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What is "Just Transition"?

Just transitions/Design for transitions: Preliminary Notes on a Design Politics for a Green New deal

This article argues that the field of design for transitions should be brought into dialogues pushing for just transitions to best meet the technical, cultural, political, and economic needs of a low-carbon future.


This article makes a case for incorporating design politics into just transitions. The author argues that the discourses and movements for just transitions and design for transition have low levels of overlap at present; however, they would greatly benefit from increased collaboration to better meet the needs of a low-carbon economy.

The article first explores the transformation of just transition discourses, as well as the diverse, and sometimes, conflicting visions of what a just transition looks like, and how it should be implemented. The author also traces the dialogues surrounding the contribution of design and modes of design futuring in the shift to sustainability. The author argues that applying design to just transitions approaches can expand the scope of the possible visions for a low-carbon, high-quality future by incorporating elements of prototyping, prefiguring, speculative thinking, and scenario building.

The author concludes with several examples of how design approaches could contribute to just transitions. One such example is in the case of intensified land displacement due to expanding renewable energy technologies. Participatory design and social planning for the energy transition could help prevent green grabbing and better address the social and environmental challenges of the renewable energy transition. The author argues that these approaches and other modes of design politics will make low-carbon transitions more just.

Managing Coal Mine Closure: Achieving a just transition for all

This paper narrates the lessons and key considerations for planning and implementing a coal mine closure program, as derived from a review of global experiences and over two decades of World Bank assistance in coal mine closures to governments, enterprises, workers, and their communities.


The paper, using a review of global experiences and the World Bank’s decades of assisting governments to close mines, provides recommendations to policymakers on how to plan and implement a coal mine closure and mitigate the impacts on the people, communities, and livelihoods. The article highlights the typical characteristics of coal mining communities, which influence the potential for regional recovery after a closure. Many coal-dependent regions continue to lag behind other regions socially and economically, decades after a mine has been shut down. It further highlights how there are few if any instances of fully satisfactory economic rejuvenation outcomes in mono-industry coal mining towns, thereby emphasizing the acute need for early and careful planning to deal with the impacts of a closure.

The paper identifies nine lessons learned from managing coal mine closures, which are organized under three themes—namely policy and strategy development; people and communities; and land and environmental remediation. The policy and strategy development theme emphasizes that coal mine closures require clear policy direction, large budget outlays, and significant stakeholder consultations. The section on people and communities underlines the importance of a Just Transition for All to meet the needs of workers, families, and the wider community. The land and environmental remediation strategies advance the importance of financial planning for environmental remediation and land reclamation and summarizes a range of possible financial assurance mechanisms available. Some of these mechanisms are mobility assistance, employment services and small business support services, social assistance payments, and various financial assurance mechanisms for mine closures.

Assessing vulnerability from coal dependence and need for a just transition

This paper identifies the linkages that surround the Indian coal economy as well as the possible economic, societal, and cultural repercussions of a coal phaseout in the major coal mining states.


This paper—the first of a two-part release from The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)—lays out the socioeconomic and environmental contexts of the coal economy in India. The authors highlight the detrimental impacts that the phaseout is likely to have on: the livelihoods and social surplus across coal-dependent states; the coal royalties that make up a significant portion of the no-tax revenue for a state; the stoppage of social empowerment initiatives and infrastructural losses; along with the unintended losses of the financial and social structures functioning within the gray market of the coal mining industry.

The authors also draw out the disproportionate impact on women and the vulnerable within these communities expected from the phaseout. The authors contend that in a mixed economy like India, a just transition takes utmost precedence, because it not only aims to formalize the deeply informal coal sector, but also seeks to achieve the critical characteristics needed to fulfill the notion of an “energy democracy”. The paper also discusses how the existing regulatory framework cannot comprehensively handle the complex interlinkages that exist within the subsector of the informal mining segment, part of which is both licensed and illegal and part of which is artisanal in nature.

Workers and Communities in Transition: Report of the Just Transition Listening Project

The report synthesizes lessons from more than 100 listening sessions with labor and community groups to gather their perspectives on transitions as well as identifies how coalitions have come together and what pathways exist to a just future.


The findings of this report are derived from more than 100 in-depth listening sessions, including qualitative interviews and focused discussion groups with workers and community members from across the United States, which were conducted in 2020. The sessions, typically lasting an hour or more, involved workers from dozens of unionized and nonunionized industries; union leaders; members of frontline communities, including environmental justice communities, communities of color, and Indigenous communities; along with leaders from labor, environmental justice, climate justice, and other community organizations.

The aim of the sessions was to capture the voices of the workers and community members who had experienced, are currently experiencing, or anticipate experiencing some form of economic transition. The report suggests how past transitions, driven by market forces, corporate entities, and shortsighted public policies, often leave workers and communities largely behind, with little to no support. As such, community trauma has gone unrecognized and unaddressed for years.

