

International speakers also emphasised New Zealand’s leadership in opening and enacting conversations around just transitions.

Dr Sylvia Nissen, Lecturer in Environmental Policy at Lincoln University attended the Summit and applauded the enormous potential of the ‘just transition’ concept to bring together leaders from across different sectors.

However Nissen is cautious as to whether the adoption of just transition ideas will be successful in New Zealand

“Despite the opening rhetoric, it remains an open question as to the extent to which the ‘just transition’ framework in New Zealand will enact a fundamental social and economic transformation, or simply be an outreach of the status quo.”

Nissen notes that some panels in particular seemed to focus less on the idea of justice or transition, and instead on presenting current responses as adequate.

“There was also an alarming lack of urgency in some of the panels, made all-the-more striking against the backdrop of the student strikes for climate and the descriptions made by Pacific leaders of the seas lapping at their communities” says Nissen.

The urgency of climate action has been highlighted by the Climate Strikes by students. And now workers around the world are being invited to take part in the Global Day of Workplace Action to Climate Proof Our Work, with recognition that there are no jobs on a dead planet.