Skip to content

Accelerating a Just Rural Transition

13 May 2020

We recently welcomed Melissa Pinfield to Meridian, where she will serve as a Senior Fellow and the Executive Director of the new Just Rural Transition (JRT) Secretariat that is housed at Meridian. We sat down with Melissa to learn more about the JRT.

What is the Just Rural Transition (JRT)?

It’s about tackling one of the key challenges of the twenty-first century: feeding a growing global population while protecting the vital natural systems which sustain life. There is growing evidence and awareness that the ways in which we produce and consume food and use natural resources are unsustainable. Ecosystems are under stress, and so too are rural communities. These communities are often on the front-lines of climate impacts—and they are inadequately resourced to adapt and respond.

The JRT initiative will build a community of practice to share knowledge and mobilize collective action to transform how we use land, produce food, and protect nature. Importantly, it focuses on doing this in a way which enhances resilient livelihoods and creates jobs in rural areas.

The Just Transition concept came out of the trade union movement and is gaining broad support. It acknowledges the need to protect workers’ rights and livelihoods in the transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. The JRT will focus on building the resilience of farming, fishing, livestock-keeping, and indigenous communities and supporting these critical actors as positive agents of change.

What is Meridian’s role in the JRT?

Meridian will serve as the JRT Secretariat, thanks to support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, to support the development of a community of practice. We are developing a website and info-hub, and will create opportunities—virtual for now—for the JRT community to connect and collaborate on specific issues.

My colleague Ann Tutwiler (also a Meridian Senior Fellow!) will coordinate the JRT’s Policy Action Coalition. It is a “Coalition of the Willing” of governments, supported by participating knowledge and implementation partners. It will help governments repurpose and reinvest their policies and public finance—including subsidies and trade support measures—to deliver public goods.

The JRT will focus on building the resilience of farming, fishing, livestock-keeping, and indigenous communities and supporting these critical actors as positive agents of change.

The Secretariat will also support an Investment Partnership Network—led by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)—and potentially other initiatives that bubble up from the JRT network in the future. We want to connect and align with other relevant initiatives to drive greater impact at the global and national levels.

The COVID-19 pandemic risks becoming a food and nutrition security crisis and could exacerbate existing inequalities. How does the Just Rural Transition initiative fit into this current global moment?

Like everyone else, we are adapting to new norms of virtual engagement. More importantly, we are focusing on how JRT can respond to the rapidly-evolving changes playing out across food systems. If anything, the issues highlighted in the JRT’s Vision Statement, launched at the UN Climate Action Summit last September, have become more prominent and urgent.

While this is a hugely challenging and distressing time, I’ve been heartened to see farmers and food processers acknowledged as essential workers. We’ve seen huge innovation and collective action to address food loss at the farm level and feed vulnerable communities. There is now increased focus on the link between diet and disease, and the role of social safety nets and income support.

As attention turns to recovery, the JRT will work with stakeholders to explore policy and investment options to “Grow Back Better” and boost resilience.

As our newest Senior Fellow, tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to Meridian. 

I’ve spent most of my career working on global issues within governments—first in Australia and then the UK. It’s given me very valuable insights into policy-making and international processes and also an understanding of the limitations of what governments alone can do. It was early in my career, as a diplomat in China, that I started working on climate change issues. I was hooked!

Six years ago, I moved from Australia’s international climate change department to the UK’s, heading up the Forest and Land Use team, responsible for policy and finance related to REDD+ and sustainable supply chains. That was when I first met Meridian. I really resonated with Meridian’s approach to multi-stakeholder collaboration processes to address global challenges. I had an opportunity to put this learning into practice in my most recent role, as Programme Director of the Food and Land Use Coalition over the last two years. I’m so excited to now be working directly with Meridian on the JRT!