Just transitions at the local level: insights from coal communities in Japan

Mabon, Leslie; Hiratsuka-Sasaki, Akiko; Chapman, Andrew and McLellan, Benjamin C. (2023). Just transitions at the local level: insights from coal communities in Japan. Local Environment, 29(1) pp. 91–104.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2023.2249511


International scholarship and policy advice is gaining interest in understanding what a just transition means for communities, the lived environment and sense of place. At the same time, Japan is facing increasing pressure to accelerate its progress towards decarbonisation, which has implications for regions within Japan that rely on carbon-intensive industries for employment and economic sustainability. Previous experience within Japan of the phase-out of domestical coal extraction, and the impacts of this historical transition on host communities, has the potential to yield rich insights into how the social and cultural implications of a just transition can be managed both in Japan and globally. However, much of the existing place-based scholarship in this field has been undertaken in Japanese, and has not been published in English.

The purpose of this paper is therefore to summarise recent academic and policy research into a just transition in Japan, and draw insights from three former coal producing regions that have been impacted by coal phase-out in different ways: Tagawa in Kyushu, Iwaki in north-east Japan, and Yubari in Hokkaido. Our synthesis draws out several factors from the Japanese cases that contribute to ‘successful’ just transitions at the local level: early and comprehensive planning and cooperation between different sectors; the need for leadership and vision from the local level rather than reliance on central government financial support for a transition; and the importance of social protection measures in avoiding stigma and sustaining a sense of community identity.

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