What Is a Just Transition to Climate Resilience?


18 March 2024

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Johannes Klein, from Demos Helsinki, elaborates on the ways Regions4Climate will make sure the social justice and equity are implemented in the transition towards climate resilience.

Our climate is changing. We are experiencing and will experience the impacts of climate change, even if current efforts to mitigate climate change will eventually reduce the extent of change. We need to act now to reduce the impacts on our planet but in doing so some of us will be affected disproportionately in our everyday lives. 

From increasingly frequent extreme weather conditions to unsustainable resource use and management practices, it all threatens our livelihoods, wellbeing, and environment. A transition towards resilience requires that we simultaneously address social inequalities and implement cross-sectoral innovations to build social, economic and environmental resilience to extreme events. 

That is why the EU-funded research project, Regions4Climate, creates and implements innovations combining sociocultural, technological, digital, business, governance, and environmental solutions to reduce the vulnerability of European regions to the impacts of climate change. 

Alongside more than 40 other consortium members in this project that works across 12 demonstration regions, Demos Helsinki works globally with different societal sectors and actors. We are committed to building governance that addresses and enables systemic transformations. With more than 18 years of experience, we specialise in developing new governance models and frameworks at local, regional and national levels to address societal challenges such as the symptoms and causes of the climate crisis – this includes consultancy, capacity building, and research.  

But what is a Just Transition to climate resilience? 

The concept has its origin in the transition towards a future society that is carbon neutral and free of fossil fuels. In reaching this transition, we need to be mindful of the impacts it will have on people when phasing out fossil fuels such as closing power plants that use coal or other fossil fuels. This will often mean that people will potentially lose their jobs. With this comes a lot of social unrest surrounding these climate change mitigation policies and their potential to deepen socio-economic inequalities. 

Also, when building climate resilience, we have to account for potential undesirable consequences and side-effects. For example, you can restore wetlands and marshlands as a suitable way to reduce flood risk or flood hazard, however, if this land has been traditionally used for agriculture, then this can affect the farmers. They may lose their land and their income. This is then a question of distributional justice – who benefits from it and who has to take the burden and how we can mitigate this impact. 

Another example could be urban heat stress. People working indoors and having a place to live can rely on air-conditioning (as long as they can afford it). But people working outdoors or being homeless do not benefit from air conditioning. We need therefore alternative and complementary solutions. Urban planning and green spaces can contribute a lot to better and cooler urban climate. Adjusted working times or appropriate work clothes can help outdoor workers. Homeless can benefit from heat shelters, but even better would be to tackle the root causes of their vulnerability – the homelessness. This means, we have to recognise the different needs of groups, communities and individuals to create just resilience. 

We must choose options that allow people to still make a living, that don’t create new vulnerabilities or increase existing disparities. So, keeping this societal and economic perspective is essential to achieve this. 

We believe that in order to reach this Just Transition and social equity, we need to look at the people that are not only vulnerable to climate change but also vulnerable to the socioeconomic change that is associated with building a more climate-resilient society. Demos Helsinki offers guidance to our fellow regional partners to ensure their actions and their work towards climate resilience in their region takes social justice into account as well. 

We know we need a transformative societal change, and this change can only be achieved if we really work together.