Frequently Asked Questions on just transition

  1. What is a Just Transition?
  2. What might a Just Transition look like for the people impacted?
  3. Why do we need a Just Transition?
  4. Whose responsibility is a Just Transition?
  5. When should a Just Transition be implemented?
  6. Will a Just Transition be costly to implement?
  7. What does Just Transition look like around the world?
  8. What guidance is available for countries to pursue a Just Transition?
  9. Which policies are key to address environmental, economic and social sustainability simultaneously?
  10. What programmes and initiatives are available to help countries and enterprises facilitate a Just Transition?

What is a Just Transition?

In order to tackle pressing environmental challenges like climate change, pollution and plummeting biodiversity, nations and businesses need to transition towards greener, resilient and climate-neutral economies and societies.

A Just Transition means greening the economy in a way that is as fair and inclusive as possible to everyone concerned, creating decent work opportunities and leaving no one behind.

A Just Transition involves maximizing the social and economic opportunities of climate action, while minimizing and carefully managing any challenges – including through effective social dialogue among all groups impacted, and respect for fundamental labour principles and rights.
Ensuring a just transition is important for all countries at all levels of development. It is also important for all economic sectors – by no means limited to energy supply – and in urban and rural areas alike.

What might a Just Transition look like for the people impacted?

Let’s imagine a worker – Pablo – is employed by Patricia as a technician in a factory currently powered by fossil fuels. To reduce the negative environmental impact of her company, Patricia has been inspired by government incentives to switch to solar panels in a neighboring town to power her factory.

In the process of changing the factory’s energy supply, some technicians will be made redundant, while others will be retrained and relocated in different roles to carry out better, greener jobs.

A Just Transition would involve careful consultation between elected representatives of workers’ organizations representing Pablo and his colleagues, and employers’ organizations representing Patricia and the factory management, usually supported by government representatives or policy frameworks.

Through timely, respectful and active dialogue, solutions would need to be found so that the benefits of the shift to solar energy are distributed as fairly and equally as possible – for example, to decide which workers have new training and career development opportunities and how the factory’s new energy savings will be reinvested.

Consultation between the various parties would also need to ensure that the inevitable challenges are anticipated and well-managed, without discrimination – for example, to determine which workers will be relocated to a new town or made redundant, and under what conditions.

Why do we need a Just Transition?

The greening of economies can enhance our ability to manage natural resources sustainably, increase energy efficiency and reduce waste, while also promoting social justice and addressing poverty, inequality and gender gaps.

A Just Transition presents many opportunities to achieve social objectives. It has the potential to be a new and sustainable engine of growth, in lower, middle- and higher income economies. It can be a net generator of decent green jobs that can contribute significantly to poverty eradication and social inclusion.

There is also a significant risk that without a Just Transition, we will not achieve a low-carbon, environmentally sustainable economy that is essential to the wellbeing of future generations. If not carefully managed through Just Transition policies and processes, economic changes could result in increased social inequality, worker disillusionment, strikes or civil unrest and reduced productivity, as well as less competitive businesses, sectors and markets.

Whose responsibility is a Just Transition?

While coherent public policy is a driving force for Just Transition and may typically be led by governments, sustainable development is only possible with the active engagement of all groups represented in the world of work.

Governments, employers and workers are agents of change who share the responsibility for developing new and innovative ways of working that safeguard the environment for present and future generations, eradicate poverty and promote social justice.

Strong social consensus on the pathways to sustainability is fundamental. Tripartite social dialogue between governments and representative organizations of employers and workers has to be an integral part of the institutional framework for policymaking and implementation at all levels. Adequate, informed and ongoing consultation must take place with all relevant stakeholders.

Policies and programmes also need to take into account the strong gender dimensions of many environmental challenges and opportunities, as well as the needs and interests of under-represented groups such as young people, indigenous people, ethnic minorities, migrants and refugees, LGBTIQ+ communities and people with disabilities.

To this end, civil society, youth groups, academia and international organizations also play a key role in shaping and implementing evidence-based environmental policies that will promote effective, equitable outcomes.

The Climate Action for Jobs Initiative brings together all these actors to provide support to countries on bold solutions for a transition towards a sustainable future that is just and enjoys broad-based support.

When should a Just Transition be implemented?

A Just Transition needs to be prioritized by countries and businesses around the globe right away, as a matter of urgency.

ILO research suggests that, by 2030, more than two per cent of total working hours worldwide may be lost every year as a result of climate change, either because it is too hot to work or because workers have to work at a slower pace. 1.2 billion jobs – 40 per cent of world employment – rely directly on a healthy and stable environment.

