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A Just Transition Ecosystem

The Just Transition - a combined demand that links bold climate action to social justice 

At its simplest the Just Transition is about the movement to carbon net zero while at the same time promoting social justice.  The social justice dimension recognises that the poorest and most vulnerable members of society and globally have been more exposed to the harms of environmental degradation and climate change and also require the greatest protection during the Green Transition. Conversely, the ecological footprint of someone in the wealthiest one per cent can be as high as 175 times that of somebody in the bottom 10 per cent.


The Just Transition has been defined as a ‘vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy.  The transition itself must be just and equitable, redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations(The Climate Justice Alliance (2021) 

The Just Transition (JT) demands that more sustainable lives are fairer lives in which the JT is associated with better green jobs, more accessible and preventative based healthcare, improvements to diets, improvements to homes, rethinking the way we travel and above all improving access to education and lifelong learning.  The Just Transition is, therefore, a greening, social and educative process.  

It is also about bold actions now to mitigate harms rather, as Varoufakis argues, allowing polluters to hide behind a long-term target.  We need to expand the Just Transition, which at the national and International levels includes commitments to rapidly phase out of all uses of fossil fuels, reversing deforestation and paying reparations so that those communities already impacted by global heating can carry out adaptive measures.  There also has an important political dimension because, as Jack Shenker explains, those who seek to resist and delay the green transition will portray decisive climate action as the preserve of a metropolitan elite.  The Just Transition has a clear answer to this by placing the lives of the mass of the people centre stage

Expansion of the Just Transition - increasing the scope of action through a Just Transition Ecosystem

For the battle of the climate emergency to be won, that is to keep rising global temperatures to below 1.5°C, will mean acting at all levels of society and globally.  While national and international leadership and espoused policies are very important in terms of setting ambitious net zero targets and deciding on immediate measures, decisive battles will take place at other societal levels concerning how whole populations can be encouraged and supported introducing Just Transition thinking and activities into all aspects of their lives. Expanding the scope of action to different levels of society - from the micro to the macro - means changes to the ways in which people work, live and learn.


This raises the question of the paradox of how sustainable change take place in society.  On the one hand, most progressive ideas do not originate in political parties or the political state because these entities are preoccupied with electoralism or administration.  Innovation comes largely from civil society - campaigns, research and the networking of horizontal sharing of ideas and activities.  On the other, innovation has to become embedded and sustained by its 'institutionalisation' and the role of political parties and government to 'connect' different aspects of change into a holistic strategy.  This relationship between 'horizontalities' and 'verticalities' is explored through the concept of '45-degree politics'.

In terms of a whole-society approach there is a decisive role to be played by 'middle range' organisations and networks, situated between the micro level of everyday lives and national policy, that includes local government, colleges and universities, civil society networks and clusters of employers.  Just as it is possible for a country to discuss the Just Transition, for example, Scotland's Just Transition Commission, it is also the case that organisations and localities can also become the highly connective settings because the 'organised middle range' have the potential to connect local populations, national policymakers and wider networks including those in other localities, cities and regions in the Global South.

The Just Transition - an alliance-based concept

Like all powerful concepts, the Just Transition can appear in different forms - ranging from the radical to the pragmatic.  This pluralism should be viewed as a strength rather than a weakness if the JT is to become an 'alliance-based' concept that people with differing interests can rally around.

A radical vision has been foregrounded by the Climate Justice Alliance that sees the Just Transition as societally and globally transformation involving the movement from an extractive, consumer and exploitative economy to a living and caring economy and society, based on regeneration, co-operation and the deepening of democracy (see Figure 1).  At its most radical, this version of the JT could be viewed as post-market and post-capitalist.  At the same time, the Just Transition is supported by sections of progressive capital that see ambitious climate action as both desirable, inevitable and also a huge opportunity in which to do good business.

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This section applies the Social Ecosystem Model to the Just Transition to create a holistic and multi-dimensional approach to climate and social justice action through the concept of a 'Just Transition Ecosystem'. Building the JT ecosystem comprises three steps.  


Step 1. Four social ecosystem levels have been identified as reciprocal sites of JT activity indicating a whole societal approach from bottom to top.


Step 2. The multi-level social ecosystem model has been provided with greater scope and dynamism by the identification of a number of connective forces including the role of Just Transition ‘intellectuals’ as bridging actors.  