The report identifies several themes that have emerged through these sessions, including a picture of what transition entails; how coalitions have come together, particularly those including labor and environment groups; how common vision and strategies for change are built; and what pathways to a just future exist. The report also highlights how individual and collective understandings of transitions range widely, according to type of work, class, gender, race, age, political ideology, previous experiences with environmentalists or the climate justice movement, and relationships with unions and the community. The report affords insightful reading and covers recommendations for policymakers; labor and movement organizations; and future research to fill in the identified gaps in knowledge, including understanding how sectoral transitions such as automation, digitalization, hybrid working, and health care could be done in an equitable manner.

Just transition? Strategic framing and the challenges facing coal dependent communities

The author highlights the importance of strategic framing for policies and unpacks how the reframing of the issue, scale, and place of a coal-mine closure to deliver a “just transition” exacerbated the local sense of perceived injustice.


Using an example from the Latrobe Valley in Australia, the author uses the paper to deconstruct how a series of strategic reframings were applied to a transition in a coal community and how they exacerbated the local sense of perceived injustice. The top-down strategy adopted deployed a series of reframings: defining the issue as ‘transition’, defining the scale of intervention as ‘regional’, and then creating a bespoke region as the arena of policy action. A multilevel governance arrangement, created to plan for the transition, was heralded by the policymakers as building local consensus and empowering local communities to take responsibility for the future. The author argues that, in practice, these moves excluded directly affected local constituencies, exacerbated the pre-existing local sense of injustice, and enabled redistributive funding to be diverted to unaffected adjacent areas.

The author argues that the deliberative ‘transitioning’ approach described in this paper failed because it sought to side-step local fears about the likely impacts of change. It deployed the technologies of governance—reframing, reterritorialization, faux deliberative engagement, and quantitative gymnastics—to make the problem of the industrial valley appear unproblematic. The conclusion stresses that progress on closing high emissions fossil-fuel activities requires a more sympathetic and politically astute understanding of place and the situation of affected communities.

The author also highlights how the strategic scaling of policy problems aims to make it easier for the dominant actors to control the policy process and shape the perceptions of the winners and losers of change. This paper contributes to the understanding of the strategic reframing of issues and scales of governance by highlighting their implications for the territorial arenas of policy action, which this paper calls “strategic place framing”. The paper advances the argument that when strategic place frames conflict with accepted territorial boundaries, they invite opposition and resistance, thereby limiting, to some extent, the potential of strategic issue and scale framing because of the political durability of territorial place frames.

Transitioning to Sustainable Agriculture Requires Growing and Sustaining an Ecologically Skilled Workforce

The authors suggest that agribusiness practices in the United States that pursue productivity as the primary goal, have been trending in an unsustainable direction and propose that place-based knowledge development, agroecological practices, and decentralized decision-making are key to sustainability in the agricultural sector.


The article argues that agricultural practices in the U.S. are unsustainable and unjust to farmers, largely because of agribusiness and supporting policies. Over the past century, U.S. agriculture has been trending in an unsustainable direction, rapidly replacing knowledgeable people with non-renewable resources and eroding rural economies in the process. The authors suggest that U.S. policies, technologies, and economic pressures have tended to “deskill” rural labor—a trend that has been linked to labor under capitalism in general. They cite a national census that counted 6.5 million farms in the 1920s, with only 2.04 million left by 2017.

The authors argue that agroecological farming systems mimicking natural ecosystems that create tightly-coupled cycles of energy, water, and nutrients are already known to farmers and researchers. As such, they offer a well-studied pathway to an agricultural transition. A critical and under-appreciated feature of agroecological systems is that they replace fossil fuel- and chemical -intensive management with knowledge-intensive management. The authors argue that the biggest challenge in achieving agricultural sustainability is the replacement of non-renewable resources with ecologically-skilled people in ways that create and support desirable rural livelihoods.

The authors suggest ways in which U.S. policy could pivot to enable and support the ecologically skilled workforce needed to achieve food security and decent livelihoods. They highlight the need to: provide enabling conditions for new farmers to enter the system and sustain a decent livelihood; develop agroecological skills and supporting policy tools (or removal of policies that currently act as a barrier); decouple farmers from the trap of overproduction and low market prices; and strengthen farmer-to-farmer networks to promote knowledge exchange. The authors also briefly lay out the history of discrimination and injustice in the agricultural system in the U.S. and highlight the need for a foundational commitment to justice to guide the allocation of resources, affirm rights, and prioritize the agricultural needs of historically marginalized groups.

Rybnik Transition City: A research report on the narratives of Rybnik’s inhabitants

Relying on "Deep Listening", the report presents a reconstruction of diverse perspectives of stakeholders in Rybnik, Poland regarding planned mine closures, entrepreneurship, and the quality of life, as well as portrays the city in its functioning today and its vision for the future.


