15 Jun 2018

Industrial Transitions Evidence Review


Identifying best practices for the management of industrial transitions to a low carbon economy.

  • Region


  • priority area

    Climate Change


    Agulhas Applied Knowledge

  • Report Type

    Evaluations and partner reports

Download pdf


In order to reduce carbon emissions at the rate required by the Paris Climate Agreement policymakers have recognised that transformative structural change is needed, across all economies. This change will have to happen at unprecedented scale and speed. The challenge for policy makers is how to enable this transition and manage the impact on individuals and communities.

Transitions have been taking place across different countries since the start of the industrial revolution. Much of the literature relevant to low carbon transitions focuses on the decline of coal mining, we found that while there are a few examples of well-managed coal transitions, most coal closures are examples of poorly managed transitions. Evidence from these examples of success tends to focus on the macroeconomic and overall job figures rather than on broader social impacts and improvements.

In many countries the transition to a low carbon economy is already underway or is on the horizon. It is not always driven by climate policy. Concerns about the impacts of pollution on health and productivity, or the opportunity to boost economic competitiveness from electric vehicles and renewables, are examples of other drivers of transition. Governments and society are seeking lessons not only to manage the negative impacts of the transition, but also to harness the many benefits.

Transition measures can become the mechanism for workers and communities to speed the exit from a carbon economy, by calling for and engaging in alternative livelihoods. The right structural policy, along with support for communities and workers to plan for the transition, can mitigate negative social impacts, stimulate alternative livelihoods and pre-empt a backlash against such change. There are few other sectors and economies that have successfully completed a transition to a low carbon economy, although there are numerous efforts under way which are still too early in the process to evaluate.

This assessment provides a high-level summary informed by a broad literature review that sought to identify common themes in managing industrial transitions across 26 countries and 11 sectors. The aim was to create a picture of the available evidence and the evidence gaps, and to identify the best examples of transition management.