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Lessons learned: Just transitions from around the world



Written in collaboration with IPPR.

From #BuildBackBetter and Black Lives Matter to net zero – 2020 has been characterised by calls for a better and more sustainable future. Transition narratives have dominated much of the public conversation, with Covid-19 shifting our thinking on what a good, dignified, decent life is. This paper explores how we can better design public policy to support a rapid and fair transition to net zero and the restoration of nature. The paper first establishes a definition of a ‘just transition’ and briefly reviews the opportunities of achieving one for the UK, emphasising the need to learn from our history of poorly managed transitions. The paper then details four case studies – from Germany, from Gothenburg, Sweden, and Pittsburgh, US, together, from Alberta, Canada, and from here in the UK – originating from a roundtable series held throughout 2020 exploring examples of just transition from around the world. The purpose of the roundtables was to learn lessons and hear insights for the UK, sharing what worked and what did not.

Our analysis in this paper combines our own contextual research with the commonly held views and conclusions highlighted by participants at the original roundtables.

Overall, we establish four core learnings for the UK deriving from our four case studies:

  • Development of a positive vision: Plans need to journey towards something positive, not just away from something negative. There must be a desirable future that feels like progress which workers, communities and the public can buy into.
  • Engagement: Engage with the workers and communities who are affected: A just transition must be something workers and communities feel as if they have a stake in; something that is done ‘with’ and ‘by’ them rather than ‘to’ and ‘for’ them.
  • Co-design and co-production: Governments, businesses, workers and unions, civil society and local communities need to co-design and co-produce transition plans. Coordination between stakeholders is crucial to make sure that everyone’s goals are aligned.
  • Funding isn’t everything, but it is essential: Substantial funding is not a sufficient condition but it is necessary for a just transition. Plans, targets, engagement and collaboration are essential but will go nowhere without meaningful funding to enact them.

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