Infosheet | Just Transition: what it is, what it isn’t

Climáximo is a climate justice collective based in Lisbon, Portugal. With the present document, we aim at providing a clarification to “just transition”, a term that started to occupy space in public discussions in reference to the closing down of some facilities and to public investments, without a clear definition. Starting with the history of the term and its evolution, we analyze climate policies as well as recent developments such as the closing down fossil fuel infrastructures. The text concludes with a blueprint for a just transition and energy democracy in Portugal.

In this document:

Historical framework

Just transition, according to who defends it

Just transition, according to neoliberal capitalism

Is a just transition going on in Portugal?

Is any energy transition going on in Portugal?

For a just transition in Portugal

You can download the document as PDF here: Just Transition press briefing Climáximo

Historical framework

The climate crisis is caused by greenhouse gases emitted by a few multinational corporationsi, by the countries of the Global Northii, and by the economic elite within countries as well as internationally,iii while at the same time its impacts are felt first and most strongly by the most vulnerable populations – all of this embedded in a socioeconomic system that prioritizes profit over any other considerations.

In this context, the climate justice movement was launched with a clear intention during COP-13 in Bali in 2007, by the organizations of the Global South, against the technocratic and apolitical framing of the climate crisis.iv In this way, the structural injustices of colonialism, neo-colonialism and capitalism were included in the discussion and the focus started to shift toward the need for a systemic change rather than individualist approaches.

This choice is not merely ethical or political, but pragmatic too: if we want to solve a problem, we should first address its root causes and channel our actions toward where their impacts would be immediate and significant: in our case, toward who has emitted and continues to emit (responsibility) and who has more power to cut their emissions now (capacity). Currently there are diverse tools to identify fair shares of responsibilities for each country and region, such as the Climate Equity Reference Calculator.v

Within the climate justice framework, trade unions developed the “just transition” conceptvi, which incorporates the various social interventions needed to guarantee the rights of the workers and the subsistence of communities when climate policies are being decided upon.vii

The term “just transition” gained major visibility in 2015 and was included in the preamble of the Paris Agreement.viii

Thus, trade unions joined the struggle for climate justice with the aim of strengthening the support of and protection for the working people.


Just transition, according to who defends it

According to the International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC), the just transition will

  • respect the contribution that workers in fossil fuel industries have made to today’s prosperity and provide support, retraining, redeployment and secure pensions for older workers;

  • recognize that investing in community renewal is critical to gain the hope and trust of affected regions and townships whether energy transition, industrial transformation or disaster;

  • ensure investment in the jobs and decent work vital to both adaptation and mitigation; and

  • be based on social dialogue with all relevant parties, collective bargaining with workers and their unions and the monitoring of agreements which are public and legally enforceable,

  • among other demands.

A just transition serves for building up an energy democracy, a concept defined in three pillars, namely to provide an energy sector

  • based on climate science,

  • under public ownership and

  • democratic community management.ix

Therefore, climate justice cannot be achieved without a just transition.


Just transition, according to neoliberal capitalism

The best way to ruin a good idea is to execute it badly.

The fastest way to make sure that a demand for social justice is not fulfilled is to deliver it to market mechanisms and/or to interpret it from a neoliberal capitalist perspective.

In the case of climate crisis, the Kyoto Protocol turned carbon into a commodity, built markets for emissions, emission credits and speculations for those credits, etc., resulting in a 60% increase in global greenhouse gas emissions during the implementation of the protocol. The Paris Agreement drained out the framework even more, basing itself on voluntary non-binding pledges. As was expected, the banks channeled 2.7 trillions dollars to fossil fuel industry since the agreement was signed,x and the emissions continued rising (except in 2020 due to COVID-19).

When millions took to the streets in the climate mobilizations, the governments felt the need to create an image of “everything-under-control.” More than 1500 local governments and 31 countries declared climate emergency.xi Added to this noise, the term “just transition” was also introduced as a buzzword.

