Words of Warming

What Is a ‘Just Transition?’

Environmental and climate justice groups have broadened the definition of a term originally used by trade unions

Words of Warming is a series from Future Human defining the language of climate change and environmental and climate justice.

Definition of just transition

1. A concept that originated with trade unions in North America in the 1990s as “a program of support for workers who lost their jobs due to environmental protection policies,” dismantling the carbon-based economy and replacing it with a new climate-resilient and a low- or zero-carbon economy while minimizing harm to workers in carbon-intensive industries.

This term was used recently in a CNBC article about President Joe Biden’s climate change plan:

“Labor groups and climate policymakers around the globe call it ‘just transition’ for communities on the wrong end of the shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy — a town where a coal mine is shut down or a power plant powered by coal is closed.”

2. An expansion of the trade union definition to include support for racial justice and social equity in environmental and climate policy, spearheaded by environmental and climate justice groups like Movement Generation, which defines a just transition as “a fair shift to an economy that is ecologically sustainable, equitable, and just for all its members.”

This term was used recently in the solutions journalism publication Yes!:

“Elevating the voices of communities of color who have historically been left out of the decision-making process can help ensure a just transition going forward.”

Drew Costley is a Staff Writer at FutureHuman covering the environment, health, science and tech. Previously @ SFGate, East Bay Express, USA Today, etc.

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