Just Transition: A Climate Imperative

Dec 19, 2022Climate & Environment, Perspectives

The concept of “Just Transition” is inexorably linked to Climate Change. It is defined as greening the economy in a way that is as fair, inclusive, and universal as possible. Within a Just Transition framework, decent work opportunities are created, leaving no one behind. Three interconnected principles constitute Just Transition—the Three Es—Equity, Efficiency, and Environmental Friendliness. Let’s take a closer look at each:

  • Equity – exists when all people have access to economic opportunities, regardless of race, gender identity/expression, ethnicity/race, sexual orientation, disability status/orientation, age, or any other identity, societal, or cultural factor.  
  • Efficiency – is defined as reducing negative environmental impacts from economic activity. At the same time, efficiency entails deploying economic activity to drive increasingly positive environmental impacts.  
  • Environmental Friendliness – is a principle that ensures new technologies don’t engender a downward spiral of life conditions for future generations.  
Just Transition ensures a future for everyone

This climate-action approach unites science, economics, and politics, creating a shared understanding of both the societal/economic costs and the benefits. Just Transition goes beyond merely maximizing the social and economic opportunities of climate action—additionally, it seeks to minimize a wide range of common challenges. In so doing, it ensures effective social dialogue among all impacted groups.  

The Urgent Need for Just Transition 

The industrial revolution, powered by fossil fuels, delivered extraordinary growth over the past century, but the environmental costs were enormous ​[1]​. We live in a different era today, the age of climate emergency. Hence, Just Transition needs to happen fairly, and fast.  

Transitioning to a more resilient, green, and climate-neutral economy is an urgent task that governments, businesses, and individuals must address together. The combined efforts of all stakeholders—from national governments and local communities to citizens, civil society groups and companies—is key for success.

Just Transition can lead to greener economies, more sustainable natural resources management, increased energy efficiency and waste reduction—in communities worldwide

And while this new paradigm of climate protection is at once promising and challenging, particularly for developing countries, the imperative in this moment is to ensure a win-win outcome for all. To be “just,” a Just Transition must not only consider but prioritize and centre the needs of vulnerable groups. If successful, these solutions can result in the greening of economies, more deeply sustainable management of natural resources, and increased energy efficiency and waste reduction. And by addressing poverty, inequality, and gender gaps, Just Transition will also promote social justice and environmental justice.   

As a framework and guiding principle, Just Transition offers many opportunities for achieving local, national, and cross-cutting social objectives. It is unequivocally pro-growth and can potentially radically transform how decisions around future economies and societies are made. Again, this fact is particularly pertinent regarding low- and middle-income (LMI) countries.  

Another benefit of the Just Transition practice is that, if executed properly, it has the ultimate potential of eliminating poverty, by promoting human dignity, justice, and sustainable development ​[2]​. Conversely, planned solutions that ignore the Just Transition mindset prove to be inequitable, inefficient, and unsustainable. They risk missing essential decarbonization, sustainability, and economic targets. The result of this failure is precarity for the well-being of future generations.  

If executed properly, Just Transition has the potential of eliminating poverty, by promoting human dignity, justice, and sustainable development

There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Solution: Localization Matters 

While many individual countries are determining what their greening processes will look like, we must bear in mind that each nation faces its own unique set of obstacles, both external and internal. These factors must be considered as country innovators, leaders and strategists collaborate on climate solutions with local stakeholders.  

When it comes to Just Transition, needs and solutions will be different in each locality

In accordance with local societal, economic, demographic, resourcing, and marketing factors, nation-wide businesses and industries will need to adapt to new patterns of supply and demand. To succeed at this, in-country stakeholders will inevitably need to re-vision their traditional national business model or models. These future workforces and business owners will require new skills, experiences, and expertise—and they must be attuned to the communities, regions, and nations where the change is taking place ​[3]​.  

To engender a Just Transition approach that is applicable to each country’s needs, the localized policy environment will be a critical investment trigger. In designing policies, each country’s institutional and legal environment will be highly influential. 

The Mindsets and Collaborative Efforts That Will Drive Just Transition  

Sustainable development through Just Transition can only be accomplished through a collaborative effort from all stakeholders. This collaboration requires the engaged partnership of governments, businesses, communities, and individuals, all working together to maintain productivity while fostering interdependence. Otherwise said, sustainability is an ever-evolving process of integrating multiple stakeholders into a mutually beneficial, cooperative, and productive relationship.  

A solid social consensus is also essential to driving sustainability. Every party must remain focused on the goal, and committed to an ongoing and triangulated dialogue, along with collaborative design. Together, these parties can build a comprehensive, long-term, coordinated policy framework for the policies and procedures that will impact workforce, organizational grown, and provide essential social welfare services alike.  

In addressing both the current opportunities and the challenges around climate, policies and programs must also recognize the dimensions around gender. Gender is a powerful lens for understanding how humans connect with the environment through both work and leisure time ​[4]​. Because Just Transition seeks to ensure that all people, regardless of identity or situation, have access to healthy environments in which to live, work and play, gender is but one of the intersectionality that climate solutions must consider.  