The European Commission, the best representative of capitalism in the European Union, prepared a European Green Deal accompanied by the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan,xii which managed to simultaneously hit the targets of

  • a warming of 3.2ºC by 2100 (at least),xiii

  • injection of public money to private energy companies, and

  • an attempt to co-opt the term “just transition” by which the motto “no one will be left behind” is re-interpreted as a justice warranty among the capitalists, guaranteeing public financing for the closing down of fossil fuel facilities without holding the corporations accountable for the costs.xiv

The ruling class’s need to co-opt just transition was expected. Without climate policies, we would reach carbon neutrality by 2075 for purely economic and geological reasons.xv This in itself would mean the collapse of some companies in the following years. The global status quo cannot leave these companies behind, particularly because of the symbiotic relationship between them and the governments and also because these are the exact same companies that exert power over the renewable energy sector.xvi Justly, these companies began to ask for compensation for having destroyed the planet while fully aware of the impacts of their activities for decades.xvii

The key point in this debate is not whether the transition is just or not. The key point is whether there is a transition or not. Despite celebrations of growth in renewable energy, the data show that we are reaching the point of no return of climate chaos.xviii This ambition gap happens due to colossal stranded assetsxix, shares or other financial products that would lose market value if sound climate policies existed: limiting global warming to 2ºC until 2100 implies that 10 trillion dollars of investments would be valueless (in comparison, global GDP in 2017 was 80 trillion dollars).xx Hence, a smooth transition that maintains the global financial apparatus is a technical impossibility. The capitalists know this. The governments too. And exactly for this reason, all transitions within capitalism, labeled just or not, will not only be unjust as they will guarantee climate chaos but will also be non-transitions. More concretely, the bargaining chips delivered to the coal industry in Europe (specifically, in Poland and Germany, but also in Portugal) are not part of an energy transition compatible with climate science, and have absolutely nothing to do with any kind of just transition.

To sum up, the co-opting of the term “just transition” by the neoliberal capitalist discourse is far from complete, and an evidence- and science-based movement will always be ready to reveal the greenwashing of governments and multinationals.


Is a just transition going on in Portugal?

In Portugal, some fossil fuel companies are already in economic difficulties and looking forward to European funds to close down activity. The most well-known examples are the coal power plant of EDP in Sinesxxi and the oil refinery of Galp in Matosinhosxxii, both facilities that remained active due to administrative inertia despite low levels of production. However, TAP and Efafec also fall in the scope of just transition; these were bailed out through nationalization this summer and are currently in a process of “restructuring”xxiii and re-privatization.xxiv

All these are examples of neoliberal opportunism taking advantage of the two crises: the pandemic and the climate emergency.

Returning back to the definition of just transition and considering these cases at hand:

None of the cases had social dialogue or agreement involving workers or workers’ organizations about the closing down, the workers’ rights and their future. After the decision was taken, the workers received news from media and pushed for a post facto negotiation, which not only limits possibilities but also creates mistrust to the process.xxv

In none of the cases were there guarantees of income or employment.xxvi In the best case, the Minister of Environment stated that there would be professional training for the workersxxviiafter they entered unemploymentwhich, as we all know, does not guarantee jobs for anyone and naturally excludes all the precarious subcontracted workforce in those facilities (that is, the majority of the workers).

To make things worse, when there was energy investment – from auctions for solar farms to plans for new hydrogen infrastructurethe government did not integrate a transition of existing polluting facilities toward these projects. (In fact, among the main beneficiaries of these new energy investments we find the same EDP and Galp.) The connection between the closing down of a facility and the opening of another one never existed in the contracts or commitments but only in media campaigns.xxviii

None of the cases increased public control over energy.

