AuthorLa Vina, Antonio G.M.


In the last decade, academic and policy research on the concept and application of just transition has surged. Various authors have attributed the increased interest in the topic of just transition to its inclusion in the text of breakthrough global agreements such as the Paris Agreement last 2015, among others. (1) One thing is for sure, just transitions "globalization and diffusion," with all its advantages and consequences, will continue to thrive in the years to come. (2)

Despite being defined in various and conflicting ways, just transition can be understood as referring to "a policy platform that advocates legal and policy responses and planning that recognizes the need for economies to transition to lower carbon economic activity, while at the same time respects the need to promote decent work and a fair distribution of the risks and rewards associated with this transition." (3) In addition, there are two dimensions of just transition: sociotechnical transition and justice and societal change. (4) The former refers to the simultaneous building of more sustainable industries and sunsetting of fossil-fuel pollution and industries, while the latter refers to different concepts of justice that characterize the transition, such as distributive, recognition, participatory, and procedural justice. Related to the latter as well is the concept of social justice, which will be central in the present paper.

Unlike the public policy exclusivity of other definitions, Hess et al. also emphasized the role of civil society in a just transition. (5) For example, the Climate Justice Alliance, a global network of urban and rural frontline communities and organizations, defines just transition as "a vision-led, unifying, and place-based set of principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. [...] The transition itself must be just and equitable; redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations." (6)

As scholars have warned, a concept as broad as just transition has a high chance of dilution and misappropriation of the concept by various parties. (7) For instance, some use of the just transition concept has concerned itself only with "greening" carbon-dependent industries, such as coal or fossil fuel, but not solving the inequitable practices therein. (8)

However, this danger must not become a dead-end for any attempt to rigorously interrogate the conceptual foundations of just transition, including those that involve unconventional reference concepts and experience from the Global South. Instead, these must be actively pursued to further enrich how just transition is understood globally.

Indeed, just transition research lacks substantial contribution from developing countries and vulnerable societies, such as the Philippines. According to Wang and Lu, most studies on just transition are geographically carried out in North America and Europe, with China catching up. (9) Despite this, there are still pockets of studies from various developing countries. For instance, Swilling, Musango, and Wakeford looked at South Africa as a case study on how a just transition, besides sustainability and development issues, is greatly affected by what they called the "sociopolitical regime" that facilitates the transition in developing countries. (10) Other research examined the energy transition in India (11) and coal transition in South Africa (12) by identifying the stakeholders and the government mechanisms and institutions available to affected coal-dependent workers and communities. Further, the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), a national plan for climate action that the Paris Agreement requires from each party thereto, of Latin American countries representing the Global South was analyzed using the principles of just transition. (13)

To contribute to such an effort to be active voices in molding just transition research, this paper particularly examines the concept of social justice as an essential element or ideal end of just transition. While it is generally accepted by scholars that just transition has a variety of meanings, it is often overlooked that social justice, as a component of just transition, itself has birthed different notions.Thus, an essential question is asked: How is the conceptualization--and subsequent operationalization--of just transition affected by differing notions of social justice?

This paper answers this in the following manner. First, the literature on just transition and social justice is reviewed to support the need to make a further inquiry on this topic. Second, the Philippine legal concept of social justice is introduced, including its legal and social significance. The domestic yet broad concept of Philippine social justice is reconciled and bridged to the global yet more thematically specific concept of just transition. Third, to concretize the problem of differing notions of social justice and just transition posed above, the classical and humanistic notions of social justice from Monsod (2014) are mapped within the Just Transition Research Collaborative's analytical framework of framing just transition (2018). Fourth and lastly, both conceptual and policy implications of this papers findings to the discourse on just transition with the end of global action to fight climate change are identified.

This paper bridges the gap not only on the lack of integration of developing countries and vulnerable societies' views by providing a Philippine perspective on just transition, but also on the void of a nuanced understanding of social justice as a necessary component of a just transition.

While it is forwarded by this paper that there must be an integration of developing country insights into the just transition concept, it acknowledges as well that there are inherent limitations for the researchers who initially wrote on the topic to be able to fully integrate all possible points of view. Besides this paper's aim to contribute to the literature, it is really an invitation--as open an invitation as possible--for other scholars to be more proactive in including the developing countries and vulnerable societies. Otherwise stated, this paper is a sound-off that there is significant space for collaboration in pursuing just transition research--even with the most vulnerable.

Just Transition and Social Justice

This section explores the literature on just transition and social justice by looking at how the two are related and used by researchers from different parts of the world. While there may be varying, and even contradicting, points discovered in the course of the literature review, this paper does not intend to reconcile and make a normative judgment which among the conceptualizations is preferable. Instead, what is hoped to be established herein is the undeniable relationship between just transition and social justice and the space for further continuous enrichment of this relationship through the perspective of developing countries and vulnerable societies, such as the Philippines.

Staying true to the history and roots of just transition as a concept, any review must start with the labor movement. Stevis and Felli, in their attempt to show the labor agenda of just transition in unions, made reference to social justice as an integral part of labor environmentalism. (14) In fact, the study said that "no global union federation adheres to a vision of affirmative ecological justice [or the distribution of harms and benefits between humanity and nature without considering justice amongst humans] given its relative disregard for social justice." (15)

Further, Tribaldos and Kortetmaki propose a framework of principles and criteria for just transitions that is "ground[ed]... in established theories of social justice." (16) Although their primary scope is food systems transition as part of climate change mitigation, they expressed the applicability of such a framework to other aspects of sustainable transitions, except for the specific criteria tailored only for the former.

Tribaldos et al.s framework consists of A-level principles informed by fundamental rules of justice, which integrates two justice-related perspectives, namely content-focused analytical lenses from environmental justice literature and "justice for whom?" lenses. (17) It also refers to the capabilities approach forwarded by Sen. These dimensions of justice are organized as follows: (1) distributive justice; (2) cosmopolitan justice; (3) ecology and non-human beings; (4) procedural justice; (5) recognition justice; and (6) capabilities.

It may be observed that some of these dimensions, such as the distributive, procedural, and recognition justice, have been widely used by other studies on just transition, without express reference to social justice. Foremost is Heffron and McCauley's JUST framework, which is aimed to reconcile the energy, environmental, and climate (EEC) discourse on just transition. (18) Wang and Lo's conceptual review of just transition referred to this strand of research as "just transition as an integrated: framework for justice." (19)

Notwithstanding the lack of express reference to social justice, the citation of other justice-related perspectives is sufficient to gauge the extent of justice advanced by a just transition concept or intervention. Moreover, this further supports this paper's point that mere invocation of social justice, or justice in general, in relation to just transition does not automatically translate to an equitable outcome, especially for workers and frontline communities.

At this point, three case studies from developing countries (China, Indonesia, and South Africa) that specifically relate to just transition and social justice are discussed.

Lo explores the tension between domestic environmental governance and social...

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