What is a Just Transition? – Glossary of Good

Jaz Cummins

By Jaz Cummins

In Blog, Empower Life, Glossary of Good, Moments

Reading Time: 3 minutes

As part of empower’s Glossary of Good series, Jaz Cummins finds out about Just Transition, a framework that has been developed by the trade union movement.

What is a ‘just transition’?

A ‘just transition’ is a framework that has been developed by the trade union movement to encompass a range of social interventions needed to secure workers’ jobs and livelihoods when economies are shifting to tackle climate change:

“A just transition brings together workers, communities, employers and government in social dialogue to drive the concrete plans, policies and investments needed for a fast and fair transformation. It focuses on jobs, livelihoods and ensuring that no one is left behind as we race to reduce emissions, protect the climate and advance social and economic justice.”

Therefore a Just Transition is the the notion that the transition process to a greener economy has to be inclusive of all stakeholders, and that the unavoidable employment and social costs of the transition have to be shared by all.

Why does a Just Transition matter?

In order to deliver the zero-carbon future that the world is excitingly grasping for, transformations larger and faster than the human race has ever seen must take place. The ramifications for billions of lives are huge.

A just transition has been endorsed internationally by governments in different arenas, including through the International Labour Organisation, and referenced in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement – where governments committed to ensure workers are accompanied in the transformation through the creation of decent work opportunities.

In recent years unplanned transitions have seen workers in dying industries ‘thrown on the scrap heap’, and the communities that support them disintegrate. With all the associated social and political problems this brings, including the rise of the alt-right in global western politics.

One thing is sure: if the transition to a greener economy generates employment, it will also entail job losses for some.

Who will lose out? What support will be provided to workers and communities that are on the losing end? What skills will be needed in the new sectors? How do we ensure that the new jobs are decent jobs?

These questions lead to a couple of inescapable conclusions: conversations with society will have to be at the heart of the process and governments, will have a key role in promoting the sort of industrial and social policies that will lead to the creation of productive and decent employment for all.

What are some examples of just Transition in action?

Members of the Navajo tribe in Arizona are calling for a “just transition” away from coal — one that will see old jobs tied to the polluting coal industry replaced with clean and profitable work.

One group, the Black Mesa Water Coalition, is trying to create economic opportunities that will help to release the community from its reliance on coal. For instance, they have tried to revive the traditional Navajo wool market, developing partnerships with wool buyers and organising an annual Wool Buy.

It has also started a solar project, which aims to install a series of 20MW to 200MW solar installations on abandoned coal mining land, transforming the reservation’s old role as an energy provider.

How can a Just Transition be best communicated?

Campaigning groups are mainstreaming the term Just Transition:

We’re calling for a fast and just transition to a #FossilFree world. Sign the pledge and join this crucial campaign. https://t.co/YsqUOlCs7spic.twitter.com/ljoGnKKzS4

— 350 dot org (@350) 18 October 2017

Commentary is coming from the business community:

“Shifting our energy economies is going to affect everybody” – @topnigel on jobs + a just transition https://t.co/em5ig7AqWcpic.twitter.com/6zLphUtdUY

— We Mean Business (@WMBtweets) 3 May 2017

Comment pieces are appearing from global influencers:

“We require a just transition where #humanrights inform all #climateaction.” @BSRnews@MRFCJhttps://t.co/nvTrKsmPkrpic.twitter.com/OQKoFYfTPd

— The B Team (@thebteamhq) 31 August 2017

Reporting to progress to key audiences also needs to take place:

IGCC report released 2day highlights importance of a just transition for coal communities https://t.co/sHUdKSjtinpic.twitter.com/lujNmP8QUT

— IGCC Update (@IGCC_Update) 10 October 2017

Further Reading and Resources on Just Transition