None of the cases democratized the energy sector. Not only were the closings managed by the multinationals themselves, the management of the new technologies were further handed to those same corporations.xxix

We would like to underline that a just transition is a series of intentional acts that guarantee social justice while closing down a polluting infrastructure. The economic difficulties that the fossil fuel industries are passing through encourage them to ask for state support. This rush is however dressed up and presented as if these were socially conscious companies taking climate

In summary, framing the recent developments in the fossil fuel industry in Portugal within just transition would be a mere illusion, and under the given circumstances it is more than natural for the workers to approach these “plans” with skepticism and reluctance.


Is any energy transition going on in Portugal?

Well but, the closing down of a refinery or a coal plant isn’t good for the climate? Aren’t thousands of people already dying due to climate chaos and wouldn’t many more suffer if we don’t halt the emissions? Aren’t the environmentalists celebrating each closing down as a step forward? So, isn’t at least some kind of energy transition going on in Portugal, with or without justice and rights?

In Portugal, the only transition in course is a transition to climate chaos. There are two ways to see this: in paper, the pledges for emission cuts guarantee a warming of 3.2ºC; in action, during the Socialist Party government the emissions in Portugal have increased.xxxi The temporary fall in emissions due to the pandemic and economic crisis is being conveniently labeled by the current government as if it was a result of sound climate policies. These kinds of allegations are not new, as the PSD-CDS government also self-attributed the fall in emissions caused by the financial crisis of 2011.

Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC until 2100 relative to pre-industrial levels is not an ethical discussion but a technical one: the latest report of the IPCC shows clearly that crossing the 1.5ºC threshold triggers various positive feedback mechanisms in the earth system. There is a real possibility and a significant probability for the climate crisis to become irreversible and provoke uncontrollable temperature increases. We would like to underline this many times:

1) After falling off a cliff, pulling breaks does not have an effect on reality.

2) The initial velocity of the fall off the cliff is irrelevant after the fall itself.

In the case of climate, winning slowly is the same as losing.

Well but, couldn’t we just continue doing the same thing but more of it? That is, can’t we interpret the recent developments as insufficient steps forward?

Our answer to these questions is negative.

The ideal energy scenario for fossil fuel companies is an energy mix that optimizes profits for all kinds of energy sources, without abandoning fossil fuels. (And that’s why they invest in renewables as well.) The ideal political scenario for fossil fuel companies is one that gives them access to and power over the processes.

This is the worst scenario for the planet, because it diverts the climate crisis toward a discussion on profits.xxxii

This is the scenario in implementation.

On the one hand, the terms of closing are negotiated between the government and the companies (read: the companies inform the government and the government arranges funds for compensation). On the other hand, infrastructures that are key for the energy transition are delivered to the private sector.

It doesn’t make sense to celebrate that we chopped carrots and potatoes for the soup if there is a huge hole on the bottom of the pot.

Our conclusion is: the only real energy transition is a just transition. It will be impossible to stop climate crisis without public control and democratization of the energy sector.


For a just transition in Portugal.

To be extremely clear: if we want to keep our planet habitable, the polluting industries must be dismantled in the following years. The workers of these industries have a right to a life with dignity and a right to decent jobs, which translate into the principles of just transition. However, the companies do not have a right to profit from destroying the physical conditions for civilization, and the workers do not have a right to be part of the production of climate chaos.1 The carbon budget for limiting global warming to 1.5ºC is a necessary condition for just transition.xxxiii

A just transition, the only transition compatible with climate science, implies:

  • public control of the polluting sectors, via nationalizations (in energy, transport and manufacture) and via regulation and planning (in agriculture and construction);

  • democratic management of the energy sector, engaging the workers, the communities affected by the transition and the communities affected by the climate crisis; and

  • prioritizing the well-being and growth of the people and the ecosystems, instead of corporate profits and economic growth.

We identify three main pillars for a just transition in Portugal.

