How to avoid unjust energy transitions: insights from the Ruhr region

Anmol Arora, Heike Schroeder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


Background: The transition of the Ruhr region in Germany from a hard coal belt into a knowledge-based economy with a dynamic service sector and state of the art universities over the past 60–80 years has been widely touted as a successful example of how just and fair low carbon energy transitions can unfold.

Methods: This paper leverages documentary analysis of data across a wide array of sources to test these claims and identify lessons by creating a novel just energy transition framework.

Results: The study finds economic motivation, mindset and reorientation—not environmental concerns—to be the defining features for at least the first two decades of this shift. The lack of willingness to acknowledge environmental impacts and market realities has delayed the transition and led to wasteful allocation of resources towards supporting the hard coal mining industry. The prominence given to distributional justice cushions the victims of this transition financially, but does not allow a broad based coalition to advance the transition process. It is in the second phase (mid-1980s onwards that we see procedural aspects of justice come forth and support greater ownership and sustainability of the transition to emerge, while the evidence of recognition justice continues to be scant.

Conclusions: There are many nuanced successes in the Ruhr’s example, along with some failures worth highlighting. It is in the breakdown of this transition into two distinct phases and their nuances (particularly in the domain of justice) that fresh insights emerge and allow for a better understanding of what constitutes a suitable energy transition in a particular socio-economic and political context. As the international community embarks on ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, it can maximise the benefits and minimise the damages and costs by considering these realities on the ground.
Original languageEnglish
Article number19
JournalEnergy, Sustainability and Society
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2022


  • Climate justice
  • Energy inequities
  • Energy justice
  • Just energy transition
  • Low carbon economy
  • Participatory policymaking

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