A Trade Union Guide to Just Transition

The fact that we are experiencing a climate change emergency is now widely recognised. Radical change is needed to tackle it and a ‘just transition’ must be part of the solution. But what does this mean?

In the context of the world of work,  just transition needs to be more than jargon. It needs to be given practical meaning. If we break it down, we can see that the words ‘justice’ and ‘change’ are implied in the term. These words lie at the core of what trade unions do in the workplace. Sometimes the ‘change’ comes from the employer while at other times it will be the union that is seeking change. Regardless of where the initiative comes from the principles of equality and fairness should be central.

A Trade Union Guide to Just Transition Part 1

Two Definitions of Just Transition

Just Transition” describes the transition towards a low‐carbon and climate‐resilient economy that maximises the benefits of climate action while minimising hardships for workers and their communities. Needs will vary in different countries, though some policies must be applied everywhere’

Climate Justice: There are no jobs on a dead planet, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) March 2015

‘To ensure no one is left behind in the zero-carbon transition, governments must pursue an environmental policy agenda that prioritises the stability of communities in vulnerable regions and the well-being of workers across the country. A transition to a zero-carbon economy that is equitable and productive for workers and their communities is a just transition’

Making decarbonisation work for workers, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces, January 2018 


Activity: Read the 2 definitions again. Do they help to explain the meaning of the term just transition? Are there any differences in emphasis between the 2 statements?

5 pillars of Just Transition

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has identified the following policies to give the term a practical implementation:

  1. Social dialogue– Consultation between trade unions, employers, governments and other stakeholders and communities. 
  2. Job Creation –Investments in low‐emission and job-rich sectors and technologies. These investments must be undertaken through due consultation with all those affected, respecting human and labour rights, and decent work principles. 
  3. Research, Training, and Skills – Early assessment of the social and employment impacts of climate policies. Training and skills development, key to supporting the deployment of new technologies and foster industrial change. 
  4. Social protection– A just transition requires a social protection system for workers and their communities most affected by policies to tackle the climate crisis. This includes income and job protection rights, and opportunities for new skills and training. Social protection is also needed to help people deal with the direct impact of climate change, such as floods and droughts. The ITUC has published Role of social protection in a just transition, November 2018 
  5. Community stability – Local economic diversification plans that support decent work and provide community stability in the transition. Communities should not be left on their own to manage the impacts of the transition as this will not lead to a fair distribution of costs and benefit. Read CLIMATE JUSTICE: THERE ARE NO JOBS ON A DEAD PLANET here.

What are the origins of the term ‘Just Transition’?

There are different views on this. In Canada in the 1960s, Larry Sefton, leader of the Steelworkers Union first introduced the concept of ‘labour environmentalism’ in a dispute over uranium mining. In 1999 the Canadian Labour Congress executive endorsed a paper on ‘Just Transition for Workers During Environmental Change’

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union publication Just Transition and Energy Democracy contains this description:

‘The principles of the term just transition are arguably rooted in the Resettlement of Veterans programmes in the United States after the Second World War… It wasn’t until the early 1980’s however that the term just transition began to identify with work and the environment. 

Tony Mazzocchi, a US labour leader in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW)…recognised the link between the protections of workers and the protections of the environment, including its impact on communities. Aligned with environmentalists to end harmful practices in the chemicals and atomic industries, he recognised this would impact on jobs and fought for a “Superfund” as an income and benefit guarantee for workers.’


A Trade Union Guide to Just Transition Part 2

Just Transition in the UK

The history of unions has been one of trying to mitigate the worst impacts of industrialisation and de-industrialisation. The decimation of the coal industry in the 1980s is only one of many cases of change at the expense of workers and their communities. 

One of the first attempts by the trade union movement to develop a plan that went beyond defending the existing production model took place in the 1970’s. In 1976 arms manufacturer, Lucas Aerospace announced redundancies. The Lucas Alternative Corporate Plan was drawn up by the union reps from different unions through a joint committee. It was ultimately unsuccessful but became a shining example of an approach that addressed both preventing redundancies and the production of socially useful products. They designed and tested such things as wind turbines, electric vehicles and kidney machines. We are now at the point in history where unions need that kind of imaginative and pro-active approach. It’s a tragedy that over 40 years later, this remains the only case studywith this scale of ambition. The new Lucas Plan is a trade union initiative to revive the spirit of the original struggle by drawing on the lessons of the past. If you want to find out more there is further information here.

Activity: The Lucas Alternative Corporate Plan 1976 

A documentary is available to download or stream. There is a 30-minute version that can be used to show at meetings or for more information. Find it here.

Why should Just Transition be a trade union priority?

'One Million Climate Jobs Now' banner


Photo: Kirklees Campaign Against Climate Change

We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. Unless greenhouse gases are significantly reduced in the short term, then global warming will have further devastating impacts across the world. The world of work will be fundamentally affected. However, it is also where many of the solutions to the crisis can be found. Consequently, tackling climate change and its effects should be central to what goes on in the workplace.