Step 3. The third development involves consideration of the dialectic of the vertical and horizontal factors and forces of the expanded modern state that introduces an active political economy dimension in terms of power and knowledge into the model through 45-degree politics.

Four levels of the JT Ecosystem




JT Microsystem - the transitioning of human relations and everyday life

In Bronfenbrenner’s human ecological model, the microsystem referred to a person’s immediate lived environment (e.g. family relations, peers and immediate learning relationships).  The adapted model has retained a similar focus. However, the application of this personal and human-centred level to the Just Transition opens up the possibility for a critical exploration of the transition of everyday living.  


It is becoming increasingly clear that the targets of the Green Transition will not be achieved without significant and rapid changes in everyday beliefs and the ways in which we lead our lives (e.g. changes to the way we travel, generally consuming less – particularly meat - conserving household energy and recycling more).  


The rapid transitioning of everyday life will require not only the development of collective ecological consciousness (referred to later as the General Intellect), but also economic incentives and regulations to encourage important life changes (e.g. to electric vehicles and back to public transport; installations of heat pumps and home insulation).  


JT Mesosystem – from Civic Anchor Institutions to the Just Transition Organisation

The mesosystem in the adapted model is primarily concerned with the role of organisations in their social contexts.  Applied to the JT, the mesosystem level concerns the role of public, private and third sector organisations in driving the JT locally and regionally.  Reflecting the multi-level nature of the JT concept the Just Transition Organisation (JTO) can be defined by a series of commitments and capacities.  


First, by applying Mazzucato’s concept of ‘mission-led innovation’ [1],to the climate emergency, becoming a JTO could involve a deep commitment to the values, purposes and processes of the transition.  In most organisational cases this would result in a radical extension of existing institutional missions so that core functions are remade in terms of a distinctive contribution towards the achievement of net zero and climate justice. 


Second, the JT is essentially a place-based concept in which cities, regions and localities become prime settings for collaborative action by an array of organisations [2].  The concept of a place based JTO builds on the idea of a ‘civic anchor institution’.  Anchor institutions have an important presence in a place, usually through being largescale employers with the ability to make a strategic contribution to the local economy.  They are also tied to a particular place by virtue of their mission, histories, physical assets and local relationships.  Examples include local authorities, NHS trusts, universities, further education colleges, trade unions, large local businesses, the combined activities of the community and voluntary sector and housing associations [3].  In response to the COVID pandemic, City of Glasgow College for example, has identified itself as a civic anchor institution through its rapid movement to remote working to protect students and staff, support for local food banks and offering services to vulnerable care experienced young people [4].


Building on concept of civic anchor institutions, becoming a JTO would not only involve influencing a particular setting, but contributing to the transformation of that environment as part of the Just Transition.  On the other hand, it is possible that a multitude of organisations, large and small, could become JTOs by placing sustainability and inclusion at the heart of organisational purpose and being prepared to collaborate in order that their distinctive contribution can work in synergy with the specialisms of other similarly committed organisations. 


Third, a JTO would also need to transform its internal cultures, structures and practices.  One illustration of this path is the process of become a ‘Teal organisation’.  Laloux’s historical organisation theory asserts that over the past 10,000 years humanity has progressed through different organisational types.  These have been given a colour and metaphor – red (wolfpack), amber (army), orange (machine), green (family) and teal (living organism) - with the historical observation that organisational change is accelerating exponentially [5].  A Teal organisation (the latest evolution) prioritises a social mission, self-management and collaboration which would appear to fit with JT principles.  However, there is a strong counter argument that states that ‘not everyone should become Teal’ because of the relevance of a degree of hierarchic leadership to make organisations effective in the current context [6].  Becoming a Just Transition Organisation would constitute a very important and practical step not least because it does not depend on size or influence.  The key is commitment to the transition.


[1] Mazzucato, M. (2016) From market-fixing to market-creating: a new framework for innovation policy Industry and Innovation 23 (2) - accessed 28 Oct 2021.

[2] OECD (2020), Managing Environmental and Energy Transitions for Regions and Cities, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[3] CLES (2021) What is an anchor institution? - accessed 31 Oct 2021.

[4] City of Glasgow College (2021) A civic anchor in a time of crisis - - accessed 31 Oct 2021.

[5] Laloux, F. (2014) Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage in Human Consciousness – Nelson Parker 

[6] This argument is made in - Farag, M. (2017) The Rise and Fall of a Teal NGO - - accessed 31 Oct 2021.

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