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How can we manage a just energy transition? A comparative review of policies to support a just transition

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About the project

How can we transition to more sustainable industries in Canada, support workers and develop resilient communities? How can we manage a “just transition”? This study synthesizes national and regional initiatives, strategies, policies and practices being implementedto manage a just transition across 25 countries (advanced OECD economies) and 74 regions, plus European Union policies. Countries/regions were selected on the basis of having had sub-regional territories with a significant share of labour in industry (25% +), which subsequently declined within the past decade (n=130). Just transition initiatives were identified across seven thematic areas: i) governance mechanisms; ii) climate and sustainability planning; iii) workforce development; iv) economic development; v) regional and rural development; vi) innovation and research; and vii) social security.

Key findings

  • Jobs- and environment-focused strategies, polices and initiatives were the most prevalent type. Well-developed workforce and skills strategies and wide-ranging climate action plans were evident among the cases studied. Society-focused framing is less common. Social justice language is largely absent from industrial transition policies.
  • Besides coal, specific carbon-intensive industries are rarely identified in strategic documents. National climate strategies tend to address jobs, the economy and clean growth in overarching terms. At the regional level, policies are more likely to be targeted where it is an industry of national importance; there is a long history of dependence on a given sector; the sector in transition is clearly identifiable, regionally concentrated and important (in terms of employment and contributions to GDP); and/or there has been a sudden shock causing job loss (e.g., coal industry).
  • Climate and economic strategies acknowledge the need to shift toward less carbon-intensive activities, but very few identify how those shifts can be proactively identified and addressed in order to facilitate transition. This has been a common criticism of policies in support of coal transitions; they have often been adopted afterthe transition is already well underway. One exception is workforce development measures, which tend to have a proactive outlook that anticipates future labour market demand/skills. However, these strategies are commonly aspatial.
  • Many policies and strategies are poorly integrated with other policy areas. Sectoral initiatives such as infrastructure strategies and programs, Industry 4.0 strategies and investments, and workforce development plans commonly lack coordination mechanisms. Economic development strategies typically acknowledge the need for greener industries but generally do not identify declining ones or the nature of their fixed infrastructure. Economic development strategies are often poorly integrated with workforce development ones. Economic development strategies and Industry 4.0 initiatives tend to display an urban bias, especially in terms of how technology and innovation are viewed. Innovation or Industry 4.0 measures are mostly focused on SMEs and not existing large industries.
  • Several important policy levers are missing. Land use is rarely recognized as an important policy lever. Social security systems have rarely been used as a policy mechanism to facilitate a just transition in a targeted way. Direct funding for community-level economic development supports was not common.
  • Multi-level governance mechanisms are uncommon. Upper-level governments can help mobilize and target supports where needed. For example, Italy’s Transition 4.0 strategy is national in scale but risks being not targeted enough for a region like Piedmont and its decline in auto manufacturing.

Policy implications

Solutions demand an integrated suite of policies and effective multi-level governance. Just transition policies remain disproportionately reactive and often sectorally siloed. Multi-level governance mechanisms are often missing. Spain’s Just Transition Agreements are notable as they address multi-level governance in a comprehensive manner.

Proactive planning can support place-based responses. Many policy responses take the form of crisis management once an industry is already in decline. Proactive policies are needed. An example is New Zealand’s Just Transition Unit.

Accountability mechanisms are needed for determinations of justice. Notions of justice—distributional in terms of how different groups benefit or experience impacts of changes, recognitional in terms of interest groups and rights holders who may be implicated, and procedural in terms of who is included and how—are foundational to the concept of a just transition. The establishment of Just Transitions Commissioners in Scotland and Ireland is one accountability mechanism that governments could use to track, measure and report on these elements of justice.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Dr. Tamara Krawchenko, Assistant Professor, School of Public Administration and Institute for Integrated Energy Systems, University of Victoria;

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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