Despite this, there is no guarantee that the ‘transition’ to a zero-carbon economy will take place. Even if it does happen it may be ‘unjust’ and at the expense of workers and communities. There is a real danger that governments, employers and trade unions will go on record as saying that a just transition to a zero economy is needed but fail to take the level of action required to ensure it happens.

Arguments against Just Transition being a union priority

  • Trades unions need to prioritise the issues that members really care about – pay and working conditions’
  • There is no point in workers in the UK supporting action on climate change when other countries are increasing their greenhouse gas emissions’
  • ‘The issue is so big that unions don’t have the capacity to respond’
  • ‘There is no consensus on how you deal with the problem so how can unions present a united front?’

Activity: Read the statements above.

For each one, identify at least one counter-argument.

Research on Trade Union Just Transition Policies

In 2017, research into the climate policies of 17 major trade unions in the UK was conducted by a Masters degree student, Catherine Hookes. To read the research, facilitated by the Campaign against Climate Change (CACCTU), and titled, Trade Union engagement with climate change in the UK. 

In September 2018, ‘UK Trade Unions engagement with climate change and the need for a ‘just transition,’ a dissertation by Paul Drury, at De Montfort University, was facilitated by the GJA in conjunction with the National Union of Students (NUS) and theirDissertations for Good project. ‘One of the main findings from the interviews related to the need to explain what ‘just transition’ means to grassroots members, and what it will mean for their jobs in the future. There was a desire to make ‘just transition’ real, tangible and meaningful.’

Just Transition as an opportunity to address equality issues

'What's good for the planet is gapped for the economy' Banner


Photo: Adam

The impact of climate change hits disadvantaged groups harder. Moving to a zero-carbon economy will not automatically redress these inequalities. Unions will need to ensure that employer and government strategies have equality at their core. As the TUC has stated

‘a just transition must provide fairness and overcome injustices experienced by all workers, male and female, young and old, black and white, in the global north and south’.


‘Who is included in a Just Transition? Considering social equity in Canada’s shift to a zero-carbon economy’ Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwoodand Zaee Deshpande 


European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC)

The ETUC represents 45 million members from 38 countries. In May 2018 it published a report Involving trade unions in climate action to build a just transition  

The report contains some worrying results:

  • 61% of trade unions’ organisations estimate they do not have, in terms of resources, a sufficient ability to properly participate in discussions linked to decarbonisation strategies.  
  • When asked about the main barriers to trade union’s involvement in the discussions, the lack of priority given to green transition issues is the answer most frequently given. (See bar chart below)


Activity: Watch the ETUC video

Involving Trade Unions in climate action to build a Just Transition (2 minutes)




A Trade Union Guide to Just Transition Part 3

UK Union policies on just transition

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) represents over 5.5 million workers in 48 unions. It has developed resources for union members on climate change including a handbook, published in 2008 entitled  Go Green at Work. 

In the section on ‘Why climate change is a trade union issue’ Frances O’Grady, currently TUC General Secretary, says “It is within our gift, within this generation, to either save or destroy the planet we live on. It all boils down to the choices we make now”.

In 2009 the TUC produced a related workbook called Targeting Climate Change. In the section on ‘Inequalities and Climate Change,’ it refers to just transition and the joint union/government advisory body, the Trade Union Sustainability Advisory Committee (TUSDAC) Policy Group, that met government minsters to provide a union view on environment policy. Following the 2015 General Election, this group was abolished, along with the Green Economy Council that also provided a forum for union views. As a result, there is no longer any joint machinery for dialogue on a just transition with the government at a national level.

Joint work with Environment groups  

In October 2015, ‘Green collar nation: a just transition to a low carbon economy’ was jointly published by the TUC with Greenpeace. This recognised that,

 ‘It has sometimes been the case that the TUC and the environment movement have held differing views on the way the transition should be managed. While we will continue to respect our differences in approach and priority, this report explores where our movements have a shared agenda of managing the costs and reaping the benefits of the move towards a cleaner and stronger economy’ 

The Greener Jobs Alliance (GJA) was set up in 2009 to support joint work between unions and environmental groups, and to promote the principle that there is more that unites than divides us. 

GJA Just Transition Statement

The Greener Jobs Alliance is campaigning to implement United Nations (UN) policy in the UK. It calls on the UK Government to:

  1. incorporate Just Transition principles within the UK’s commitments to implement UN Agreements, including in the UK’s Industrial and Clean Growth strategies. 
  2. legislate for the right to appoint workplace environment representatives to help ensure workers’ views are fairly represented at local level. At company and sector level unions need the right to a voice in the economic restructuring decisions that will take place. 
  3. establish a Just Transition Commission to develop a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead, along the lines of the welcome initiative of the Scottish Government to establish such a body.


Activity: Read the GJA Just Transition Statement, published in March 2018. Do you agree with the 3 main demands? 

Since that date climate change has become a much bigger issue across the political spectrum. What changes, if any, are needed to update the statement to take account of developments since it was published in 2018?

