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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.

Detail

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.

Mapping Just Transition(s) to a Low-carbon World

This paper defines just transitions and emphasizes the term’s roots in social and environmental justice, especially for those in the climate sphere who are less familiar with these underpinnings.

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This paper helps define just transitions, emphasizing the origins of the concept in the labor movement and in social and environmental justice. The paper includes a schematic of the approaches of various groups to just transitions, mapping the views of various stakeholders and broadly grouping them under four approaches: status quo maintenance, managerial reform, structural reform, and transformative reform.

The authors review the origins of the concept of just transitions in the U.S. labor movement in the 1970s and discuss how it spread in the 2000s, largely under the rubric of climate policy and with more support from UN agencies and the International Labor Organization (ILO). The authors also explore the evolution of the just transition concept through case studies of six countries: Brazil, Canada, Germany, Kenya, South Africa, and the United States.

Labor Unions and Green Transitions in the USA: Contestations and Explanations

This paper concludes that unions are fragmented in their approach to climate policy, but it is too simplistic to divide them into two camps as supporters and opponents of more active climate policy.

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This paper examines approaches to climate policy among various unions and finds that they are fragmented in their approaches. Despite the tendency to divide unions into two separate camps on climate issues—supporters and opponents of more active climate policy—empirical analysis suggests a greater diversity of views.

The author suggests five distinct categories along a spectrum of support versus opposition, especially in response to the transition away from fossil fuels. He surveys union policies regarding the energy, construction, manufacturing, housing, and transport sectors. The second half of the paper proposes a political economy approach to green transitions, emphasizing the critical need to examine the social forces for and against a green transition, as well as the tactics and strategies that can help advance progress. The author also notes the diversity of U.S. unions, arguing that the lack of corporatism in the United States means that industrial relations and engagement with companies on environmental issues are quite different from those in Europe or other areas.

Green Transitions, Just Transitions? Broadening and Deepening Justice

This academic paper presents a typology of justice (social and environmental) and of the geographies of justice (scale and scope), exploring their combined implications for just transitions.

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This paper warns that well-intentioned practices can have negative impacts and seeks to better understand the variability and possible unintentional outcomes of just transitions. To do so, the authors examine the typologies of justice (social and environmental) the geographies of justice (scale and scope) and then bring these variables together to explore their implications for just transitions.

The authors advocate for a world in which global rules require and enable transnational and local justice. They conclude that such rules will have to be flexible enough to accommodate local dynamics and needs but strong enough to prevent any local elites from claiming the exclusive right to determine how global rules will be implemented.