Gender is but one of the intersectionality that climate solutions must consider

A Just Transition model shows how all members of the population can be afforded an opportunity to create and contribute to shared prosperity. Thriving local economies, right livelihood, stronger communities and protected human rights are within sight.  

Also Needed: Resources and Truth-Telling 

While we recognize that climate solutions and economic and employment challenges inherently linked, we also must agree that no single factor, group of factors—much less the complexity of systemic intersections—can be tackled without significant additional resourcing.  

Furthermore, as much as we will acknowledge that Just Transition can deliver substantial financial, economic, and social impacts, we must consider the significant barriers that stand in the way of successfully implementing beneficial policies. One primary impediment is the entrenchment of vested interests within dominant political and economic systems.  

Since the Industrial Revolution and the colonial march, these systems have been formulated with little consideration for individual producers/workers, their livelihoods, or communities. This destructive cycle is acute in developing countries, where outdated development strategies explicitly and acutely increase greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation, as just one example. If we truly seek to improve the quality of life of people both in the Global North—and, more pressingly, the Global South—the new low-carbon economy must merge economic change with equally bold shifts in policies, institutions, and practices. Policy measures must both stimulate innovation and support the fast deployment of sustainable energy, low-carbon transport, waste management and sustainable land use.  

Just Transition policies must stimulate innovation and support the fast deployment of sustainable energy, low-carbon transport, waste management and sustainable land use.  

There already exists an overwhelming body of evidence to support the possible benefits of urgent climate action, despite the high price tag. One such report, from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is “The Economics of Decarbonization: Investment Needs for a Low-Carbon Transition in the Energy Sector,” finds that through at least 2050, “the more aggressive the decarbonization pathway is, the higher the rate of investment required would be ​[5]​.”  

Addressing the challenges of a Just Transition is not simply a matter of finding affordable solutions. It also requires deliberate attention to how a transition is financed and by whom; governments, private organizations, financial institutions, and the international populace all have critical roles to play. 

Beyond Dollars, Euros, Nairas, Dinars, Rands, and Pounds: Other Factors that Stimulate Successful Just Transition 

To be clear, however, addressing the challenges of a Just Transition is not simply a matter of affordability. Solutions also require deliberate attention to how the transition is financed, and by whom. As stated earlier, governments, private organizations, financial institutions, and the international populace all have critical roles to play. The local policy environment also needs to support creative collaboration: knowledge transfer, and the sharing of innovation in technology, as well as people talent, between firms and across industries will foster greater success.  

Policies that operate collaboratively greatly spur productivity and jobs creation alike. Particularly in the Global South, Just Transition outcomes also rely on unwavering private-public partnerships. Cross-sector collaborations of this sort will hasten the most sustainable and just engagement: bottom-up.  

Local governments, private organizations, financial institutions, and the international populace all have critical roles to play

With a bottom-up approach, individual and community stakeholder/beneficiaries—those who are best situated to understand the impacts of bold climate actions—can develop locally led, inclusive solutions with deeper and more sustainable impact. These outcomes are even more sustainable, particularly if donor funding or support were to diminish, as sometimes happens when Global North funders shift their programmatic priorities.   

Bottom-up approaches are key to Just Transition because they also slacken bureaucratic bottlenecks. Most importantly to the thesis of justice, however, is the fact that a bottom-up approach is a people-centered transition, putting trust and power in the hands of the underserved and neglected and communities. To put a finer point on it, it is an equitable countervalent to what is too-often a coercive demand of top-down approaches. Forcing market, behavioral, or systemic change through imposing policies and declarations may provide short-term gains and temporary satisfaction, but bottom-up tactics, rooted in the lens of lived experience and localized needs, provide the true sustainable solutions. 

When I was at COP27 earlier this fall in Sharm El Sheikh, there was much discussion about how the optimum moment to instigate Just Transition processes for climate was five years ago. Be that as it may, let there be no doubt: the next best time is right now.   

​[1]   ​E. Wrigley, “Energy and the English Industrial Revolution,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, p. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2011.0568, 2013.  

​[2]   ​S. Smith, “Just Transition: A Report for the OECD,” OECD, 2017. 

​[3]   ​” Securing the right skills for the future of work through social dialogue: Canada’s Future Skills Council and Centre,” Global Deal Good Practice, 2021. 

​[4]   ​ILO, “Gender, labour and a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all,” ILO, Geneva, 2022. 

​[5]   ​IEA and IRENA, “Perspectives for the Energy Transition – Investment Needs for a Low-Carbon Energy System,” IEA & IRENA, 2017. 

Dr. Chidiebere E.X. Ikejembais the Director of Climate & Environment at Camber Collective. His body of work focuses on climate equity and justice, building resilient climate-smart development programs, strengthening political will for urgent climate change action and many other levers of activation. His theory of impact operates across both the upstream and downstream of a systems chain. that encompasses, just transition, agriculture & food security, migration, economic & rural development, climate education, waste management (circularity), healthcare, corruption and democracy, energy access, gender inclusion, carbon neutrality and other dimensions. The circularity of Camber’s approach and theory of influence is, we believe, the most congruous path to balancing economic reality and humanitarianism.