What do we mean by a ‘just transition’ to a sustainable future? A European Environment Agency (EEA) briefing, published today, looks into how a shift to a greener, climate-neutral, circular economy will impact our society and describes how policies must be informed by concepts of justice and fairness if they are to succeed.

Europe’s ambitions are to be achieved through sustainability transitions that require radical changes to how we live and work, especially how we produce and consume. These transitions aim to increase wellbeing for both people and other species, while respecting ecological boundaries and addressing existing injustices linked to environmental degradation and climate change.

The large-scale systemic change required will create winners and losers according to the EEA briefing ‘Delivering justice in sustainability transitions’. To help deal with the negative impacts we must develop a deeper understanding of what ‘justice’ is and how it can be applied to avoid new or worse inequalities for people and nature.

The briefing puts forward a framework to support the development of just and equitable sustainability transition policies that are informed by several types of justice. This includes, for example ‘distributional’ justice, which considers how costs and benefits are shared across our society as well as ‘procedural’ justice, which focuses on how ‘fair’ processes of decision making are.

The briefing notes that while EU policies such as the European Green Deal already set the direction for a more just and equitable transition, understanding of how this can be delivered together with environmental sustainability goals is still lacking. The study says better explanations and recommendations on how to design, put in place and evaluate policies to achieve just sustainability transitions for both society and the environment are needed. It also recommends a broad mix of tools and processes such as public participation, financial support, and job retraining to support change.


The European Green Deal aims to transform the EU into a climate-neutral, circular economy, and a fair and prosperous society, by 2050. The 8th environmental action programme reiterates the EU’s long-term 2050 vision of living well within planetary boundaries. These ambitions are to be achieved through ‘sustainability transitions’ that require radical changes to our core systems of production and consumption — energy, mobility, food, and the built environment — as well as to our established ways of living and working.  

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