Skip to content

Explainer: What is a just transition?

Across Canada, communities are already feeling the effects of climate change—from rising food costs, to farmers facing drought, to wildfires and heat waves that put millions in danger. Climate impacts cause big changes in our daily lives. They require us to adapt and build resilience to their increasing frequency and take steps to protect our communities from disaster. But it’s not enough to just learn to live with climate change: we also need to act quickly, and majorly, to limit its destruction.

Many countries are on a tight deadline to offset the worst impacts of the climate crisis by cutting down on carbon emissions and exploring renewable energy sources. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would up its carbon emissions reductions target to 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030. Canada has already committed to achieving net-zero emissions (meaning it will either produce no greenhouse gas emissions, or offset its greenhouse gas emissions through activities that remove greenhouse gases from the air) by 2050.

We know that this transition will bring big changes for all of us—especially those of us who work in industries tied to fossil fuels, or who are already struggling with low incomes, rising costs of living and financial precarity. And while a net-zero transition offers a lot to get excited about, it can also spark fear and uncertainty about what the future holds and whether we’ll have the supports we need to navigate it. As we transition to a net-zero economy, we need to make sure no one is left behind.

A just transition is an approach to decision- and policymaking that aims to secure a prosperous social, economic and environmental future for everyone as we move toward low-carbon solutions. A just transition framework would ensure that net-zero strategies create opportunities for everyone – including Indigenous peoples, racialized people, youth, women and nonbinary people, and people with disabilities – to participate in new jobs, activities and solutions, and that no one loses their livelihoods because of our shift off of fossil fuels. 

This could mean providing re-training programs to those currently working in fossil fuel or high-carbon industries, creating new, decent jobs for all workers in Canada, or providing support on a local level to communities whose economies are undergoing change as a result of net-zero transition. It also means ensuring that any measures we adopt work for frontline communities who bear the brunt of climate change. 

There are plenty of examples of just transition models proposed or active across Canada. For instance, Alberta has established a range of programs and funds to support workers and communities affected by the phase-out of coal, and auto plants in Oakville and Ingersoll, ON are already moving toward electric vehicle production. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has proposed a model called Delivering Community Power that reimagines postal workers as leaders in their communities’ transition to a more just economy—not only delivering mail, but also expanding fresh and affordable food to more areas of Canada, implementing postal banking services, performing elder check-ins along their routes and converting their truck fleet to electric vehicles. You can read about the Delivering Community Power model here. Models like these offer inspiration about the types of big and bold positive change that a just transition framework could lead to.

In July, the Canadian government announced the creation of a Just Transition Advisory Body, where net-zero stakeholders will be able to give feedback on proposed pieces of just transition policy. You can learn more about their current activities at

The Green Resilience Project is interested in what just transition looks like at the local level. What do communities need in order to explore and implement low-carbon solutions that protect their most vulnerable members? What are their unique strengths and assets, and how can they help them implement just transition solutions? What are communities’ fears and anxieties about a net-zero transition, and how can a just transition framework help offset them? We’ll be exploring these questions and more in our community conversations, and sharing our findings along the way.

Interested in learning more about a just transition? Check out these links: