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What is a just energy transition?

RS358745_Solar panels in Gol’Anod
Solar panels installed to support a water pump in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. Petterik Wiggers / Oxfam

It's not just about ending the era of fossil fuels, it's about doing so in a fair way.

The effects of the climate crisis have worsened over the past few decades. As hurricanes become stronger, droughts become more frequent, and global hunger increases, advocates have argued fiercely for the end of fossil fuels.

But a transition away from polluting energy and towards clean, renewable energy must be done in a way that’s fair for everyone. Right now, the people who suffer the worst impacts of the climate crisis are not those most responsible for it. In fact, wealthy polluters around the globe, including billionaires, create the most carbon emissions.

At Oxfam, we fight for a more equal world and push for bold climate action. To avert additional catastrophic climate disasters and protect communities that are most vulnerable to them, we need to stop the use of fossil fuels via a just energy transition. Read on to find out what exactly a just energy transition is, how we should go about it, and why we need one.

What does a just energy transition mean?

A just energy transition is all about defunding fossil fuels in a way that reduces inequality, shifting the costs of climate action onto wealthy polluters while prioritizing economic, racial, and gender justice.

This is done by:

  • Stopping the use of fossil fuels and utilizing renewable energy sources, while ensuring that efforts to scale up renewable energy production do not replicate the harms of the minerals, oil, and gas sectors—like taking land from people without consent and unjust compensation

  • Championing climate solutions from communities of color, environmental and human rights defenders, and women’s rights groups that have intimate knowledge of the environment and the devastating impacts of climate change

  • Lifting up the voices of Indigenous People and women land defenders so that U.S. policymakers better understand the impacts of fossil fuel extraction and industrial food production on the climate and human rights

Stopping climate change from getting worse is one thing, but it’s not enough on its own. If we truly want to improve the world, we need to reduce climate change in a way that is fair.

How do we transition away from fossil fuels fairly?

Transitioning away from fossil fuels will require the passage of new policies, an expanded job sector, and wealthy polluters financially supporting bold climate action, all of which can help reduce inequality.

Here’s how we can do it:

  • Fairly taxing high-emitting corporations and billionaires to help pay for the transition to renewable energy

  • Holding rich, high-emitting countries accountable for their promise in the 2015 Paris Agreement to support lower-income countries with funding for climate action

  • Giving everyone living in poverty a minimum daily income while still reducing global emissions by 10 percent through a global redistribution of incomes

  • Expanding environmental protection laws that put the well-being of communities over the profits of energy companies

  • Making clean energy solutions affordable

  • Achieving universal energy access by investing in the distribution of energy solutions and improved energy utilities

Climate activist and Oxfam partner Marinel Ubaldo spoke with Oxfam about the importance of climate action for countries that are the most vulnerable to climate change, saying, “these big polluters have [a] responsibility to make sure that these communities can go back to their lives after a disaster has happened.” Fairly moving away from fossil fuels will hold major polluters accountable and support the lives of millions of people around the world who are impacted by devastating climate events.

What are some examples of why we need a just energy transition?

Fishing boats in the shadow of a cement factory in Bargny, Senegal. Andrew Bogrand/Oxfam

Communities around the world that have very little impact on climate change are suffering from the effects of it right now. A just energy transition is necessary to provide them with the protections they need for the problems they did not cause.

  • Coast of Senegal: Local communities and their fishing industries are being threatened by climate-induced coastal erosion and pollution caused by international fossil fuel companies. These companies use the coastal region for offshore oil and gas extraction, storing mineral exports, and a coal-burning power plant.

  • Somalia: Years of climate change-induced drought have given way to sudden flooding. Over 1.24 million people have been affected by the floods, 456,800 people have been displaced, and 50 killed, yet Somalia is responsible for less than 1 percent of the world’s carbon emissions.

  • Guatemala: International mineral mining companies devastate the land of many Indigenous communities across the country, negatively impacting the health and safety of local communities. These mines threaten their water sources and cause mass deforestation that increase the likelihood of drought conditions.


A just energy transition defunds fossil fuels and facilitates a transition to clean renewable energy while supporting those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The goal of Oxfam’s climate advocacy has always been to leave no one behind. Whether that’s by closing the economic gap or creating jobs that pay livable wages, a just energy transition can only be achieved if the most vulnerable communities face little negative impacts and do not bear the costs of climate action.

To help achieve a just energy transition, sign our petition demanding the Biden administration take action now! Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+