YHYS Colloquium collected together an interdisciplinary group of researchers to share insights on just transition

News 2020-11-30 at 15:11



The workshop on just transition at the annual Colloquium of the Finnish Society of Environmental Social Science (YHYS) collected together a vast group of social scientists to discuss the inter- and transdisciplinary nature of the concept.

Just transition is by nature a hybrid concept, which has emerged from the need to consider and reflect upon the issues of social and economic justice in the context of sustainability transitions. The Labour Unions have initially brought forward the claim for just transition, emphasising the importance of retaining jobs and smoothing the transition towards low carbon society. These issues are now being addressed also in the Green Deal of the European Union as well as by the Finnish Government. The sustainability transitions research, in turn, has aimed at developing the analytical concepts to study just transition with the help of environmental and climate justice scholarship. Here the classical dimensions of distributional, procedural, recognitive and, increasingly also, restorative justice have received the most attention. The empirical investigations on just transition rely decisively upon inter- and transdisciplinary research.

In the workshop we discussed how the concept of just transition allows us to study the political and ethical issues of sustainability transitions. We heard presentations on the application of the concept to food system (Kaljonen et al.; Kortetmäki; Maluf et al.; Llanque et al.; Puupponen et al.; Kovanen; Härri and Levänen) and energy (Kajoskoski and Laakso) transitions, to policy planning and regulation (Albrecht et al.; Vesala). Several presentations specifically addressed the inter- and transdisciplinary designs (Llanque et al.; Wiman; García-García; Salovaara and Hagolani-Albov). Laruffa et al, and Hirvilammi et al. raised critical discussion on the role of social policy in sustainability transition.

Eco-social policy enables just transition

In the workshop one of the most intensive discussions were held around the social policies. Both Laruffa et al. and Hirvilammi et al. called for their radical re-thinking. They underlined how social policies have increased our wellbeing, but, as a promotor of compound economic growth, this has also come about with environmental degradation. In the light of climate emergency, these current shortcomings of social policy require critical scrutiny. The productivist orientation of welfare state needs to be rethought. Rather than valuing work solely as an economic utility and reducing citizens to mere economic actors, future eco-social welfare states should foster more just and sustainable modes of citizenship. Laruffa et al., from Ireland, suggested that through the introduction of Universal Basic Services augmented by income support people would become capacitated to pursue and combine different modes of citizenship. This change in policy would lead to other forms of activity, including giving care and political and civil participation, being socially recognized alongside work, thereby generating policy outcomes that are environmentally friendly.

It was further discussed if the Nordic countries could be pioneers in eco-welfare states. This because there are not only social, but also environmental policies already in place and people are generally more willing to be regulated by the state. However, Tuuli Hirvilammi et al. underlined that it is important to acknowledge that the high levels of welfare achieved in Nordic welfare states have come about with high consumption levels and consequently with destructive effects to the environment. Therefore, also the need to transform the welfare state is especially acute in the Nordic countries.

Recognition of vulnerable groups calls for transdisciplinary research

Another central theme in the workshop discussion centered around transdisciplinarity and impactful research in just transition. Research on just transition should play its part in getting the voices of marginalized and vulnerable groups heard. First, we need to assess the concept of vulnerability critically and openly, as Kajoskoski and Puupponen et al. highlighted in their presentations on vulnerable groups in energy and food system transition. Llanque et al. shared their experiences from participatory food system mapping, whilst also developing the capabilities for more resilient and transformative local food systems.

In the workshop discussions it was underlined that transdisciplinary research, indeed, can offer better opportunities for the recognition of vulnerable groups in just transition. Llanque et al. stressed that transdisciplinary methodologies such as mapping exercises can encourage genuine participation of local actors who are usually not heard and can establish links between local communities and decision-makers. Interdisciplinary designs are, on the other hand, needed for better systemic understanding of cause-and-effect relationships in transition and its fairness. Wiman elucidated that group model building is a process that integrates researcher perspectives from multiple disciplines, thereby validating the proposed actions with all relevant stockholders. Similarly, Kaljonen et al. highlighted how an interdisciplinary scoping of research questions for low-carbon transition in food systems is important for the further development of just transition research. All these cases highlight the responsibility of researchers in creating research designs that allow the different dimensions to be scrutinized.

We want to thank all the participants from active and lively discussions. The workshop was organized as a collaborative effort between Just food and ORSI projects. Minna Kaljonen, Teea Kortetmäki, Tuuli Hirvilammi and Suvi Huttunen acted as facilitators. Anna Ott synthesized the discussion.

More information

  • Minna Kaljonen, Principal Investigator of Just food project, Research Professor, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, firstname.lastname@syke.fi

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