Just Transition and Emerging Markets: Weighing the Risks

Understanding the social risks posed by climate transition requires discipline, nuance and a systematic approach.

The concept of a “just transition” has gained ground among responsible investors concerned about the economic consequences of the social risks that countries face in moving from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources. These risks are particularly high in emerging markets (EMs). How can investors systematically measure them?

Put simply, a just transition entails transitioning from fossil fuels in a way that is mindful of the economic impacts and not disruptive of the social fabric of economies.

The consequences of a mismanaged transition may be significant in coal- or oil-exporting countries, especially those with relatively undiversified economies. As demand for these commodities declines, such countries may face more significant transition risks. Governments may face fiscal and debt challenges that pressure their sovereign credit ratings. Worse, economic privation and civil unrest may lead to political instability and even regime change.

In developing a systematic approach to assessing these risks, it helps to focus on the sector at the center of most transition strategies: energy production, particularly coal (the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel). This has the added advantage that coal transitions already under way—such as those of Germany, Poland, the UK and the US—provide policy lessons and examples of pitfalls to avoid. These can be a useful lens through which to analyze how EMs are managing their just transitions.