Climate Plan: What is a ‘just transition’ and how does it affect you?

Dr Clare Richardson-Barlow’s work involves examining energy justice and industrial decarbonisation. Here she explains what you need to know about a just transition, a key part of the Climate Plan.

A just transition is a framework for transitioning from a fossil fuel-based economy to a more sustainable low carbon economy in a way that is equitable, inclusive, and fair for everyone who is part of that economy. For the University of Leeds, that includes staff and students, but also anyone on the edge of our community, including companies that we buy products from, our partners and key stakeholders, and the city of Leeds as a whole. 

Within the University, a just transition is a framework for transitioning our operations, activities and infrastructure to a more climate friendly model. Obviously, there are going to be winners and losers in this and a just transition recognises that. Any change has both positive and negative impacts. 

The key in a just transition is ensuring that the costs and benefits are fair and are shared fairly among all the University communities, especially those that are marginalised or haven’t previously had their voices heard.

A just transition for University staff

We recognise that the transition for some will look a little different and be less positive than others. For some areas it will be about restructuring our focus – this will be different for different experts.

For geoscientists this might mean a shifting focus on certain technologies. For social scientists this could be navigating equity and inclusion in new ways. For economists perhaps investigating new business models and emerging markets. 

By prioritising sustainability research and supporting interdisciplinary collaboration we can not only support our just transition goals, but we can better integrate our research and our values. The key is that we are all providing the knowledge, expertise, and innovation needed to develop and implement sustainable approaches, practices and policies that benefit all members of the University community, the education we provide, and the research we conduct.

A just transition for students

Students have concerns that a just transition isn't happening quickly enough and we need to make sure their voices are being heard just as loudly as the experts. Their considerations are also a part of this transition. 

Ensuring that the wellbeing of all the University’s community is prioritised as a part of the just transition means creating policies, programmes and initiatives that supports the student, and wider community while we go through the transition. We also need to incorporate them as equal members of the transition, and that includes their involvement in the decision-making and evaluation process.

 A just transition for the wider community

We need to consider contracts with energy and goods suppliers including how we can mitigate negative economic impacts. We also need to think about local communities that are affected by changes to the University's operations. 

This can involve offering job training and support for workers in transitioning industries, providing support for local businesses that may be affected by changes in our operations, and engaging with local community members to ensure that their voices are heard and their needs are met. A just transition is making sure the negative impacts can be lessened and the positive impacts be strengthened for these communities.

So how are we going to get there? A taskforce for students and staff

A team of internal and external experts from the University’s Priestley Centre looked at the University’s current Climate Plan and made a number of suggestions to ensure a just transition is embedded in the climate plan and across our climate principles. 

One of those recommendations which is currently being considered is the creation of a ‘Just Transition Taskforce’. The remit will be to make sure students, academic staff and professional services staff are all equally included in the decision making, planning and implementation of that transition. Making sure their voices are heard and their needs are met in this process. 

That includes opportunities for education and training and then ensuring that the benefits are distributed evenly, and the negative impacts are distributed evenly. By engaging in meaningful stakeholder engagement, prioritising equity and inclusion, developing a skilled and resilient workforce, promoting environmental justice, and fostering partnerships and collaboration, our University can support a just transition to a more sustainable future. 

A leading example for other universities and institutions

A key part of this, a key part of any just transition, whether it's an institution or a country is that it's holistic and inclusive. It’s difficult because we are still learning how to develop effective climate plans and incorporate justice into our short and long-term goals. This is also a great opportunity for us to be a leader in developing a just transition at the University level. 

We are an internationally recognised Russell Group University, much of our research and grant funding comes from energy and climate initiatives and we have the expertise within our academic community to ensure that a just transition is part of a successful climate plan. We can and will be an example to other institutions both nationally and globally if we get this right.

Watch a video of Dr Clare Richardson-Barlow explaining a just transition and what it means for the University of Leeds.

Read more about Dr Clare Richardson-Barlow and her research.

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