1. Carbon-emitting industries

In the oil refineries, coal power plants, gas power plants, livestock industry, aviation and other facilities that should be dismantled or reduced to minimum, we need:

  • to prepare the workers now, with or without a set date for the closing, starting with – at least – one working day per week for professional training for the next green job, paid by the company and accounted as working hours;xxxiv

  • in the case of closing down, income guarantee paid by the company in question, and job guarantee in a green economy for all the workers, be them under contract or subcontract;xxxv and

  • in the case of urgent intervention (namely, for carbon-intensive facilities, bankruptcies or bailout requests), nationalization with a rapid phase-out plan that provides the measures above, paid by the shareholders.xxxvi

2. Industries key for the transition

The dismantlement of polluting industries can only be guaranteed if it is accompanied by a just transition in key sectors like the railways (urban, national and international), roads (highways, bus companies, transport network companies, car manufacture) and renewable energy technologies, where we need:

  • to free the sector from the profit orientation inflicted by privatizations or public-private partnerships;

  • nationalization of the sectors and a massive public investment plan;xxxvii and

  • an employment program that gives guarantee and priority to all the workers in the carbon-emitting industries.xxxviii

3. Political processes

Finally, taking profit out of the equation and focusing climate policies at the needs of the people and the planet implies doing the same in the political processes. To this end, we need:

  • prevent direct or indirect influence of the fossil fuel companies in decision making processes at nationalxxxix and international levelsxl;

  • engaging the workers and their organizations, communities affected by the transition or by the impacts of the climate crisis, civil society organizations and the scientific community, not only for consultation but also in the decision making; and

  • an economic planning that articulates the various social, political, energetic, nutritional and well-being needs of all the people.

Taking out any one of these pillars would degenerate the process (which in turn causes frustration and mistrust among the population) and create a false sense climate action which sustains the socioeconomic structure that is the root cause of the climate crisis.

1 We cannot defend peace (or life) in the world and at the same time allow the production of nuclear weapons. The nuclear arms factories (all of them) must be shut down, independent of the revenues and jobs they may be contributing to the economy. The red lines of climate justice in defense of human survival are the same as those for nuclear weapons.


i Estas 20 empresas são responsáveis por um terço das emissões de carbono, P3 Público, 9 October 2019,

ii Climate Justice: 5 Inequities of Climate Change Explained, Olivia Giovetti, Concern Worldwide USA, 20 September 2019,

iii Os mais ricos emitem muito mais CO2 do que os mais pobres e em Portugal isso equivale a 33 vezes mais, Expresso, 8 December 2020,

iv See Climate Justice, Wikipedia,

v See Climate Equity Reference Calculator,

vi See Just Transition, Wikipedia,

vii Climate Justice: There are no jobs on a dead planet, International Trade Union Confederation – ITUC,

Just Transition: a report for the OECD, Samantha Smith, Just Transition Centre,

Involving trade unions in climate action to build a just transition, European Trade Union Confederation – ETUC,

viii Paris Agreement, United Nations 2015, page 2,

x Banking on Climate Change 2020: Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card, Oil Change International, 18 March 2020,

xi Climate Emergency Declaration and Mobilisation in Action,

xii See Legislative Train Schedule, European Green Deal, European Parliament,

xiii See for instance: Climate Action Tracker, ;

Warming assessment of the bottom-up Paris Agreement emissions pledges, Robiou du Pont, Y., Meinshausen, M., Nat Commun 9, 4810 (2018). ;

Study: National climate pledges and the resulting Global Warming by 2100 (The Pledged Warming Map), Claus Andersen, Climate Positions, 9 December 2018,

xiv European Brown Old Deal, Sinan Eden, Climáximo, 29 January 2020,

Why the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan is off-topic for the climate justice movement, Sinan Eden, Climáximo, 3 December 2020,

xv Winning Slowly Is The Same As Losing, Bill McKibben, Rolling Stone, 1 December 2017,

xvi The Great Gas Lock-in: Industry lobbying behind the EU push for new gas infrastructure, Belén Balanyá & Pascoe Sabido, Corporate Europe Observatory, October 2017, page 21

xvii Exxon Knew, ;

