What is 'Just Transition' in sustainability? By Will Glover

What is the Just Transition?

In order to address the world’s growing environmental concerns such as climate change and pollution there needs to be a significant transition to a greener, more resilient economy. Any change to the global economy is going to have huge impacts on people and that is where the idea of a ‘just transition’ comes into play.

The concept of a just transition means moving to a low carbon economy and ensuring that everyone is included in that transition. This includes all workers, all communities and all social groups and would ensure we are maximising the social and economic opportunities of climate action. Therefore, it is down to Governments, employers and workers to drive this change and ensure the principles of the Just Transition are put in place across the world.

Examples of applying the principles in real life

Below are some examples of where the principles of the just transition have been applied successfully and positive impacts have been made.

Canada: Stakeholder Engagement

In 2018, the Canadian government created their own ‘Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal power Workers and Communities’ after they committed to a phase-out of coal power by 2030. This was done because, while the commitment is expected to provide economic benefits of $3.49 billion, it could also see 42,00 coal-related jobs lost.

The taskforce was mandated to engage workers, groups and communities in the areas affected by the coal phase-out and provide recommendations to the Government on what could be included in a just transition plan surrounding coal phase-out in Canada. The taskforce travelled to all of the affected regions, meeting with over 80 stakeholders, hosting several public engagement sessions and touring 5 coal power stations as well as other engagement activities.

From this, the taskforce provided an extensive list of recommendations for the Government surrounding just transition. This included but was not limited to; embedding just transition principles in ‘planning, legislative, regulatory and advisory processes’ throughout the coal phase-out, providing workers with transitional work/retirement plans and funding, and invest in community infrastructure.

This is an interesting example of the value that effective engagement with stakeholders can provide organisations/Governments when setting out just transition commitments. Ensuring that everyone affected is listened to is crucial to any transition plans such as Canada’s coal phase-out. It is now up to the Canadian Government to implement these recommendations as effectively as they can.

SSE: Supporting workers through the transition

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSE), a UK-based energy and utilities company, are one of the leading companies across the globe when it comes to just transition. They have set out a clear strategy, with 20 principles (Figure 1) focusing on ‘transitioning into a net-zero world’ and ‘transitioning out of a high-carbon world’.

This case focuses on the closure of their last coal-fired power station, Fiddler’s Ferry, in March 2020. Before closure of this station, SSE took their time to ‘carefully and sensitively’ ensure that the station was decommissioned in a way that would see future economic development, environmental improvements and support to the workers.

They stated that after the closure, 39 employees transferred to work involved with decommissioning the site, five transitioned into other roles at SSE, one retired and 95 redundancies were completed after ‘collective consultation’ with the workers and unions. The company also offered training courses prior to the closure which involved support for redeployment to roles in new sectors.

This is a great example of an organisation taking the necessary steps to green their business model but ensuring that their workers are at the front of their decision-making. The different ways in which the employees were supported whether it was transferring to a new role or being offered support through training into new sectors for those who opted for redundancy packages, shows that companies going through similar processes have a range of options to offer to their affected employees.

These examples showcase what good practice looks like when implementing the just transition principles at a business and governance level. While there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to the just transition, the methods used by both are adaptable and can be applied to all areas of business and government.

Interested in exploring how just transition can support your business’ sustainability goals? Get in touch Will.

For more information

Will Glover
Consultant Researcher
will@actionsustainability.com

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