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What is "Just Transition"?

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.

Advancing Equity in California Climate Policy: A New Social Contract for Low-Carbon Transition

This report offers a Climate Policy Equity Framework for California’s low-carbon transition based on three principles: environmental justice, economic equity, and public accountability.


This report presents a Climate Policy Equity Framework meant to help California policymakers develop and evaluate climate policy. The framework includes specific criteria for tracking progress in meeting three main goals of environmental justice, economic equity, and public accountability. The authors use these criteria to analyze how close a particular climate policy or program has come to meeting these equity goals. They highlight indicators and corresponding data sources that can better track the impact of climate policy on equity.

The authors look at the framework through evidence available from carbon-reduction legislations in California, including the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act (Assembly Bill 32), Senate Bill 350 (2015), and Senate Bill 32 (2016). Evidence and examples from the state’s past interventions in energy efficiency and renewable energy guide their recommendations. While the low-carbon transition has not (yet) resulted in a net loss in jobs, the authors highlight the policies’ distributional impacts, the potential for increasingly ambitious greenhouse gas–reduction targets to worsen job losses, and the lower wages and career prospects associated with some of the created jobs. They recommend tangible public policy steps, including requiring labor standards for public projects, equitably distributing public incentive funds, and monitoring the equity performance of California’s climate policies.

Just Transition: A Business Guide

This guide provides recommendations for companies pursuing net zero emissions on how to ensure a just transition for their workers and the communities in which they operate.


This guidance document provides operational advice for companies on how to implement a just transition as they seek to reduce carbon emissions. The authors argue that businesses urgently need to understand how such a transition will impact them, outlining the various risks and opportunities (reputational, market, and technological) associated with the transition. Changes in perceptions of the company, shifts in supply and demand, improvements in innovations, policy actions, and industrial relations all provide opportunities for business to maximize positive impacts in support of a just transition.

The authors first make the business case for a just transition before outlining three stages of action for companies aiming to implement a just transition: engage, plan, and enact. They recommend that companies engage in social dialogue with workers, unions, government bodies, and other stakeholders at all phases of the transition, offering specific topics for discussion. With social dialogue as a foundation, a company should create a plan that “is concrete, time-bound, applies indicators, sets measurable goals, and is enterprise-wide.” The authors suggest that companies should conduct regular monitoring and reporting while implementing their plans and “advocate and collaborate… for stronger collective action” to promote a just transition. Throughout the text, the authors offer brief examples of just transition efforts at the business level. They conclude with an annex that offers general principles and recommendations that companies can incorporate into their procurement processes, business and employment planning, and emissions-reduction strategies.

Just Transition towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies for All

Drawing on lessons from past experiences, this brief provides a framework and recommendations for labor unions and workers’ organizations to support just transitions toward environmentally sustainable economies.


This brief discusses the challenges of a just transition in the context of the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals and, more specifically, provides recommendations for labor unions and workers’ organizations. It promotes the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) guidelines as a comprehensive set of principles for both climate change action and sustainable development. It then provides various examples of past just transition efforts from different levels of government and for different levels of economic development. These practical examples illustrate the role of actors, country-specific challenges, and potential models of success under various conditions.

The brief concludes with lessons learned, which tend to emphasize the importance of cooperation—for example, among labor and environmental groups or among different levels of government—and of formulating strategies with clear objectives and targets. The authors provide further recommendations specific to trade unions and workers’ organizations.

Closing Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant 2009-2018: Decision-Making on Energy Investments Relevant to Climate Change

This paper examines the decision by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) decision to close its Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California and discusses the negotiations process and the opposing views of various interest groups regarding the future of the plant.


This case study investigates the 2016 decision of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) to close its Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, as well as the varied support and opposition it faced from environmental groups and labor unions. It also analyzes the decision of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to grant permission for the plant to close in 2024.

The CPUC saw no reason to challenge PG&E’s decision, despite the state’s potential interest in extending the life of a nuclear power plant in order to limit carbon emissions. The author argues that the Diablo Canyon story illustrates the need for a strong regulatory framework to account for climate-related concerns in such decisions.

Getting it Right: A Just Transition Strategy for Alberta’s Coal Workers

This report examines a just transition in the context of Alberta, Canada’s phase-out of coal-fired electricity generation and uses previous experiences to outline best practices.


This report analyzes the changes in the electricity-generation sector in Alberta in response to the Government of Alberta and Government of Canada’s decision to phase out emissions from coal-fired electricity generation by 2030. The paper explores a just transition in the context of these changes and emphasizes the need for a fair transition for workers.

The report examines case studies from different regions and discusses lessons learned from Alberta’s phase-out of coal-fired electricity generation. The authors emphasize the need to provide well-paid alternative jobs and advocate for a highly targeted and specific plan that involves labor organizations, workers, and communities to ensure each stakeholder’s interests are considered. This report calls for government leadership, but also for the establishment of an independent agency, potentially called the Alberta Economic Adjustment Agency (AEAA), that would oversee the transition free of political interference.

Coal Transition in Spain

This case study discusses the main features of the transition away from coal in Spain, including the driving forces, policy responses, and potentially negative socioeconomic effects.


This case study analyzes the policy-driven coal transition that occurred in Spain over the last two decades. The study describes the key role of coal in the Spanish economy and discusses the motives behind the coal transition, its impacts, and the policy measures that were introduced to mitigate such impacts.

Generally, market competition from cheap imported coal has triggered a downturn in Spanish coal production since 1993 and a decrease in employment in the coal sector. This report details how a plan signed by labor unions and the government in July 1997 to protect the future of coal miners, as well as a subsequent 2006–12 coal plan and EU legislation, have all provided a roadmap for Spain’s coal transition.

The report describes the positive and the negative effects of these policies, identifying lessons learned. It calls for greater collaboration among stakeholders to better understand the priorities and for the establishment of social funds to ensure better transition assistance and worker compensation.