Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Just Transition: A whole-systems approach to decarbonisation

Abram, Simone; Atkins, Ed; Dietzel, Alix; Jenkins, Kirsten; Kiamba, Lorna; Kirshner, Joshua; Kreienkamp, Julia; Parkhill, Karen; Pegram, Tom; Santos Ayllón, Lara M.

Just Transition: A whole-systems approach to decarbonisation Thumbnail


Simone Abram

Ed Atkins

Alix Dietzel

Kirsten Jenkins

Profile Image

Assistant Professor - Environmental Design and Architecture

Joshua Kirshner

Julia Kreienkamp

Karen Parkhill

Tom Pegram

Lara M. Santos Ayllón


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. Key policy insights: The transition to net-zero will be neither sustainable nor credible if it creates or worsens social inequalities; a backlash is likely if the transition is not perceived to be just. Pathways forward may only emerge through observation, experimentation, and experience. A range of policy tools exist to address Just Transition concerns. These include addressing social and environmental aspects of economic policy; making sure that interventions are adapted to local contexts; building democratic engagement platforms; and open and transparent communication. Job creation does not guarantee just outcomes, as justice goes beyond employment conditions.


Abram, S., Atkins, E., Dietzel, A., Jenkins, K., Kiamba, L., Kirshner, J., …Santos Ayllón, L. M. (2022). Just Transition: A whole-systems approach to decarbonisation. Climate Policy, 22(8), 1033-1049.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 25, 2022
Online Publication Date Aug 9, 2022
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date Nov 4, 2022
Publicly Available Date Nov 8, 2022
Journal Climate Policy
Print ISSN 1469-3062
Electronic ISSN 1752-7457
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 22
Issue 8
Pages 1033-1049
Keywords Atmospheric Science; Environmental Science (miscellaneous); Global and Planetary Change; Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
Public URL
Publisher URL


You might also like

Downloadable Citations