Just Transition at the Intersection of Labour and Climate Justice Movements: Lessons from the Portuguese Climate Jobs Campaign


  • Chrislain Eric Kenfack University of Alberta




In the current context of climate change and its accompanying adverse effects on natural, human and social systems, the imperative of transitioning to low- and preferably post-carbon societies has become a non-negotiable reality if we want to avoid reaching the point of no return in terms of environmental and climate catastrophe. Such a transition requires that the interests and needs of workers and their communities be taken into consideration to make sure they do not bear the heaviest part of the burden in terms of loss of jobs and means of survival, and that they are prepared to face the new, post-carbon labour environment. The concept of Just Transition was coined to describe both the socio-political project put forward by trade unions in response to climate change, and the recognition by climate activists that the livelihoods and security of workers and their communities must be ensured during the transition to a post-carbon society. However, just transition movements are divided between two quite different orientations, which are labelled “affirmative” and “transformative.” On the one hand, affirmative just transition advocates envisage a transition within the current political-economic system. Transformative just transition activists, on the other hand, envisage a post-capitalist transition. This article, drawing upon an extensive case study of the Portuguese climate jobs campaign, goes beyond showing how these orientations shape the positions taken by union and climate activists. The article also analyses how the conflicts and cooperation between these key actors can shed light on the possibilities and/or limitations of just transition as a framework for the collective action needed to achieve rapid, deep decarbonisation of economies in the Global North context.

KEY WORDS: climate change; just transition; labour environmentalism; climate jobs; climate justice; climate activism

Author Biography

Chrislain Eric Kenfack, University of Alberta

Chrislain Eric Kenfack is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. He obtained his PhD in Political Science and Sociology from the University of Coimbra, Portugal, in 2018. His current research focuses on global climate governance, climate justice and climate activism, environmental labour studies, indigenous and faith-based environmentalism in Alberta, social cohesion environmentalism, and just transition