Note: The GJA would appreciate any feedback on this activity. You can send comments on the JT Statement direct to gjacoms@gmail.com

The principle of recognising differences but working together applies to unions themselves, where there are variations in approach. TUC affiliates meet in a union forum called TUSDAC. Policy motions carried at recent TUC conferences have stressed the importance of just transition. The details of these can be found here.

Activity: TUC Just Transition policy motions

Two motions were passed at the 2018 TUC conference. Each has a different emphasis:

Motion 1:

‘Congress congratulates GMB, Prospect, UNISON and Unite for calling a just transition conference to ask members employed in energy precisely what they, their communities and industries want and need from an energy sector of the future and supports the continuation of this important programme of work.  Congress believes that the views of the workers affected, as expressed through these trade unions, should be paramount and central to development of all TUC policies on energy, industrial strategy and climate change, and that the TUC should develop a political and lobbying strategy led by the voices and experiences of energy unions and their members’ (GMB)

Motion 2:

Congress recognises and supports the rights of affiliates to protect their members’ interests in the sectors they represent. However, the threat of climate change to all workers requires that we work in solidarity to repurpose and create new jobs that will wholly decarbonise the economy by 2050. 

Congress calls on the General Council to work with unions to consult affiliates on energy and decarbonisation policy, and to develop strategies to support workers in the transition to a zero-carbon economy and industrial strategy’ (BFAWU)

Do they represent a different approach to just transition? If so, make a note of the main difference(s).

The TUC issued a report entitled A just transition to a greener, fairer economy July 2019, 

It calls for:

  1. A Just Transition Commission: a cross-party national commission including business, consumers and unions to plan a clear and funded path to a low-carbon economy.
  2. Workplace Transition Agreements: to put workers’ voices at the heart of transition plans in every workplace where change is required.
  3. Transition skills funding: so that every worker has access to training in the new skills needed for a low carbon economy, and guaranteed pathways to new work.
  4. Employment standard protections: to ensure new jobs in the low carbon economy are not of lower quality than jobs that are changed or superseded.

Energy Sector Unions

The four big energy unions GMB, Prospect, UNISON and Unite have developed a joint document, ‘Demanding a just transition for energy workers’, which sets out ten demands for decarbonising the energy system while ensuring the fair treatment of workers and communities most affected The demands were agreed by energy workers at a joint union conference in autumn, 2018: 

  1. Training and skills development  
  2. Relocation is fully funded and voluntary
  3. Adapting to the reality of climate change
  4. New jobs with comparable terms and conditions
  5. Secure supply of affordable energy
  6. Influence and a voice over future policy
  7. Taking a long term and sustainable view
  8. Industrially focused and supporting a balanced energy policy
  9. Oversight and ownership
  10. No communities left behind

The full text can be read here

The UK Committee on Climate Change is an independent body appointed under the world’s first Climate Change Act, 2008. In May 2019, it released a report entitled Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming 

The CCC told the government to deliver a Just Transition for workers and their communities:  

‘The Government should ensure that the overall transition is perceived as fair, and that vulnerable workers and consumers are protected. That means Treasury support. It must include analysis at the regional level and for specific industrial sectors. Scotland has already appointed an independent Just Transition Commission. The UK government should do the same.

The UK has failed to carry out its international obligations to implement just transition policies. There is no forum at national level to engage with unions as ‘social partners.’ At regional and sector level trade union membership of industrial strategy bodies is the exception rather than the rule.

A Trade Union Guide to Just Transition Part 4

International policies that support a just transition

Climate change is a global justice issue – because the world’s poorest countries and people who have done least to cause climate change are often faced with its sharpest impacts. Workers around the world are faced with similar challenges. That’s why it’s important to understand the existing international standards that can be used in developing just transition policies. 

United Nations (UN) Policies

There are 3 international protocols linked to Just Transition. The fact that UK governments have agreed these policies gives them even more relevance.

1. The UN Paris Agreement 2015– Every year since 1995 the United Nations has organised a climate change conference (Conference of the Parties (COP). At COP21, held in Paris in December 2015, the agreement referenced just transition for the first time. This followed intense lobbying by the ITUC. The wording in the Annex to the Agreement reads: 

‘Taking into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities’

Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind. Parties should when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.’

This commitment has been signed by the UK government and most other governments around the world. It also commits governments to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, and to continue efforts to maintain it under 1.5 degrees. Countries will have to submit Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) setting out their ambition and how they will achieve it. These will be reviewed every 5 years. This will be done at the UK COP26 conference to be held in the UK in 2020.

The Paris COP Agreement, 2015

2. The UN Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration 2018 – The declaration has been signed by 50 Governments, including the UK, and it outlines 7 measures on Just Transition implementation. These measures are not very specific and the one that calls for procedures to be put in place notes: ‘the importance of a participatory and representative process of social dialogue involving all social partners to promote high employment rates, adequate social protection, labour standards and well-being of workers and their communities, when developing national determined contributions, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies and adaptation planning processes.’

Cop 24 Just Transition Declaration

3. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – The UK Government has also signed up to these UN goals. They set 169 targets in 17 areas that should be achieved by 2030. Of the 17 goals just transition particularly relates to SDG 8 on Decent Work and SDG 13 on Climate Action, even though it is not specifically mentioned among the target indicators.

The UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) has been set up to monitor progress on implementation of the SDGs. https://www.ukssd.co.uk/

Their report ‘Measuring Up’, July 2018,  found out that of 143 relevant targets, ‘the UK is performing well on 24% (green), with 57% where there are gaps in policy coverage or performance is not adequate (amber), and 15% where there is little or no policy in place to address the target or the performance is poor (red).’

The SDG Knowledge Hub has produced a brief, Just Transition in focus, May 2018, that highlights the linkages with the SDGs


Other international organisations

International Labour Organisation (ILO) 

The ILO is the United Nations Agency covering employment. It is a tripartite organisation which means it brings together 3 groups – governments, employers and workers organisations. In 2015 it published Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all

The 9 key policy areas to address environmental, economic and social sustainability simultaneously include: 

  1. Macroeconomic and growth policies 
  2. Industrial and sectoral policies 
  3. Enterprise policies 
  4. Skills development 
  5. Occupational safety and health 
  6. Social protection 
  7. Active labour market policies  
  8. Rights
  9. Social dialogue and tripartism

Activity: ‘Green economies for all’

Watch the short video produced by The ILO (1 min 24 secs) to promote just transition of the workforce.


The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) has published a detailed report Just transition of the workforce, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs, October 2016, 

The UNFCC and the ILO signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2017 to promote decent work and a ‘just transition’ of the workforce. 

These guidelines can be used by unions to support demands for consultation across the 9 ILO policy areas above. However, the ILO and UNFCC documents have no legal status and so the other 2 groups – governments and employers – can ignore them. It is only in the areas of ‘Occupational safety and health, and to a lesser extent, ‘Skills development,’ where union legal rights exist in the UK to require consultation.

For more information about the international dimension you can visit the GJA course Climate Change Awareness, Module 2 – International Responses

At international level the TUC works with a range of bodies including:

International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)

The ITUC represents over 200 million union members worldwide.  In June 2019 the ITUC announced a day of global action on climate change. It called on unions to find out their employers plans to climate-proof their operations and jobs. A Campaign Guide provided resources for the global day of workplace action, including a model letter to send to employers and questions to ask in the meeting.

Activity: Asking your employer

Unions were invited by the ITUC to put 3 questions to their employer

1. Do you measure CO2 emissions? • If yes, can we develop a plan for reducing emissions? 

* If no, can we agree to a process to measure our emissions? 

2. Will we have net-zero emissions by 2050, or have a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030?

3. What will we do to get there?

The ITUC guide contains a model letter (Page 7) that includes the 3 questions. If your employer has not given you any of this information, then adapting the letter and using it could be a good way of starting to find out what your employer has and hasn’t done.

In 2016 the ITUC established a Just Transition Centre.  One of its aims is to record examples of union best practice in tackling climate change. A number of useful resources can be found here.

As well as union resources it has published Just Transition – a Business Guide, May 2018

This contains employer’s case studies and recommendations on social dialogue topics with unions. Unions sometimes have different experiences with some of the multi-nationals referenced. For example, Vestas, the Danish Renewable Energy company, notoriously failed to apply just transition principles to its workforce on the Isle of Wight, when it closed the only factory making wind turbines in the UK in 2009. Read the Guardian article here.


Extract from Just Transition – a Business Guide for employers 

Topics for social dialogue can include: 

  • Developing improved processes, services, knowledge, innovations or new technologies that reduce emissions and waste or promote productivity and resource efficiency. 
  • Analysing and agreeing different options for climate action by the company or its sector, including pathways to net-zero emissions. 
  • Forecasting and finding ways to maximise the positive impacts of company-level climate action on workers and communities, as well as minimising its negative impacts. 
  • Forecasting skills needs and employment opportunities at different levels, and designing appropriate skills training services. 
  • Locally, to design and deliver policies and actions that help to diversify and revive communities and their economies. 
  • Locally and nationally, developing and advocating for government policies that support just transition, particularly for vulnerable workers and communities, and drive job creation, decent work, development and poverty eradication.

(‘Just Transition: A Business Guide from the JT Centre and the B Team)


The consultation process described in the Business Guide for Employers is sometimes referred to as ‘social dialogue’. In other parts of Europe this has a much stronger tradition than in the UK. Unions are often referred to as ‘social partners’ and in a number of countries this relationship is underpinned by industrial relations policy and practice. There is a view that this approach will not be capable of delivering a Just Transition in the timescale required and that unions need a more radical approach that challenges the current economic model if there is to be a social transformation. It is rooted in the slogan ‘system change not climate change’.

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) published Trade Unions and Just Transition: the search for a transformative politics, Working Paper No.11, April 2018, 

The paper contains a detailed analysis of just transition and a critique on the limitations of social dialogue. An alternative view is that social dialogue can contribute to the process of social transformation. The GJA recognises that there are different experiences of social dialogue but it can be an important stage in the process of transforming the world of work. The call for trade union membership of Just Transition agencies reflects this approach.

