14. September 2022How mapping injustices can help advancing a just transition

With a regional stakeholder group in the Rhenish Mining area, the CINTRAN research group tested an injustice mapping framework that can be used as a tool for evaluating the performance of just transition instruments. In this blogpost we present the framework, interim results of the mapping and discuss the possible role of such a mapping on the regional level for designing just transition instruments.

A conceptualisation of just transition beyond the employment perspective

There is no single, universally accepted approach or definition of the term ‘just transition’ to date. This applies especially to the ‘just’ part of the transition: while economic and climate change mitigation measures can be measured against economic performance indicators and CO2-emission equivalents, social justice criteria are harder to quantify and less well-established. A closer look at concrete anticipated injustices instead of abstract justice goals may be a pragmatic first step to advance on the question of what kind of just transition is actually aimed for.

Informed by critical theory literature (e.g. Iris M. Young’s Justice and Politics of Difference) and system theories of sustainability transitions, scholars in the field of energy justice, environmental justice, and climate justice have recently developed several frameworks to expand the analytical scope of just transition in a more holistic, multi-dimensional way.


An injustice framework to enhance just transition on a regional level

One of these frameworks has been developed by our CINTRAN scholars Kanger and Sovacool, who conceptualised a way to assess (energy) injustices along multiple spatial scales (regional, national, international) as well as different time horizons (currently experienced, in-between injustices, anticipated future injustices). For coal and carbon-intensive regions in transition, the spatial distinction between injustices on a global, national and regional level provides an opportunity to explore specifically local injustices (and connected national and global injustices that might affect the local level as well).

With such an injustice mapping that both makes spatial differences explicit and provides a more holistic view on injustices due to its inherent intergenerational justice dimension, regions may gain a better understanding about

  1. a) which existing injustices a just transition should fix,
  2. b) which perceived future injustices may occur on the way and
  3. c) may appear in a decarbonised region.

Such a mapping, in turn, can inform policy making to advance its planning towards more effective just transition instruments that take such holistic justice concerns into account.


Dimensions of justice in a just transition context

  • Procedural justice: Affected parties are meaningfully and continually consulted;
  • Distributive justice: Sharing costs and benefits of the transition fairly and equitably;
  • Recognitional justice: Recognizing that not all members of society are equally valued in current socio-cultural, economic, and political arrangements, and that climate change and transitional policies threaten to exacerbate existing inequalities along gender, class, and ethnic/racial lines; and
  • Restorative justice: Redressing past harm, e.g. compensation, or reducing the likelihood of future harm through, for example, implementing transition frameworks for workers from polluting industries or compensating low-lying island states.

(Abram et al. 2022)


To explore whether such an injustice mapping is applicable for actors at the regional level, we used the opportunity of a stakeholder workshop in June 2022 to test and adapt the framework with a stakeholder group in the Rhenish mining area to explore estimated current and future injustices with a focus on the regional level. The stakeholder group consisted of 15 people from a range of civil society organisations, unions and research institutions, all working in some way in the field of structural change and sustainability transitions in the Rhenish Mining area.

The participants were invited to collectively brainstorm about injustices that affect the Rhenish mining area. In three groups, the stakeholders discussed and noted down their anticipated injustices for each time dimension separately. As a preparation for the exercise, we informed the group about three dimensions of justice (procedural justice, distributive justice and restorative justice, see box) as a way to enable the group to think about injustices in a more holistic way. A clustered overview of the results is shown in table 1.


Table 1: Injustices Mapping Framework. Clustered results from stakeholder workshop in the Rhenish mining area 

(Framework based on Kanger/Sovacool)


Procedural justice of concern today, distributive injustices expected for the future

A majority of the injustices mentioned in the workshop, less surprisingly, refer to a distributive perspective of justice, raising the question of who pays and who benefits during the transition. Participants mentioned injustices that relate to distributional elements on multiple levels, e.g., regarding issues of land use and (energy) ownership, but also regarding regional job distribution, effects of transition measures on property values, and distribution of restorative costs of mining land. Also, questions of procedural justice are mentioned, mainly on a regional scale, as well as some injustices related to the recognitional and restorative dimensions of justice.

While these results are far from providing a complete overview of all relevant injustices in the Rhenish mining area (which are rather impossible to map anyway), it shows that even through such a limited exercise, the method of collaborative mapping of injustices provides a diverse data input on different levels and scales. Furthermore, the results can be connected to both abstract and practical problems, underlining the complexity and interconnectivity of social justice issues. Accordingly, this first test encourages us to further research opportunities to use injustice mappings as a backdrop for regional transition planning.


Justice issues remain hard to operationalise

Nevertheless, the mapping exercise also revealed some downsides of the application of the framework in practice. For example, during the workshop we recognised that the participants had problems categorising their injustices within the dimensions or scales of the framework. While conceptually helpful, for the application in practice a less structured injustice mapping arena may therefore be more appropriate, providing the space for an open brainstorming while adding the scales and dimensions later during the exercise can then give the necessary structure to think in more holisitic way about injustices.

Another learning stems from the observation that the participants broadly mentioned “uncertainty” as an injustice itself regarding future development pathways. This exemplifies a possible struggle when focusing on injustices: As hardly being an objective criterion, there will be an ongoing debate about what can be considered as an actual injustice and what is rather an inconvenience or side-effect of the transition. Justice issues remain hard to operationalise – but a focus on injustice, framed by multi-scalar and multi-dimensional categories may be a first step towards a more applicable holistic concept of just transition.


Outlook: An evaluation tool for just transition instruments 

Based on the results of the mapping, CINTRAN scholars will work further on the question of how just transition concepts can be operationalised in practice. One of the goals is to develop a tool that enables practitioners in coal, peat and oil shale regions in Europe to assess regional instrument mixes that aim to explicitly and implicitly support a just transition towards a climate neutral economy and society. The evaluation tool should thereby enable practitioners to identify successes and obstacles in developing regional transition efforts and identify potential gaps in consistency and integration.


© The blog text is licenced under CC BY. Figures are excluded from this license.


Jannis Beutel
Junior Researcher | Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy
Future Energy and Industry Systems Division



Christof Arens

Senior Researcher | Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy
Energy, Transport, and Climate Policy Division

The CINTRAN project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 884539. The sole responsibility for the content of this website lies with the authors and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of CINEA or other EU agencies or bodies.