A 'just transition' is fundamentally about ensuring fairness and social justice. Derived from the North American labour unions in the 1990s, the phrase described a program of support for workers who lost their jobs due to environmental protection policies. Today, the concept is far broader and speaks to the actions and plans that will ultimately support our industries and future-proof our communities through long-term decarbonisation strategies.
The transition to a zero-carbon society implies that new jobs will emerge, others will disappear and others still will be fundamentally transformed. In the context of the Paris Agreement negotiations, the impacts of these shifts were not left unnoticed. The final Paris Agreement text embedded the need for governments and unions to ensure a just transition for communities.
The closures of Australian coal-fired power stations provides us with a unique opportunity to work with a small, but dynamic, group of workers and implement a series of packages that support both the workers and their communities to find socially fair outcomes. It is an opportunity to look to Germany to the Ruhr Valley to see what socially fair outcomes look like, and to the Appalachia region of the United States, where the waste and failure is palpable. It is a chance for communities, unions, businesses, and governments to test ideas and innovations, to be adaptive and support workers and industry in their transition to a low carbon economy.