“Just Transition” is a core principle of forward-looking climate change efforts to advance the decarbonization of the global economy. Just Transition demands that, hand-in-hand with the shuttering of the fossil fuel-based economy, a structured policy agenda ensures that workers who lose jobs or incomes because of the shift away from fossil fuels are economically supported, with expansive aid also flowing into the communities whose economic health was entirely or substantially dependent directly on fossil fuel industries or the industries supporting fossil fuel production. This study advances the proposition that the U.S., and other countries, must embrace a “high bar” Just Transition as a matter of fairness to millions of workers and, as important, as a linchpin to future economic development. Currently, the overwhelming raft of Just Transition proposals fall woefully short of the financial investment needed.
The U.S. is especially poorly positioned to pursue a high bar effort because of three critical weaknesses. First, past Just Transition efforts have failed because of a lack of money to underpin rhetorical policy commitments. Second, Just Transition cannot succeed in the U.S. because of the country’s unique fealty, compared to other advanced economies, to an ideological framework that assumes that when wrenching economic changes take place, it is natural that workers will suffer because that is the way the free market has always operated. Third, the embrace of a free market ideology has led to yawning holes in social safety network benefits that present significant income deficits for workers. A “high bar” Just Transition is not possible without remaking the economic foundations of the country and fixing those long-standing, significant economic structural deficits.
This study examines the challenge by juxtaposing the Biden Administration’s proposals for climate change versus the reality of the needs of a “high bar” Just Transition. The paper ends with a set of recommendations for the Biden Administration that would leave a strong Just Transition legacy to build on.
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