Activity: Social dialogue v Social Transformation

‘Just Transition in practice will just mean a bit of token consultation without unions having any real say in the decisions that will affect them. For that reason, does it make much difference that the UK government is failing to engage with unions on how it intends to implement its climate change obligations?’ 

Do you think that ‘social dialogue’ is a diversion from the ‘social transformation’ that is needed?

Examples of international trade union action which support a Just Transition


In March 2017, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), won a Just Transition deal for workers at the Hazelwood power station in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria In Australia. When it closed with 5 months’ notice, a deal was negotiated between labour unions, the owner of the power plant and government that provided a smoother transition for the dislocated workers. The agreement resulted in a fund of $15.3 million dollars that assisted 150 workers in their transition. The money was used to provide pay-outs for early retirements, for incentives for employers that hired dislocated workers and skills training. http://www.industriall-union.org/australia-cfmeu-wins-just-transition-for-hazelwood-power-station-workers



In 2017, the United Steel Workers (USW) published a guide Climate Change and Just Transition: What will workers need?’, 2017. It was produced in conjunction with the Adapting Canadian Workplaces (ACW) project. In 2018, the Canadian Labour Congress who have been instrumental in setting up the Task Force on the Just Transition for Canadian Coal-Power Workers and Communities to provide the government with expert advice on how to make that transition a fair one. The Task Force includes representatives with expertise in sustainable development, workforce development, and the electricity sector and representatives from labour associations, unions, and municipalities



Reel News conducted a 14 week tour in 2018 looking at examples of climate action and just transition in the United States. They came across some inspiring examples of trade union and community action  A summary of their videos and speaking tour can be found here. 

New York – The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IFBEW) ‘Transitioning to a 21st century energy system’, July 2019. This White Paper contains forward-looking detailed policy proposals for New York State across the energy sector.


Unions have also successfully negotiated a Labour Agreement for union recognition throughout the supply chain for new offshore wind construction


A Trade Union Guide to Just Transition Part 5

UK Case Studies

The examples below illustrate how unions can intervene at national level

Scottish Unions Influencing National Government Policy

The failure of the UK government to implement policies means that currently, only Scotland has made any formal commitments to implement this part of the Paris agreement.  The establishment of the Just Transition Commission in 2017 is a product of the campaign involving unions and environmental campaigns  https://foe.scot/resource/joint-statement-just-transition/

It held its first meeting in January 2019. https://www.gov.scot/groups/just-transition-commission/

There is an independent Chair and 10 members, with 2 from the trade union movement. The role is to advise the government on 3 Just Transition principles:

  • plan, invest and implement a transition to environmentally and socially sustainable jobs, sectors and economies, building on Scotland’s economic and workforce strengths and potential
  • create opportunities to develop resource efficient and sustainable economic approaches, which help address inequality and poverty
  • design and deliver low carbon investment and infrastructure, and make all possible efforts to create decent, fair and high value work, in a way which does not negatively affect the current workforce and overall economy

Within two years of its inaugural meeting, the Commission will provide a written report to Scottish Ministers that provides practical, realistic, affordable recommendations for action

The recommendations will support Scottish Ministers to take action that will:

  • maximise the economic and social opportunities that the move to a net-zero economy by 2045 offers
  • build on Scotland’s existing strengths and assets
  • understand and mitigate risks that could arise in relation to regional cohesion, equalities, poverty (including fuel poverty), and a sustainable and inclusive labour market.

Trade Union Clean Air Network (TUCAN) – The Greener Jobs Alliance and the Hazards Campaign set up this cross-union group in February 2019. Thirteen unions, representing the bulk of TUC membership have signed up to the Clean Air Charter. One of the demands is,

‘Government and employer clean air strategies will have implications for jobs and employment. The application of Just Transition principles, including consultation and negotiation with appropriate and industry unions, must include full equality impact assessments, to ensure positive and fair outcomes for all workers’



Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU) – is a cross-union group and produced the One Million Climate Jobs booklet, revised in 2014 

This report sets out the potential for job creation across a wide range of sectors and is supported by some national unions.

Activity – 2011 CACCTU Video on the need for climate jobs (10 mins)

Some of the statistics in the video are out of date but it still contains relevant material on how a just transition can be delivered.

Regional policy

The focus on regional strategies requires a union response

Developing a regional plan

Yorkshire and Humber Regional TUC has set up a Low Carbon Task Force to bring together all the key partners in the region to help develop a regional low carbon transition plan: unions, business, Local Enterprise Partnerships and environmental groups.

As part of this project a training programme for union reps across the region was delivered in 2018 and 2019.


Declaring a climate emergency

South West Regional TUC declared a climate emergency in July 2019 and are calling for trade unions to be at the heart of every workplace discussion on how to transform our economy. Speaking on the announcement, Regional Secretary of the TUC South West Nigel Costley said: 

Trade unions are committed to addressing the climate emergency. A greener economy can be a fairer economy too, with new work opportunities and better jobs right across the South West.

It’s vital that we avoid the repeated mistakes seen in the last century, when industrial change devastated communities because workers had no say. From the Cornish mines to the Honda factory closure, we need a plan that everyone can get behind, with workers’ voices at the heart of it.

