Just Transition: A whole-systems approach to decarbonisation

Simone Abrams, Ed Atkins, Alix Dietzel, Kirsten Jenkins, Lorna Kiamba, Joshua Daniel Kirshner, Julia Kreienkamp, Karen Anne Parkhill, Tom Pegram, Laura Santos Ayllón

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Transition to a post-carbon economy implies changes that are both far-reaching and unprecedented. The notion that a decarbonization transition must encompass multiple forms of justice is gaining ground. In response, the concept of Just Transition has become ever more popular – and confusion about its meaning ever greater. We argue in this paper that the term Just Transition needs a rigorous
updating to develop its full conceptual power for the analysis and evaluation of
the rapid and extensive energy transitions already underway. After reviewing the
different uses of Just Transition in practice and scholarship, we propose that the
term be used as an analytical concept for an ongoing process of transition. The
Just Transition concept can provide an integrated, whole-system perspective on
justice (procedural, distributive, recognition, and restorative) that can help in
identifying systemic solutions to address environmental and socio-economic
concerns. This would differ from reductionist approaches that derive from legacy
silo-sectoral or technologically driven approaches; these too often overlook
negative side-effects and wider justice implications of reorganizing economic
practice. An examination of COVID-19 pandemic responses illustrates our
operationalization of the Just Transition concept, highlighting the importance of
designing whole-system policies that are equitable, as well as the pitfalls of
pursuing a narrow sectoral approach. Taking seriously the implications of complex systems with hard-to-predict effects also has concrete implications for policy interventions at all levels of governance. In particular, we highlight the importance of attending to multiple social inequalities for ensuring the resilience of wholesystem decarbonization in the face of instability, unpredictability, and
unprecedented change.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalClimate Policy
Early online date9 Aug 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Aug 2022


  • just transition
  • decarbonisation
  • green recovery
  • COVID-19
  • post-carbon economy
  • energy transition

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