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What is "Just Transition"?

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.