That’s why we’re calling for a politicians, businesses, consumers and unions to make those plans together, through a Just Transition Commission.”


Advocacy on regional policy strategy

Greater London Authority – GJA members held meetings with the Greater London Authority (GLA) at City Hall in July 2017 to highlight concerns about the lack of a union focus in the Mayor of London’s strategy documents. The Environment Strategy was amended to insert the words ‘Just Transition’ following the GJA submissions during the consultation process. 

‘This transition needs to be just and fair, and consider workers’ jobs and livelihoods, as well as the challenges that businesses, especially SMEs, will face as the economy makes this transition.’ (Page 411, GLA Environment Strategy, 2017

The GJA agreed to work with the Mayor’s team to assist with developing a workplace/ union focus to raise awareness around the implementation of the strategies. Read a report in the GJA Newsletter 12 here.


Industrial Sector policy 

The Governments Industrial Strategy sector councils only have one which contains trade union representation – the Automotive sector. Any sector strategy needs to reflect the impact of climate change policy

Unite – Automotive industry and Air Pollution

The union has highlighted the need for Government proposals on transport and clean air to address the future of the sector.

The government’s clean air strategy needs to be developed ‘hand in glove’ with an industrial strategy that ensures a ‘just transition’ from combustion engines to electric and secures our automotive industry’s world leading status for years to come.’

Read more here.


UNISON – Power to the People

Nationalising the retail arms of the big six energy firms would significantly boost the UK’s bid to become carbon neutral by 2050, says UNISON in a report, ‘Power to the People’ published in June 2019. The report highlights why the supply of energy needs to come into public ownership, not just the generation and distribution, in order to protect both workers and customers.



Local policy – Dealing with employers

It is crucial that unions include just transition in discussions with employers at both national and local level.

GMB and Unite campaign – Scottish off-shore wind sector

BiFab used to manufacture platforms for the offshore oil industry, but now makes platforms for wind turbines. Significantly, the workers said no retraining was required – exactly the same skills were needed – showing how easily they could make a transition in a lot of areas. When the privatised company that ran the yard tried to shut it down and sell it off, the occupation forced the Scottish government to step in with a £15 million loan to keep it open. 

Activity – Watch the video of the dispute (6 mins)

The next challenge has been to ensure that contracts are awarded. The BiFab workers have led a campaign to demand that the work comes to the Fife yards. Instead the contracts have been awarded to companies in Belgium, Spain and the UAE. In 2019 the 2 unions issued this joint statement. 

University and College Union (UCU)

Branches are encouraged to insert additional clauses to accompany the national pay claim. A Further Education branch has submitted a ‘Climate Proofing’ component which states: ‘In view of the climate crisis facing the planet we call on the college to state its commitment to the Environment by:

  • pledging as a Corporation to be carbon neutral by 2030
  • carrying out /commissioning a full expert review of current operations that will result in recommendations and plans to be carbon neutral by 2030. Review to be completed by Christmas 2019. Commit to sharing and working with trade unions on the outcomes of such a review

Action an Environmental Awareness Day be put into college calendar to promote awareness of the issues that we face with all curriculum areas to take part with time for planning and delivery be allocated for staff as part of their global contact/workload.’


Local workplace organisation 

Increasing union capacity will require unions to invest resources in training, resources and policy research and development. The transition will not be just if there is a failure to engage members and local reps

Another world is possible.

Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union

In May 2019, the Bakers’ Union, with 20,000 food industry members, backed Greta Thunberg’s call urging others to join students striking for climate action. ‘Many trade unionists across the trade union movement have been inspired by the action taken in the last few months by young people determined to defend their future. As trade unionists, let’s stand in solidarity and add our voice to the call for climate action,’ the union said. It has also produced an environmental strategy which includes an environmental role for the union’s health and safety reps. https://www.bfawu.org/bfawu_green_statement


Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) 

Has devoted plenty of capacity to this issue. In June 2019 the union declared a climate emergency on behalf of members. It has developed a network of green reps and climate related publications.




Green UNISON Week gives UNISON members the chance to show support for the school climate strikers ahead of their campaign to raise awareness and the school climate strike on 20 September 2019.

The guidance contains 5 key actions that can be taken in the workplace.


Political campaigning

'Green New Deal Now' banner

Photo: Peg Hunter

Around the world there is a growing call for new economic models that have public ownership and just transition at their heart. Jeremy Corbyn in February 2018, pledged on behalf of the Labour Party that “In public hands, under democratic control, workforces and their unions will be the managers of this change, not its casualties” https://labourenergy.org/2018/02/11/corbyn-public-ownership-of-energy-to-fight-climate-change/

In the USA, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been part of the call for the Democratic Party to champion a Green New Deal that “lays out a comprehensive plan that ensures training, investment, and the economic and environmental benefits of the transition prioritise these communities that are most at risk”https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/2/7/1833036/-AOC-The-heart-of-the-Green-New-Deal-is-about-social-justice

Author and activist, Naomi Klein, is an advocate of a Green New Deal thatby connecting the dots between energy, transportation, housing and construction, as well as health care, living wages, a jobs guarantee and the urgent imperative to battle racial and gender injustice, the Green New Deal maps precisely that kind of far-reaching change. ‘Changing the game’, Times Literary Supplement, June 2019 https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/environment-economics-naomi-klein/

'Tell the Truth' Extinction Rebellion banner

Photo: Takver

Local, national and international campaigns – Student climate strikes, Extinction Rebellion, Green Industrial Revolutions and Green New Deals

Trade unions at local and national levels have declared climate emergencies and linked up with climate protests. The National Education Union (NEU) voted in April 2019, to stand in “full solidarity” with those who have been taking part in global protests, and, called for a just transition.  


