Terms and definitions on affordable and sustainable housing *

Just Transition

Area: Policy and financing

Justice theory is as old as philosophical thought itself, but the contemporary debate often departs from the Rawlsian understanding of justice (Velasquez, Andre, Shanks, & Meyer, 1990). Rawls (1971) argued that societal harmony depends on the extent to which community members believe their political institutions treat them justly. His First Principle of ‘justice as fairness’ relates to equal provision of ‘basic liberties’ to the population. His Second Principle, later referred to as the ‘Difference Principle’, comprises unequal distribution of social and economic goods to the extent that it benefits “the least advantaged” (Rawls, 1971, p. 266).1[1] As this notion added an egalitarian perspective to Rawlsian justice theory, it turned out to be the most controversial element of his work (Estlund, 1996). The idea of a ‘just transition’ was built on these foundations by McCauley and Heffron (2018), who developed an integrated framework overarching the ‘environmental justice’, ‘climate justice’ and ‘energy justice’ scholarships. The term was first used by trade unions warning for mass redundancies in carbon-intensive industries due to climate policies (Hennebert & Bourque, 2011), but has acquired numerous interpretations since. This is because the major transition of the 21st century, the shift towards a low-carbon society, will be accompanied by large disturbances in the existing social order. In this context, a just transition would ensure equity and justice for those whose livelihoods are most affected (Newell & Mulvaney, 2013). A just transition implies that the ‘least advantaged’ in society are seen, heard, and compensated, which corresponds with three key dimensions conceptualised by Schlosberg (2004): distributive, recognitional, and procedural justice. Distributive justice corresponds with Rawls’ Difference Principle and comprehends the just allocation of burdens and benefits among stakeholders, ranging from money to risks to capabilities. Recognitional justice is both a condition of justice, as distributive injustice mainly emanates from lacking recognition of different starting positions, as well as a stand-alone component of justice, which includes culturally or symbolically rooted patterns of inequity in representation, interpretation, and communication (Young, 1990). Fraser (1997) stressed the distinction between three forms: cultural domination, nonrecognition (or ‘invisibility’), and disrespect (or ‘stereotyping’). Procedural justice emphasises the importance of engaging various stakeholders – especially the ‘least advantaged’ – in governance, as diversity of perspectives allows for equitable policymaking. Three elements are at the core of this procedural justice (Gillard, Snell, & Bevan, 2017): easily accessible processes, transparent decision-making with possibilities to contest and complete impartiality. A critique of the just transition discourse is that it preserves an underlying capitalist structure of power imbalance and inequality. Bouzarovski (2022) points to the extensive top- down nature of retrofit programmes such as the Green New Deal, and notes that this may collide with bottom-up forms of housing repair and material intervention. A consensus on the just transition mechanism without debate on its implementation could perpetuate the status quo, and thus neglect ‘diverse knowledges’, ‘plural pathways’ and the ‘inherently political nature of transformations’ (Scoones et al., 2020). However, as Healy and Barry (2017) note, understanding how just transition principles work in practice could benefit the act of ‘equality- proofing’ and ‘democracy-proofing’ decarbonisation decisions. Essentially, an ‘unjust transition’ in the context of affordable and sustainable housing would refer to low-income households in poorly insulated housing without the means or the autonomy to substantially improve energy efficiency. If fossil fuel prices – either by market forces or regulatory incentives – go up, it aggravates their already difficult financial situation and could even lead to severe health problems (Santamouris et al., 2014). At the same time, grants for renovations and home improvements are poorly targeted and often end up in the hands of higher income ‘free-riding’ households, having regressive distributional impacts across Europe (Schleich, 2019). But even when the strive towards a just transition is omnipresent, practice will come with dilemmas. Von Platten, Mangold, and Mjörnell (2020) argue for instance that while prioritising energy efficiency improvements among low-income households is a commendable policy objective, putting them on ‘the frontline’ of retrofit experiments may also burden them with start-up problems and economic risks. These challenges only accentuate that shaping a just transition is not an easy task. Therefore, both researchers and policymakers need to enhance their understanding of the social consequences that the transition towards low-carbon housing encompasses. Walker and Day (2012) applied Schlosberg’s dimensions to this context. They conclude that distributive injustice relates to inequality in terms of income, housing and pricing, recognitional justice to unidentified energy needs and vulnerabilities, and procedural injustice to inadequate access to policymaking. Ensuring that the European Renovation Wave is made into a just transition towards affordable and sustainable housing therefore requires an in-depth study into distributive, recognitional and procedural justice. Only then can those intertwining dimensions be addressed in policies.   [1] To illustrate his thesis, he introduces the ‘veil of ignorance’: what if we may redefine the social scheme, but without knowing our own place? Rawls believes that most people, whether from self-interest or not, would envision a society with political rights for all and limited economic and social inequality.  

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: T.Croon (ESR11)


* This vocabulary consists of definitions of key terms related to the combined research conducted by the 15 early-stage researchers. Each term has multiple definitions, each connected to one of the three main research areas: Design, Construction and Planning; Community Involvement; and Policy and Funding.

The joint construction of this vocabulary allows the researchers' projects to be interwoven. As such, the vocabulary is a tool for conducting transdisciplinary research on affordable and sustainable housing.

Entries are reviewed by RE-DWELL researchers and supervisors. The vocabulary is updated regularly.