Shell knew’: oil giant’s 1991 film warned of climate change danger, The Guardian, 28 February 2017,

xviii TUED Working Paper #9: Energy Transition: Are We ‘Winning’?, Sean Sweeney, John Treat, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, January 2017,

xix See Stranded Assets, Carbon Tracker,

xx Europe’s stranded assets: Mapped, Politico, 21 June 2020,

xxi Comunicado: Campanha Empregos para o Clima denuncia transição energética injusta em Sines, Empregos para o Clima, 17 July 2020,

xxii Galp encerra operações em Matosinhos a partir do próximo ano e concentra refinação em Sines, Expresso, 21 December 2020,

xxiii TAP, muito para além dos aviões, João Reis, Jornal Económico, 6 July 2020,

TAP. Reestruturação prevê despedimento de 750 trabalhadores de terra, Noticias ao Minuto, 28 November 2020,

xxiv Governo aprovou caderno de encargos para reprivatizar a Efacec em seis meses, Jornal de Negócios, 10 December 2020,

xxv Fecho da central de Sines preocupa autarca e sindicato, Diário do Alentejo, 19 November 2019,

Refinarias, clima e empregos, João Reis, Jornal Económico, 5 January 2021,

Erros fundamentais, João Camargo, Expresso, 5 January 2021,

xxvi Termoelétrica de Sines. Sindicato alerta para despedimento de 99 trabalhadores indiretos, TSF, 30 December 2020,

xxvii Termoelétrica de Sines: Matos Fernandes garante formação a 400 trabalhadores, Jornal Económico, 23 November 020,

xxviii Hidrogénio: com esta estratégia não se faz descarbonização, João Camargo, Expresso, 5 December 2020,

xxix Comunicado: Climáximo denuncia a Estratégia Nacional para o Hidrogénio como um paliativo à indústria fóssil, Climáximo, 14 June 2020,

xxx A transição energética segundo Matos Fernandes e Galamba, Bianca Castro, P3 Público, 1 January 2021,

Fim da refinaria de Matosinhos e Transição Justa: Avanço ou Recuo?, João Camargo, Expresso, 22 December 2020,

xxxi National Inventory Report 2020, Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente, 15 March 2020,

xxxii During the Socialist Party government, Portugal lost a renewable energy facility, when Moura Fábrica Solar, manufacturer of photovoltaic panels, decided to shut down because – according to their own explanation – they would make more profit in Asia, which left hundreds of qualified and experienced workers in unemployment.

Comunicado: Trabalhadores de Fábrica Painéis Solares pedem nacionalização ao governo, Empregos para o Clima, 11 February 2019,

Campanha defende que Governo deve nacionalizar fábrica que vai fechar em Moura, Diário de Notícias, 29 January 2019,

xxxiv Formação profissional nas renováveis para todos os trabalhadores de combustíveis fósseis, agora!, Sinan Eden, Expresso, 21 April 2020,

xxxv Comunicado: Campanha Empregos Para o Clima defende prioridade aos trabalhadores no encerramento das centrais a carvão, Empregos para o Clima, 30 October 2019,

xxxvi Comunicado: Climáximo exige nacionalização da TAP com um plano social de transição justa para o sector da aviação, Climáximo, 1 July 2020,

A hora certa para a queda da Galp, Inês Teles, Climáximo, 6 April 2020,

A Galp tem de ser nacionalizada, Galp Must Fall, 20 April 2020,

Desmantelar a indústria petrolífera, agora!, Galp Must Fall, 22 April 2020,

xxxvii Sindicato volta a exigir nacionalização da Efacec para por empresa “ao serviço do país”, Jornal Económico, 22 June 2020,

xxxviii Mais emprego, menos emissões: uma ideia doutro planeta? – Diogo Silva, Expresso, 8 January 2021,

xxxix Quem escreveu a Estratégia Nacional para o Hidrogénio?, Sinan Eden, Climáximo, 10 November 2020,

xl See the international campaign for Fossil Free Politics:

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