Expand the Just Transition
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.