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Toward envisioning and implementing just transitions to a post-carbon society in Canada

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About the project

Just transition processes are particularly critical in countries such as Canada, where the fossil fuel sector accounts for a significant portion of the national economy. This Knowledge Synthesis report reviews just transitions literature with the aim of contributing to the transdisciplinary and intersectoral envisioning and implementing of a just post-carbon society in Canada. We approached this research with a broad view to embrace the complexity and scale of the structural changes needed for just transitions.

Given just transitions literature’s rapid recent growth, we performed an open-ended, iterative and multi-tiered literature review process to grasp the main themes and tendencies. In order to begin a more open, reciprocal and respectful conversation between Western scholarship and Indigenous knowledge systems, we involved an Indigenous collaborator in the design and execution of the project and conducted an Elder consultation to receive guidance on our questions and our colonial blind spots.

Key findings

  • On the theoretical front, much attention has been paid to establishing conceptual connections between just transitions and the ideas advanced in environmental, climate and energy justice literature. However, this attention seems to be unevenly distributed and applied. More attention needs to be paid to recognition-related questions of justice (anti-racism, decolonial, emancipatory and Indigenous perspectives) and considerations about multi-species justice.
  • On the empirical front, there seems to be uneven sectoral and geographical coverage in the just transitions literature. It is important to expand just transitions scholarship to better understand and analyze the context-dependent nature of just transitions, and the local and regional nuances impacting just transition processes. Sectoral coverage should go beyond the energy sector and consider the implications that decarbonization efforts will have on other sectors, such as mining, and more explicitly deal with externalities and supply chains.
  • The findings of this report underscore the importance of engaging various actors in just transition processes. We particularly highlight the role that labour unions and local communities can play in developing decarbonization initiatives, industry diversification plans and just transition policies that are acceptable to and supported by those who formerly depended upon fossil fuel extraction for employment and tax revenues.
  • We identified five broad types of policy interventions for just transitions: targeted industry goals/shifts, employment/assistance for workers and industry replacement, fossil fuel phaseout, holistic/whole-system transformation and Green New Deal policies. We conclude that policy approaches to just transitions tend to be top-down and derived at the national or (at most) regional level, and that a whole-system or holistic approach that will integrate bottom-up and cross-system approaches—and take into account anti-racist, decolonial/reconciliation-informed, gendered and environmental lenses—is needed.

Policy implications

Across Canada there is discontinuity between individual provincial/territorial just transition agendas. These agendas will continue to change as new governments are elected and power shifts occur in the provinces/territories. Therefore, as just transitions are long-term processes, any plan must be insulated from shifts in government priorities.

Given the scope and importance of the problem, a broader, national-level conversation is needed to develop key directions and priorities for just transitions. It is critical to incorporate Indigenous perspectives as full participants throughout any process and incorporate reconciliation goals with those of just transitions.

  • A permanent office/institutional arrangement at the federal level (i.e., deputy ministership), possibly in the Intergovernmental Affairs Secretariat, should be created and empowered to coordinate effective intergovernmental cooperation and fund initiatives that emerge locally.
  • Meaningful support must be offered to communities to develop effective, data-informed just transition pathways for their unique contexts, to meet the needs/demands of federally coordinated work.
  • Cultural, gendered, anti-racist and decolonial/reconciliation lenses need to be integrated into any just transition pathway development, including at the funding, design and implementation stages. 
  • Economic, social and environmental externalities must be considered in policy discussions, including in supply chains for any new technologies and/or energy sources.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Nino Antadze, assistant professor of Environmental Studies, University of Prince Edward Island; nantadze@upei.ca

Katharine McGowan, associate professor of Social Innovation, Bissett School of Business, Mount Royal University; kmcgowan@mtroyal.ca

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR and the Government of Canada

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