'Help' banner carried by masked child

Photo: Adam

Education International (the teaching global union federation) issued a statement in March 2019

It concluded by saying’ Education unions stand with the students. We urge governments to make the necessary structural changes for a just transition towards a climate-resilient and low-carbon economy. Climate change is not combatted through the “good behaviour” of consumers. Coordinated and sustained participation of students and workers and their representatives may be the first step towards climate justice. We stand by students in the demand for urgent climate action and a just economic transition’

Some local authorities have also declared climate emergencies following community campaigns. These provide another opportunity for unions to build alliances.

The Labour Party, Green Party, Scottish National Party, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, and Sinn Fein have backed calls for a Green New Deal, and unions will need to ensure that just transition measures are included and applied. The type of campaign needed will depend on the nature of the government in power and their willingness to engage with the trade union movement.


The role of education, training and awareness-raising

The just transition principles outlined in this course have stressed the importance of training and skills development. The UK Government has not provided the necessary focus for this in the curriculum of either schools or tertiary education. Neither have employers effectively dealt with it as part of in-house training programmes. That is why unions are pressing for the implementation of Article 12 of the UN Paris Agreement  ‘Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement’. The Paris Agreement

This course is a contribution to providing these measures. If you would like to apply it to your workplace then please complete the activities that follow.

Next Steps Checklist

Download the Next Steps Checklist here.

Developing a Just Transition plan

Using any notes you have made from this course fill in the downloadable worksheets here.

They cover,

  • Improving the awareness of the workforce of just transition issues
  • Developing branch organisation to progress these issues
  • Influencing union policy at regional and national level
  • Raising just transition issues with your employer


References and further reading

A publication that will prove particularly useful is the Labour Research Department (LRD) Guide ‘Union action on climate change’. Published in September 2019, like this module, it contains more detailed written references that link into this course. It is free to union members whose unions subscribe. Available to order from  http://www.lrdpublications.org.uk/

Another priced publication that gives a detailed assessment of union policy is ‘Workers and trade unions for climate solidarity’ by Paul Hampton 2015, Routledge Price £36.99 https://www.routledge.com/Workers-and-Trade-Unions-for-Climate-Solidarity-Tackling-climate-change/Hampton/p/book/9781138841420

New Economics Foundation (NEF) Working together for a Just Transition’November 2018,  https://neweconomics.org/2018/11/working-together-for-a-just-transition 

‘Trust in transition’ September 2019 sets out a strategy for delivering just transition. https://neweconomics.org/search/publications

Other links referenced in each section of the course are:

1.  The meaning and history of the term just transition 

Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all’ ILO published in 2015. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_emp/—emp_ent/documents/publication/wcms_432859.pdf

Climate Justice: There are no jobs on a dead planet’, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) March 2015 https://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/ituc_frontlines_climate_change_report_en.pdf

Making decarbonisation work for workers’, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces, January 2018  https://policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/making-decarbonization-work-workers

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) publication ‘Just Transition and Energy Democracy’ ’ https://www.pcs.org.uk/resources/green-workplaces/new-pamphlet-just-transition-and-energy-democracy-a-civil-service-trade

The new Lucas Plan is a trade union initiative to revive the spirit of the original struggle by drawing on the lessons of the past. To find out more go to: http://lucasplan.org.uk/story-of-the-lucas-plan/

Greener Jobs Alliance JT Statement https://www.greenerjobsalliance.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/JustTransitionJointStatement-FINAL.pdf

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) – .In 2008 the TUC published a handbook entitled ‘Go Green at Work’ https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/extras/gogreenatwork.pdf 

In 2009 the TUC produced a related workbook called ‘Targeting Climate Change’ https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/tucfiles/tuc_targeting_climate_change.pdf

‘Green collar nation: a just transition to a low carbon economy’, October 2015, was jointly published with Greenpeace https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/green-collar-nation-just-transition-low-carbon-economy

Who is included in a Just Transition? Considering social equity in Canada’s shift to a zero-carbon economy’ Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and Zaee Deshpande, August 2019 


This report is specifically concerned with the question of whether a just transition, as it is currently being pursued at the policy level in Canada, truly achieves justice for all workers by redressing inequities or, at a minimum, by not exacerbating them

2. Current UK union policies and why it should be a priority issue 

TUC Policy motions these can be found at https://www.tuc.org.uk/key-documents-congress-2018

