Transition to a post-carbon economy implies changes that are both far-reaching and unprecedented. The notion that a decarbonization transition must encompass multiple forms of justice is gaining ground. In response, the concept of Just Transition has become ever more popular – and confusion about its meaning ever greater. We argue in this paper that the term Just Transition needs a rigorous updating to develop its full conceptual power for the analysis and evaluation of the rapid and extensive energy transitions already underway. After reviewing the different uses of Just Transition in practice and scholarship, we propose that the term be used as an analytical concept for an ongoing process of transition. The Just Transition concept can provide an integrated, whole-system perspective on justice (procedural, distributive, recognition, and restorative) that can help in identifying systemic solutions to address environmental and socio-economic concerns. This would differ from reductionist approaches that derive from legacy silo-sectoral or technologically driven approaches; these too often overlook negative side-effects and wider justice implications of reorganizing economic practice. An examination of COVID-19 pandemic responses illustrates our operationalization of the Just Transition concept, highlighting the importance of designing whole-system policies that are equitable, as well as the pitfalls of pursuing a narrow sectoral approach. Taking seriously the implications of complex systems with hard-to-predict effects also has concrete implications for policy interventions at all levels of governance. In particular, we highlight the importance of attending to multiple social inequalities for ensuring the resilience of whole-system decarbonization in the face of instability, unpredictability, and unprecedented change.


This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

Cite as

Abram, S., Atkins, E., Dietzel, A., Jenkins, K., Kiamba, L., Kirshner, J., Kreienkamp, J., Parkhill, K., Pegram, T. & Santos Ayllón, L. 2022, 'Just Transition: A whole-systems approach to decarbonisation', Climate Policy. https://doi.org/10.1080/14693062.2022.2108365

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Last updated: 18 August 2022
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