map highlighting Africa in green representing climate change

Just Transition

With COP27 being hosted in Egypt in November 2022, more focus is due on African (and Global Southern in general) issues pertaining to climate change, and in particular climate justice and just transition to a net-zero emissions.

Africa’s contribution to the greenhouse gas emissions is minuscule, yet it suffers disproportionately from the consequences of global warming. Vulnerable communities and individuals (particularly in the Global South) face higher risks associated with climate change and degradation of the environment. Add to this, many African countries are trapped in fossil fuel economic opportunities to derive growth and development, accordingly, new alternatives must be created to shift away from fossil fuel. 

It is argued that developed countries must bear greater burdens in resolving issues related to climate change, as they are the main responsible ones for the problem, and the main beneficiaries, economically, from the GHG accumulation.

The transition to a net-zero emissions means a fundamental change of the current extractive and fossil fuel–based growth model to a more regenerative and sustainable economy. This transition will have drastic effects on work, livelihoods, business, and society. Just transition is about balancing the socioeconomic and environmental consideration in response to climate change.  

What is just transition? To quote D. McCauley and R. Heffron, just transition: Integrating climate, energy and environmental justice, Energy Policy 119 (2018) 1–7: “The just transition is defined here as ‘a fair and equitable process of moving towards a post-carbon society. This process must seek fairness and equity with regard to the major global justice concerns such as (but not limited to) ethnicity, income, and gender within both developed and developing contexts. By its very nature, this transition must take place at a global scale, while connecting effectively with multi-scalar realities. It involves the development of principles, tools, and agreements that ensure both a fair and equitable transition for all individuals and communities.”

All transition efforts towards zero emissions should respect issues of justice and equity for marginalized and vulnerable groups, such as the poor, the disabled, and the marginalized. The cost and benefits of the transition should be fairly distributed, and adequate support, such as reskilling of workers, should be provided to enable adaptation. Furthermore, the concept of “just” should extend to future generations that may be affected by disruptions caused by this transition.

Achieving meaningful just transition would require a holistic total-ecosystem view since sustainability, justice, equity, and resilience are all interconnected and are systemic issues. We cannot avoid talking about disability. It should encompass public policies, responsible business activities and effective civil society interventions to deal with the impacts of the transition to a sustainable ecosystem.

African universities can play a crucial role in enabling and supporting this just transition. AUC Climate Initiative embodies AUC’s efforts in supporting the mitigation of, and the adaptation to, climate change in Egypt and Africa. The initiative seeks to identify means to achieve this just transition through the teaching, research and community engagement activities at the university. A much important aspect of the initiative is to support and enhance dialogues and collaborations between different disciplines within the university, and between the university and other concerned entities, to support the just transition.

Examples of research activities at AUC addressing the issues of just transition are research on the decent work, migrants, water/food nexus, and finance and economics of the just transition. In the 2022 Business Forum of the School of Business at AUC, a roundtable discussion was held on Just Transition for Africa and the Role of Schools of Business in this regard. One of the Tahrir Dialogues, organized by the AUC School of Global Administration and Public Policy discussed COP27 from an African Perspective, and in its webinar series, the Gerhard Center for Philanthropy, Civic Engagement, and Responsible Business hosted numerous speakers on the topics of finance for just transition, and the role of community science as a vehicle for just transition and climate justice.


Ali Awni

Professor of Practice and Director, The John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy, Civic Engagement and Responsible Business

Check Profile

Stones on top of each other in the water

Balancing the Scales

As major flooding wracks Pakistan, droughts choke much of East Africa and wildfires raze Australia, it is becoming clear that the consequences of climate change are not distributed equally across the globe. Industrialized countries in the Global North, particularly those with strong colonial histories, have the worst carbon emission records. Yet it is the Global South, with relatively lower emissions, that is bearing the brunt of the resulting environmental catastrophes. 

Read More