Just Circular Society

The Challenge of Transitional Justice

The KIE supports a fair and equitable transition to climate neutrality along the three Tenets of Transitional Justice: distribution, recognition, and procedure. Following their logic requires: 

firstly to analyse the de facto distributional effects;

secondly, understanding justice as recognition to detect whom this transition mostly affects by analysing subjective perceptions and objective capabilities;

thirdly, based on best practice to foster procedural justice by developing strategies for active empowerment of those most at risk of being “left behind”.

Therefore, the team of the KIE is committed to investigate – from a system perspective – how the 2030 energy and climate targets and the transition to climate neutrality by 2050 affect the RECOVER fields of delivery with the aim to achieve a Just Circular Society specifically focusing on declining and transforming sectors. An example for this approach is the “Sustainability CSOP” which we developed in a pilot project dubbed “The Berlin Water CSOP” facilitating water purification.

Achieving a Just Circular Society

From a technical point of view the path to climate neutrality is resting on the two pillars of the energy and digital transition. But the successful shift to 100 percent RE in power and heat, increased energy efficiency (EE) and a circular economy – deeply anchored in the advancement of information and communication technologies (ICT) – is dependent on a profound coordinated societal transition. This “dual transition” apart from adapting to and accepting new ICT requires significant changes of consumption and mobility behaviour affecting society asymmetrically and produces uneven outcomes, already clearly manifested in the growing tensions between urban and rural populations. Therefore, additional to the behavioural trajectory to a circular economy, tensions between centre and periphery, between generations and between those benefitting and those loosing, need to be overcome if disadvantaged groups are not to be antagonised. Social cohesion, acceptance, and commitment is necessary to achieve a successful dual societal transition. It can only be achieved if the tenets of transitional justice are respected.

With the energy sector (being the core area of decarbonisation) as point of departure on the way to climate neutrality our reference system includes digitisation, circular economy as well as tensions between urban and rural areas. The Circular Economy is key in tackling the climate crisis: 55% of emissions are being addressed by energy transition, the remaining 45% by the circular transition; however, circular economy approaches alone cannot fully address the societal changes needed to achieve full circularity of resources. Only the broader concept of a circular society can grasp the far-reaching changes needed in society to achieve carbon neutrality on our lone “Spaceship Earth” (Boulding). The KIE’s overarching goal is, therefore, to deliver effective support for reaching a Just Circular Society as illustrated in Figure 2.

A diagram that illustrates the transition to a just circular society

Research agenda until 2030

Both, through our own and third party funded projects our research agenda focuses on three areas until 2030:

With the energy sector, having the largest decarbonisation potential, as point of departure, digitisation, the circular economy and the tensions between urban and rural populations are explored regarding distributive repercussions and their systemic interrelations at the Connecting Interfaces. We assess trade-offs and synergies between climate-change impacts, corresponding government (re-)action and social and equity considerations. Citizen / consumer participation, both financial and in decision making are pivotal for cohesion amongst our societies to avoid antagonization of individual groups and prevent inter and intra generational conflicts endangering the transition to climate neutrality.

Against this background we assesses transitional justice dimensions across the EU and worldwide. Regarding the EU we focus on national procedures developing Territorial Just Transition Plans (TJTPs), National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs) and other complementary instruments, to enhance the just transition process with regard to how funding is channelled to the recipients in the most affected regions. This includes identifying perceptions of risks, the coverage of transition challenges, the motivation of managing authorities, stakeholder engagement and monitoring procedures with regard to their inclusivity, effectiveness and capacity to engage the most affected groups. We develop benchmarking guidelines for the design of inclusive, socially fair and economically viable TJTPs.

A core objective of the research of the KIE is to identify those most at risk to be “left behind” in the most affected regions and sectors. We strive to analyse processes internal to these social groups to develop archetype Personae at the interfaces of the elements of the Just Circular Society. The analysis embraces, e.g., creating trust and connection, finding shared goals and solutions, building coalitions with the objective to understand engagement and non-engagement to facilitate their empowerment. In this context we consider the impact that digitization and proliferation of social media have on these processes and dynamics, including considerations of “digital sobriety”.