Just Transition

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Just Transition is a framework practiced and created by Indigenous Peoples and has been co-opted by the trade union movement to encompass a range of social interventions needed to secure workers' jobs and livelihoods when economies are shifting to sustainable production, including avoiding climate change, protecting biodiversity, and ending war, among other challenges. It has been endorsed internationally by governments in different arenas, including the International Labour Organization (ILO), which adopted conclusions on this matter in 2013 and tripartite (union-employer-government) "Guidelines on a Just Transition towards environmentally-sustainable economies and societies for all" in 2015. The Paris Climate Agreement also contains references to a Just Transition, where government commit to ensure that workers are accompanied in the transformation through the creation of decent work opportunities. At the Katowice Climate Conference (COP24) 55 heads of state and government adopted by acclamation the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration.

The rationale for a Just Transition comes from evidence that shows that if millions of jobs can be created out of the transformation towards a clean, peaceful economy, some sectors such as energy extraction and production, manufacturing, agriculture and forestry, just to mention a few, which employ today millions of workers will undergo dramatic restructuring. Just Transition policies should be therefore deployed to ensure that there is strong public support for environmental and anti-war action.

There is a concern that significant periods of economic restructuring in the past have often happened in a chaotic fashion leaving ordinary workers, their families and communities to bear the brunt of the transition to new ways of producing wealth, leading to unemployment, poverty, and exclusion.

"Just Transition" is a newer name for what was called "economic conversion" in the 1980s when anti-war activists realized that it was necessary to throw a lifeline to military workers, to give them a stake in the peace economy.

Just Transition policies

For trade unions, “Just Transition” describes the transition towards a climate‐resilient and low‐carbon economy that maximizes the benefits of climate action while minimizing hardships for workers and their communities. Needs will vary in different countries, though some policies must be applied everywhere. These include:

  1. Sound investments in low‐emission and job-rich sectors and technologies. These investments must be undertaken through due consultation with all those affected, respecting human and labour rights, and Decent Work principles.
  2. Social dialogue and democratic consultation of social partners (trade unions and employers) and other stakeholders (i.e. communities).
  3. Research and early assessment of the social and employment impacts of climate policies.Training and skills development, which are key to support the deployment of new technologies and foster industrial change.
  4. Social protection, along with active labour markets policies.
  5. Local economic diversification plans that support decent work and provide community stability in the transition. Communities should not be left on their own to manage the impacts of the transition as this will not lead to a fair distribution of costs and benefits.[1]

Definition and evolution of the Just Transition concept

A summary of this evolution is contained in an article published by the International Journal on Labour Research[2]

In 1998, a Canadian union activist, Brian Kohler, published what was going to become one of the first mentions of the Just Transition concept in a union newsletter.[3] It constituted an attempt to reconcile the union movement’s efforts to provide workers with decent jobs and the need to protect the environment. As Kohler had clearly stated previously: “The real choice is not jobs or environment. It is both or neither.” In ten years, the union movement perception of environmental challenges has evolved and with it the definition, boundaries and scope of the “just transition” needed. Today, “Just Transition” can be understood as the conceptual framework in which the labour movement captures the complexities of the transition towards a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy, highlighting public policy needs and aiming to maximize benefits and minimize hardships for workers and their communities in this transformation. In a document prepared by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Just Transition is defined as a “tool the trade union movement shares with the international community, aimed at smoothing the shift towards a more sustainable society and providing hope for the capacity of a green economy to sustain decent jobs and livelihoods for all” (ITUC, 2009b). It is important to note that Just Transition is a supporting mechanism of climate action, and not inaction. Just Transition is not in opposition to, but complements environmental policies. This comforts the idea that environmental and social policies are not contradictory but, on the contrary, can reinforce each other. This approach to the Just Transition concept was unanimously adopted at the 2nd ITUC Congress, in 2010, when the Congress declared “Just Transition” to be “the” approach to fight climate change: 5. Early mentions of Just Transition can also be found in ICFTU: ‘Plough to Plate’ Approaches to Food and Agriculture, 2000; ICFTU: Fashioning A New Deal – Workers and Trade Unions at the World Summit for Sustainable Development, 2002. International Journal of Labour Research 2010 Vol. 2 Issue 2 142 Congress is committed to promoting an integrated approach to sustainable development through a just transition where social progress, environmental protection and economic needs are brought into a framework of democratic governance, where labour and other human rights are respected and gender equality achieved (ITUC, 2010). Other Global Union Federations, representing workers in specific economic sectors, joined this policy approach. The International Transport workers’ Federation (ITF) adopted, at its 2010 Congress, a resolution stating that “while the urgent adoption of these policies is vital to tackle climate change, the ITF and its affiliates must defend the interests of transport workers by fighting to ensure that these policies are implemented in a way which protects jobs and creates new ones through a process of just transition” (ITF, 2010). Federations of industrial workers have also voiced their positions on Just Transition. The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM), for example, states that “with a Just Transition, we can build a public consensus to move towards more sustainable production” (ICEM, 2009). The Just Transition framework is a package of policy proposals which addresses the different aspects related to the vulnerability of workers and their communities: uncertainties regarding job impacts, risks of job losses, risks of undemocratic decision-making processes, risks of regional or local economic downturn, among others.

A concept whose use has broadened

In the past years, a number of organizations have deployed the concept of a Just Transition with respect to environmental and/or climate justice. Sometimes refer quite closey to the labor component of a Just Transition (Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace), while others ignore it (Edge Funders).

The concept of Just Transition in moving towards a low‐carbon and climate‐resilient economy has later, in particular by trade unions, been used also in relation to digitalisation.[4][5][6]


  1. ^ International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) (2015). "Climate Frontlines Briefing - No Jobs on a Dead Planet" (PDF). Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  2. ^ Rosemberg, Anabella (2010). "Building a Just Transition: The linkages between climate change and employment" (PDF). International Journal of Labour Research. Retrieved 7 January 2016.
  3. ^ Kohler, Brian, 1998. Just Transition – A labour view of Sustainable Development, CEP Journal on-line, Summer, Vol. 6, No. 2
  4. ^ "Eurocadres raises just transition in the pillar in summit". Eurocadres. 19 November 2017. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  5. ^ "ETUC proposes east-west 'wage convergence alliance' and 'just transition' to EU leaders". 18 October 2017. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  6. ^ "Towards a just transition for inclusive digitalisation". Institute of Development Studies (IDS). 9 March 2017. Retrieved 23 February 2018.