What is Just Transition?

12.05.2017

Sustainability is defined as the ability to meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A Just Transition is, quite simply, a pathway – the only pathway – to that sustainable future.

We must stop destroying the only planet we have. Our economy must change, but change cannot happen unless workers, their families and the communities that depend upon them are kept whole. The fear of and resistance to change would be too great.

The Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, achieved in 2015, implies massive but necessary industrial transformation as we move towards a zero-net-carbon future. This will have an impact, not just on coal and oil extraction and power generation, but on all energy-intensive industries.

Our first choice is always to protect present-day workers by making existing jobs sustainable. When this is not possible then there must be a socially just way to shift workers to new jobs while keeping them whole. It is simply unfair and socially unsustainable to ask the workers who made today's society possible to pay the full cost of changes that society now requires. There will be opportunities as well as risks as the economy is transformed. However, we cannot rely on the free market to build a greener economy, or at least not a just one – governments must step in with sustainable industrial policies. Moving towards a low-carbon economy requires planning, not luck.

A Just Transition rests on three pillars:

  • Sustainable Industrial Policies
  • Strong Social Support Programmes
  • Creative Labour Adjustment

There is every indication that a lot of greener jobs will be created over the next few years. We also know that there will be some job displacement. Workers must be fully protected and kept whole through the transformation. New jobs must be made accessible to both today's and tomorrow's workers, and supported with creative labour adjustment programmes – not the sort of top-down employer-driven programmes we have seen in the past. Those affected must have the strongest voice and greatest choice in what happens to them; whether it is (for example) preferential hiring to a greener job, access to education and training, or enhanced early retirement.

If society wants certain workers to support giving up what they are doing today, then they have a right to choose what they will be doing tomorrow. And it had better sound good to them, or the resistance to change will be insurmountable.

Sustainability is no longer just a good idea, it has become a matter of survival. Just Transition, as the only pathway to get there, is therefore no longer just a trade union wish, but an absolute necessity.

Find out more:

IndustriALL Global Union Sectoral Sustainability Report (see particularly pages 15-18)

Australian union wins Just Transition deal

European Parliament votes for Just Transition fund

ITUC Just Transition Centre

ILO guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all