Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Kate Zerrenner headshot

Climate Justice Alliance Answers This Question: What Does a Just Transition Really Mean?

How does a just transition become meaningful, accountable — and not only something to tick off on a spreadsheet? We asked the Climate Justice Alliance.
By Kate Zerrenner
Just Transition

Naundero, Pakistan, during another spate of flooding

Coming off the heels of the COP27 climate negotiations in Sharm El-Sheihk, Egypt in November, there is renewed interest — and some action — in a just transition. But what does it mean to build a strong bench of stakeholders to ensure that the transition is actually including the input of the people at the center? How does it become a meaningful and accountable transition and not only something to tick off on a spreadsheet?

The work of the Climate Justice Alliance

The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) is trying to ensure a just transition is a real transition for the people on the front lines — namely Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. The Alliance is made of nearly 90 members of urban and rural frontline community organizations and networks throughout the U.S. and its territories. 

Ozawa Bineshi Albert, Co-Executive Director of CJA, says they define a just transition as “the process of moving away from our current fossil fuel-based economy to a more regenerative one that is good for all people and Mother Earth. Just transitions are grounded in local communities and may look different depending on the people and place, but these strategies work to transition entire communities to build thriving economies that provide dignified, productive and ecologically sustainable livelihoods, democratic governance and ecological resilience. We often say: we don’t want just a transition, we want a just transition.”

With that in mind, CJA is working on two strategies—among others—to ensure a just transition: building a bench of Black climate leaders and working with philanthropic leaders to direct funding where it is most needed. 

Building a bench for climate justice leadership

Bineshi Albert makes clear the connection between climate justice and racial justice. The group has launched CJA’s Black Caucus, composed of their members around the country. Through the Caucus, Bineshi Albert said, “we remind many in the larger climate and environmental movement that Black communities have always been at the center of climate justice. In fact, the Black environmental justice movement helped birth the climate justice movement of today.” She further noted that many in the Black community are themselves part of frontline communities. “The Black community has long had to deal with a disproportionate amount of pollution, toxins, red-lining and racially motivated discrimination for centuries,” she noted.

CJA’s aim is to make sure there is space for Black leadership in organizing, advocacy, and development. Bineshi Albert notes that mainly white and privileged environmental organizations have long dominated both in media coverage and in policy while not doing the hard work to ensure effective climate justice solutions. “We aim to change that dynamic in part by bringing more Black, frontline leaders and their vision to spaces that our communities are often excluded from.” As an example, CJA sent their leadership and allies to COP27 as part of a 60-member coalition to keep the just transition front and center and are active participants in NYC Climate Week. In these spaces, they make clear where they feel the just transition continues to fall short of its aims

Philanthropy and its role in securing a just transition

One of the challenges that just transition advocates face is funding. Traditionally, philanthropy has been geared toward the bigger environmental organizations, which often sit in the white, privileged space Bineshi Albert noted. “Over 92 percent of the money held by charitable foundations—over $1.2 trillion dollars—doesn’t go to solving our current interconnected economic, racial and climate crises,” Bineshi Albert told TriplePundit. “The vast majority of it is invested in Wall Street, where business as usual fuels poverty and pollution for the sake of profit.”

But Bineshi Albert feels now is the time to realign philanthropic activities with their investment strategies. “Divesting from our current extractive system and reinvesting wealth back into communities who are building regenerative, just transition projects is a good place to start,” she said. “Direct investments with no strings attached to support local, community-controlled climate solutions that leave no one behind, already exist and are successful today” and are critical to ensuring climate solutions are fair and just solutions. 

Moving forward on climate action that works for everyone

Frustrations run high as, year after year, the needle barely seems to move. But Binsehi Albert sees the solution in the same frontline communities. “Black, Brown, Indigenous, and rural and urban frontline communities have been forging [the solutions] for over 500 years, not just a few decades, because we have had to do so in order to survive.”

The resilience of these communities is their strength and can provide the will and knowledge to ensure that climate solutions are equitable and inclusive with an additional aim of correcting past harm. “Transitioning from extractive models of operating to more regenerative ones is exactly what will ensure long-lasting solutions that take a systems change approach, ensuring justice for people and the planet prevail,” Bineshi Albert noted. 

Finally, Bineshi Albert pointed to the fact that the hardest hit cannot be left out of the conversation. “We can’t continue to rely on those who created the climate crisis to fix it,” she said. “So we continue to show up whether that be in local communities who are making just transitions real on the ground or at global governmental spaces that set future policy. The inclusion of frontline wisdom and policies in practice and in place of lip service to environmental justice communities is in order at this critical moment in humanity’s history.” It is the only way to ensure we facilitate a just transition, rather than only a transition.

Image credit: Jamal Dawoodpoto via Unsplash

Kate Zerrenner headshot

Kate is a writer and policy wonk, with a focus on water, clean energy, climate change and environmental security. She spent over a decade running energy-water nexus and energy efficiency programs at Environmental Defense Fund as well as time at the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, U.S. Government Accountability Office, and state and federal legislatures. She serves as an Advisory Board member of CleanTX, which aims to accelerate the growth of the clean tech industry in Texas.

Read more stories by Kate Zerrenner