COVID-19 has also created a labour market crisis with a drastic fall in global employment, exacerbated inequalities and additional economic and occupational safety and health risks for people, sectors and regions the world over.

Given the scale and significance of these environmental and employment challenges, it is clear that the world will have neither the resources nor the time to address them separately or consecutively. Tackling them jointly is not an option, but a pressing necessity.

Will a Just Transition be costly to implement?

Given that 23 million working-life years have been lost to disasters every year since 2000, it is important to stress that the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of action.

Furthermore, UN evidence demonstrates that climate action will not weigh heavily on national budgets. Rather, shifting to a green economy is a sensible financial decision, and could yield a direct economic gain of $26 trillion USD by 2030 compared with business-as-usual.

There is also strong evidence to suggest that investing in a Just Transition will lead to a net gain in jobs, alongside environmental improvements, reductions in social inequalities and enhancements in job quality. For example, ILO research has shown that if we implement the necessary measures towards the Paris Agreement and invest in the circular economy, there could be a net job gain of 24 million jobs by 2030.

At country level, the first comprehensive studies on climate financing present a similarly optimistic picture. Studies show that Costa Rica’s strategies to address climate change are expected to bring $41 billion USD of net benefits to the country between 2020 and 2050.

There is no doubt that climate action – including a Just Transition – requires a significant investment over the next 15 years to reap longer-term economic and social gains. Exploring how a Just Transition is financed – and by whom – must now be a key area of focus for countries, businesses, financial institutions and the international community, including identifying innovative solutions such as public-private partnerships.

What does Just Transition look like around the world?

There is no “one size fits all” approach to a Just Transition. Policies and programmes need to be designed in line with country-specific conditions, including their stage of development, range of economic sectors and the types and sizes of their enterprises.

Many countries have now begun formulating national plans for a Just Transition and looking to these practical examples can provide inspiration and lessons learnt elsewhere in the world. 46 nations committed to developing Just Transition strategies at the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019, with other countries and businesses joining the effort since.

Policymakers, social partners and environmentalists may find it helpful to review case studies presented in the World Resources Institute’s resource centre on Just Transition as well as those prepared by the Climate Action for Jobs partnership and the World Benchmarking Alliance’s review of company-level Just Transition initiatives.

What guidance is available for countries to pursue a Just Transition?

While the wide variation in country and enterprise contexts means that there is no standard framework for a Just Transition, some international instruments exist.

The Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all, prepared following an ILO Tripartite Meeting of Experts in 2015, is one key document reflecting the views and perspectives of governments, employers, and workers’ organizations. As a globally endorsed framework, the Guidelines outline principles and potential policy entry-points to promote and manage a Just Transition.

The Guidelines are aimed at enabling governments, workers and employers around the globe to leverage the process of structural change towards a greener, carbon-neutral economy, create decent jobs at a large-scale and promote social protection.

The Guidelines are both a policy framework and a practical tool to help countries at all levels of development manage the transition to carbon-neutral economies and can also help them achieve their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The framework promotes mechanisms for social dialogue among governments, workers and employers' organizations throughout policy-making processes at all levels.

Which policies are key to address environmental, economic and social sustainability simultaneously?

The tripartite constituents of the ILO representing governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations have identified the following policy areas as central to address environmental, economic and social sustainability simultaneously: Macroeconomic and growth policies; Industrial and sectoral policies; Enterprise development policies; Skills development; Occupational safety and health; Social protection; Active labour market policies; Rights; and Social dialogue and tripartism.
In addition, institutional and policy coherence, together with the full integration of gender and inclusion dimensions, and the principles of of no “one size fits all” and “leave no one behind”, are considered fundamental.

What programmes and initiatives are available to help countries and enterprises facilitate a Just Transition?

Practical support for a Just Transition is available through the European Union’s Just Transition Mechanism, the World Benchmarking Alliance, as well as the Climate Action for Jobs (CA4J) initiative. The CA4J initiative is a multi-stakeholder partnership managed by the ILO to develop national Just Transition policies and measures and create decent, green jobs while pursuing ambitious climate action and advancing social justice.

The ILO Global Call to Action for a Human- Centered Recovery adopted at the 2021 International Labour Conference, highlights the urgent need to provide a foundation for a crisis response that is fully inclusive, sustainable and resilient, and supports a Just Transition.
As the UN agency focused on the world of work, and with a mandate to promote social justice, the ILO is committed to supporting governments, businesses and workers on their path towards a Just Transition, through research, policy work as well as on-the-ground technical and development cooperation projects.