The report looks at the transitions taking place in Rybnik, Poland — one of Europe’s biggest coal regions. It is a part of the Rybnik360 project — a pilot project aimed at developing systemic innovations that support the transformation of the city from its coal mining past. This report employs the “Deep Listening” method that consists of a diagnosis of the situation through a series of interviews with Rybnik’s inhabitants. It focuses on three themes—planned mine closures, entrepreneurship, and the quality of life. Through over 100 partially structured interviews, the report evaluates changes taking place in the city over the last 30 years, perceptions of the current situation in the city, along with the challenges and opportunities related to the further development of the city.

Applying the “Deep Listening” method, the report sets out the context related to the resources and key aspects of the city functioning from the points of view of its inhabitants and opinion leaders. Furthermore, it identifies the key actors and offers a polyphonic narrative of the city within the context of the three themes that are explored through the voices of its inhabitants. Conclusions drawn by the author suggest the need for future-oriented thinking, the strengthening of a local identity, a focus on improvements in the quality of life, and efforts to increase access to accurate information. The narratives section, in particular, provides a useful and replicable approach in highlighting and framing the perspectives of various stakeholders in the city.

How Local Energy Initiatives Develop Technological Innovations: Growing an Actor Network

This article describes the outcome of studies conducted to understand how socio-technical innovations for energy transitions can emerge at the local level.


This article explores innovative approaches adopted by local energy initiatives to create networks that enable grassroots technological innovations to facilitate the local energy transition to a more sustainable system. The authors examine the different components, actors, and phases of a project initiation to better understand how relationships at the grassroot levels can be built to enable these innovations. They conclude with lessons on how local energy initiatives can improve their networking capabilities.

Through various theories such as the “actor-network theory”, the authors seek to understand how local-level technological innovations are developed and identify the key elements influencing the process. They then analyze the development of networks in four stages during which ideas are conceptualized, problematized, interpositioned , and substantiated. Furthermore, they highlight the power imbalance that often emerges between energy initiatives and other stakeholders, such as banks, arguing that this could lead to a one-side-relationship that can further complicate network building. In addition, they discuss the importance of non-human “actants”, such as the environment, money, and other materials, during project development. Next, they also examine the innovation process by using case studies to better understand how local energy initiatives engage with different stakeholders.

Finally, the authors conclude with lessons on how grassroot-level energy initiatives can better develop socio-technical innovations for renewable energy, while harnessing local opportunities and talents. They argue that more scrutiny is needed at the start of a project to make it convincing, and even more importantly, to ensure all aspects of the project are well-aligned. In addition, they offer recommendations for future research to: scale up evidence on socio-technical innovations across the world; provide conceptual guidance on how relationships between stakeholders are built; and better understand existing policy frameworks that support these innovations.


Generational coal mining communities and strategies of energy transition in Australia

The paper identifies a relationship between coal mining and generational identity in the community, based on its research on New South Wales, Australia, and provides a perspective of the energy transition discourse, by highlighting how the hidden dimensions of loss can reinforce the local support of an extractive industry.


The authors suggest that the implications of place attachment and loss in generational coal mining communities are currently underexamined in the energy transition discourse, by using the example of a coal community in New South Wales, Australia. The paper identifies the relationship between coal mining and the generational identity of this community, thereby adding a useful perspective to the energy transition discourse by highlighting how the hidden dimensions of loss can reinforce the local support of an extractive industry. By combining scholarship on the emotionality of the minescape with the work on how place attachment can translate into feelings of loss in response to material change, they suggest that the factors of time and place can make community-level actors within the energy landscape either receptive or resistant to change.

This work thus highlights how the place-industry relationship is inherently emotional and irrational, thereby calling for a greater acknowledgement of this emotional dimension to address issues of conflict related to the extractive industry productively. The authors suggest that, while not all that is valuable can be preserved, transition strategies could be better served by exploring ways in which the intangible associations with place—identity and attachment—can be maintained at the community level in the face of material changes in the physical environment. The lessons from the paper have the potential to be applied to the context of transitions in other coal communities where transition planning is under way.

Insights from historical cases of transition: Background paper for the EBRD just transition initiative

The report suggests a series of considerations for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to allow for the integration of just transition considerations into its decarbonization operations, using historical evidence from other deep structural changes.


The authors seek to offer insights into how transitions impact people, economies, and the environment, as well as the extent of the effectiveness of different kinds of responses including the impacts of not responding. Moreover, it provides useful considerations related to the needs of those who lose out in society, while addressing overall concerns about inequalities in societies affected by deep structural changes. The report was used to inform EBRD’s approach to just transitions, as set out in the document “The EBRD Just Transition Initiative”.

The authors highlight that without measures to promote a “just” transition, resistance will likely undermine its pace. They draw inferences from other deep structural transitions, such as the steel industries in the United Kingdom (U.K.) and Newcastle, Australia, as well as the gold industry in Free State Province, South Africa, to offer insights into what to expect from a green transition.

The authors suggest a series of considerations for EBRD’s operational response to a just transition in order to create viable short-term and long-term solutions for local populations who are affected. Notably, they point out the need for strategic planning for impacted communities, governance structures, and state capacity to implement just transition actions, along with a holistic approach to regional economic development.