Nereus research fellow Gerald Singh (UBC) and program manager/research associate Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor (UBC) are both co-authors with others on a new open access paper published in the journal Sustainability. The authors focus on ‘just transformations’, which they define as “radical shifts in social-ecological system configurations through forced, emergent or deliberate processes that produce balanced and beneficial outcomes for both social justice and environmental sustainability”. They argue that “strategic thinking and planning is needed to manage deliberate transformations in a manner that is just”, due to the potential for social injustices to occur when sustainability shifts are underway. They write such injustices could include:

1. Not recognizing pre-existing rights, needs and livelihoods of distinct stakeholders

2. Not including local people in exclusionary decision-making processes

3. Management actions that undermine human-well-being and create negative social consequences

4. Different groups receiving unequal portions of the costs and benefits

5. “Elite capture of long-term benefits” that results in increased social inequity both during and after the transformation

The authors state that they “aim to bring recognitional, procedural and distributional justice considerations to the forefront in sustainability and transformations science, policy and practice.” In practice this could include considering things such as which stakeholders would be implicated by sustainability decisions, who is included in the decision-making process, how to incorporate distinct worldviews and cultures, what the short and long-term impacts are for those involved, and overall who the winners and losers will be of the transformation. In conclusion, they suggest “sustainability transformations cannot be considered a success without social justice.” You can read the paper’s abstract below and access the full article here.

Abstract: Transformations towards sustainability are needed to address many of the earth’s profound environmental and social challenges. Yet, actions taken to deliberately shift social–ecological systems towards more sustainable trajectories can have substantial social impacts and exclude people from decision-making processes. The concept of just transformations makes explicit a need to consider social justice in the process of shifting towards sustainability. In this paper, we draw on the transformations, just transitions, and social justice literature to advance a pragmatic framing of just transformations that includes recognitional, procedural and distributional considerations. Decision-making processes to guide just transformations need to consider these three factors before, during and after the transformation period. We offer practical and methodological guidance to help navigate just transformations in environmental management and sustainability policies and practice. The framing of just transformations put forward here might be used to inform decision making in numerous marine and terrestrial ecosystems, in rural and urban environments, and at various scales from local to global. We argue that sustainability transformations cannot be considered a success unless social justice is a central concern.


Bennett, N.J., Blythe, J., Cisneros-Montemayor, A.M., Singh, G.G., & Sumaila, U.R. (2019). Just Transformations to Sustainability. Sustainability, 11(14), 3881. link



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