Your browser is no longer supported. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

“Is this just about me losing my job?” Opportunities and challenges of building support for a just transition

By Chris Shaw on September 18, 2019

Edson, AB-20101219-Floorhand Bradley Verhey putting away a tong on the Stoneham Drilling Rig #8 while pulling the pipes out of the ground.

Many people’s jobs will be impacted by the need to meet the UK’s net zero target. These changes will be felt far beyond people directly employed in the extraction and refining of fossil fuels. Energy-intensive industries and sectors such as farming and transport will be particularly affected.

The challenge then is how to talk about these changes without it sounding like a threat to people who work in these industries.

The concept of a ‘just transition’ – where workers and communities affected by the move to a low-carbon economy are supported through a managed transition into different roles – has become an increasingly prominent way of addressing these concerns. But just transition is a phrase rarely used outside the political and technical literature, or by the people who are likely to be most closely involved and affected.

Communicating about just transition, for example, means accounting for the symbolic as well as the material necessities provided by work. Whilst anxieties about loss of income are of course high on the list of concerns, when it comes to communicating just transition it is important to recognise that work is also about identity. Effective communications means participating in a dialogue based on mutual respect and understanding of the needs of the audience, and what change will mean for people’s lives.

Climate Outreach’s new report provides guidance on how best to communicate just transition with people who work in energy-intensive industries and the communities they support.

It synthesises a rapid literature review, the results of interviews with union leaders – led by the New Economics Foundation – and existing Climate Outreach knowledge on climate communications and experience of engaging with different communities on this topic.

This report is exploratory, as to date no work has been done to test just transition narratives with different audiences. But its guidance offers important advice for anyone involved in communicating just transition.

It includes 10 points of communication guidance, including the three below:

  • The imagery and language used in just transition communication needs to draw on the identity of the audience.
  • Simplistic, utopian statements about a shift to a world of green jobs are unlikely to go down well with non-left audiences. In contrast, honesty about the nature of the challenge is likely to be far more effective.
  • It is important to recognise that workers in extractive industries often work under dirty and dangerous conditions, and have done so for all of our benefit. Messages should stress that the people of the UK are grateful for the benefits and prosperity created by their hard work.

While much more research is needed to develop a coherent and effective just transition communications strategy, the findings in this report provide a strong steer for everyone involved in building support for a just transition.

Reports & guides

Reports & guides

Broadening engagement with just transition

By Dr Christopher Shaw

Chris has been with Climate Outreach’s research team since 2015. In that role, he has been focused on ensuring climate communication practice is informed by a robust and up-to-date evidence base, combining new research with the existing literature to provide communicators with accessible resources to support their work. Chris’s work has been driven by a belief that successful climate policies are those policies that are shaped by the voices, concerns and aspirations of the people who live their lives outside of the policy and campaigning bubble. Chris completed his doctoral thesis as a mature student in 2011 at the University of Sussex, on the communication of climate risk, a theme he continues to publish on. 

In his previous lives Chris worked as a Geography teacher and then in marketing, always with the ultimate aim of learning how to engage people with climate change risks. Between completing his doctoral studies and starting work at Climate Outreach, Chris held research posts at the University of Sussex and the University of Oxford. Outside of office hours Chris can normally be found either smashing his tennis racket on the ground in frustration at yet another defeat, or wandering aimlessly on the South Downs and blaming inaccurate Ordnance Survey maps for being lost.

Leave a reply

Sign up to our newsletter