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What is a just transition for environmental targets

This POSTnote considers transitions to meet environmental targets and how their costs and benefits for different members of society can be distributed fairly.

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The term ‘just transition’ is regularly used in multilateral discussions to agree environmental targets. While definitions differ, the aim of just transition approaches is to address potential sources of unfairness to provide better outcomes for different groups of people. 

Justice issues can arise from proactive climate action undertaken to tackle climate change, but also from reactively adapting to the impacts of unpreventable climate change and biodiversity loss. Individuals’ vulnerability is a combination of these. Action may place unaffordable costs on people and nations who are the most politically, socially and economically marginalised.

Major justice issues are most likely to arise when there is a perception of unfairness; where groups are disproportionately disadvantaged or advantaged, or if measures are not accessible to all. Procedural and distributional justice issues are two of the most common and require different approaches. Procedural injustice, (where groups of people may feel their rights or viewpoints have been ignored, not considered in the first place, or their concerns have not been adequately addressed) may require addressing power imbalances. Distributional justice concerns vary on a sector-by-sector basis, but relate to a perception of fairness around who pays, who is helped with costs, and who benefits.

For some groups, there are outstanding, unrectified injustices domestically or overseas resulting from damage or actions in the past by the UK state or companies. There is disagreement on whether compensation should be dealt with separately from just transition issues, as it is for historical rather than future injustices. 

Key Points

  • Justice and human rights issues may arise from action to protect the climate and environment.
  •  Issues can be ‘procedural’, where affected people, have not had an adequate say in the process; or ‘distributive’, where costs and benefits of changes have not been fairly distributed.
  • There are several UK Government and devolved government commitments to achieve a ‘just transition’ to pre-empt or resolve such justice issues. These include legislative and non-legislative provisions such as the creation of the Just Transition Commission in Scotland.
  • Failure to adequately consider both types of issues can exacerbate inequalities, affect support for action to address climate change and biodiversity loss, and lead to legal challenges. Ultimately this can impact policy implementation.
  • Some stakeholders have called for further action from the UK Government, including strengthening company reporting rules on human rights and environmental due diligence in their supply chain, and addressing climate injustices with developing nations.
  • To successfully implement a just transition in the UK, a range of questions will arise and will need to be addressed by policymakers and society more broadly.

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:  

Members of the POST Board*

Simon Anderson, International Institute for Environment and Development

Ed Atkins, University of Bristol

Lloyd Austin, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland

Ligia Baracat, Forest Peoples Programme*

Scott Barrett, Columbia University

John Barry, Queens University Belfast & Belfast Climate Commission

Ian Bateman, University of Exeter*

Lissa Batey, Wildlife Trusts

Sandra Bogelein, Climate Change Committee*

Hollie Booth, The Biodiversity Consultancy*

Harriet Bulkeley, University of Durham*

Mike Childs, Friends of the Earth UK

Benafsha Delgado, UN Global Compact Network UK

Joshua Deru, Climate Change Committee*

Karen Ellis, WWF UK

Mel Evans, Greenpeace

Steven Forrest, University of Hull

Phil Franks, International Institute for Environment and Development

Philip Gass, International Institute for Sustainable Development*

Linda Gessner, University of Surrey

Nigel Gilbert, University of Surrey

Arpana Giritharan, Green Alliance

James Gomme, World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Rosie Hails, National Trust*

Oliver Hauser, University of Exeter

Vicki Hird, Sustain

Keith Hyams, University of Warwick

Moustapha Kamal Gueye, International Labour Organization

Laura Kelly, International Institute for Environment and Development

Halliki Kreinin, University of Munster

Sangji Lee, UNDP

Samuel Leigh, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Lahra Liberti, OECD Development Centre

Sam Ludlow-Taylor, John Lewis Partnership

John Lynch, University of Oxford

Frances Maguire, Scottish Government

Adrian Martin, University of East Anglia

Alexis McGivern, Oxford Net Zero*

Chloe Nemo, Climate Change Committee*

Peter Newell, University of Sussex*

Sophie O’Connell, Green Alliance

Jacqueline O’Hagan, EastSide Partnership

David Obura, CORDIO East Africa & Earth Commission

Emily Polack, International Institute for Environment and Development

Zahra Rana, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero

Nick Robins, London School of Economics

Antonina Scheer, London School of Economics*

Patrick Schroder, Chatham House

Colin Seditas, Scottish Government

Jim Skea, Imperial College London*

Amanda Slevin, Queens University Belfast

Laiz Souto de Carvalho, University of Bristol

Benjamin Sovacool, University of Sussex*

Laura Spence, Royal Holloway*

Faustine Wheeler, Green Alliance

Simon Winch, John Lewis Partnership

Matthias Wong, University of Hull

Sophus zu Ermgassen, University of Oxford*

*denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing

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Channel website: https://www.parliament.uk/post

Original article link: https://post.parliament.uk/research-briefings/post-pn-0706/

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