The TUC issued a report entitled ‘A just transition to a greener, fairer economy’ July 2019, https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/A_Just_Transition_To_A_Greener_Fairer_Economy.pdf

‘Demanding a just transition for energy workers’ https://www.unison.org.uk/content/uploads/2019/01/just-transition-to-low-carbon-leaflet.pdf

European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) – In May 2018 it published a report ‘Involving trade unions in climate action to build a just transition’  https://www.etuc.org/en/publication/involving-trade-unions-climate-action-build-just-transition-guide-video

Research on Trade Union Just Transition Policies – In ‘Trade Union engagement with climate change in the UK’, 2017  https://www.cacctu.org.uk/tu_climate_research

‘UK Trade Unions engagement with climate change and the need for a ‘just transition,’ 2018


International and national standards that support a just transition 

The Paris COP Agreement, 2015 https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/10a01.pdf

Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration 2018 – This has been signed off by 50 Governments, including the UK, and outlines 7 measures on Just Transition implementation


The UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) has been set up to monitor progress on implementation of the SDGs. https://www.ukssd.co.uk/

The SDG Knowledge Hub has produced a brief ‘ Just Transition in focus’, May 2018, that highlights the linkages with the SDGs http://sdg.iisd.org/commentary/policy-briefs/ngo-brief-just-transition-in-focus/

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) published ‘Trade Unions and Just Transition: the search for a transformative politics’, Working Paper No.11, April 2018, http://unionsforenergydemocracy.org/resources/tued-publications/tued-working-paper-11-trade-unions-and-just-transition/

ILO Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all’ in 2015. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_emp/—emp_ent/documents/publication/wcms_432859.pdf

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) has published a detailed report ‘Just transition of the workforce, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs’, October 2016, https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2016/tp/07.pdf

The UNFCC and the ILO signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2017 to promote decent work and a ‘just transition’ of the workforce. https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_547216/lang–en/index.htm?shared_from=media-mail

International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) A number of useful resources can be found at https://www.ituc-csi.org/just-transition-centre

As well as union resources it has published ‘Just Transition – a Business Guide’, May 2018 https://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/just_transition_-_a_business_guide.pdf And a campaign guide https://www.ituc-csi.org/cpow-campaign-en

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) published ‘Trade Unions and Just Transition: the search for a transformative politics’, Working Paper No.11, April 2018, http://unionsforenergydemocracy.org/resources/tued-publications/tued-working-paper-11-trade-unions-and-just-transition/

The Committee on Climate Change  ‘Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ https://bit.ly/2IUK9lo

Examples of trade union action on just transition 

Reel News conducted a 14 week tour in 2018 looking at examples of climate action and just transition in the United States. https://reelnews.co.uk/2018/10/10/events/the-climate-change-crisis-an-opportunity-to-transform-our-communities-from-below/

New York – The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IFBEW) ‘Transitioning to a 21st century energy system’, July 2019. https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/QgrcJHsNmtxvBLtPRwmblkBrbqSGSfRPrlv?projector=1&messagePartId=0.1

Australia – The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), March 2017, Just Transition deal.. http://www.industriall-union.org/australia-cfmeu-wins-just-transition-for-hazelwood-power-station-workers

Canada – The United Steel Workers (USW) published a guide Climate Change and Just Transition: What will workers need?’, 2017. It was done in conjunction with the Adapting Canadian Workplaces (ACW)  project.https://adaptingcanadianwork.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/FIN_USW_Climate-Change-and-Just-Transition.pdf

Scottish Unions – A joint campaign with environment groups  https://foe.scot/resource/joint-statement-just-transition/

A Just Transition Commission has been established and held its first meeting in January 2019. https://www.gov.scot/groups/just-transition-commission/

Trade Union Clean Air Network (TUCAN) – Clean Air Charter https://www.greenerjobsalliance.co.uk/air-pollution/

Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU) – is a cross-union group and produced the ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ booklet, revised in 2014  https://www.cacctu.org.uk/climatejobs

Yorkshire and Humber Regional TUC has set up a Low Carbon Task Force. https://www.tuc.org.uk/yorkshire-and-the-humber/news/low-carbon-task-force-yorkshire-and-humber

Greater London Authority Environment Strategy 2017  https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/environment/london-environment-strategy

UNITE  https://unitetheunion.org/news-events/news/2018/may/government-clean-air-plans-need-to-be-developed-hand-in-glove-with-industrial-strategy/

UNISON ‘Power to the people’ 2019 https://www.unison.org.uk/news/2019/06/nationalise-big-six-create-green-army-help-uk-hit-net-zero-says-unison/

GMB Renewable sector supply chains  https://www.gmb.org.uk/news/joint-union-statement-bifab

PCS publications https://www.pcs.org.uk/resources/green-workplaces

UNISON guidance https://www.unison.org.uk/events/green-unison-week/

Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union – Policy statement


Education International (EI) (the teaching global union federation) issued a statement in March 2019



A Trade Union Guide to Just Transition Course Feedback

Try one of our other free online courses
Climate Change Awareness