Recognizing resistance is crucial to a sustainable and just transition 

People protesting on the street in France. Photo: Unsplash.
Just as important as dialogue and consultation is to recognize that social inequality is often at the heart of ongoing resistance says Mine Islar. Photo: Unsplash.

The yellow vest movement in France brings to the fore growing tensions between implementing global climate policy and social, economic and regional concerns. Nation states could learn a lot from identifying pockets of resistance says LUCSUS researcher Mine Islar who studies just transitions and social movements. 

Mine Islar, together with Mathilde Martin, PhD-candidate at Human Geography at Lund University, has recently published an article in the journal Sustainability Science about social resistance and the Yellow Vest movement in France. The movement started in 2018 as a protest against tax reform and rising fuel prices. It grew to become a nationwide protest against President Macron’s policies and a critique against what was perceived as an undemocratic implementation of a transition agenda. The movement paralyzed institutions and the French economy for weeks, eventually forcing Macron to reverse the legislation.

Mismatch between global and local level

– In different parts of Europe, we see more resistance to climate mitigation efforts. A big reason for this is that many policies have been agreed on a global level, with no regard to how they might affect low-income groups within countries, says Mine Islar, senior lecturer at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, LUCSUS.

She explains that these resistance movements are not necessarily against efforts to stop or halt climate change – they are against that policies, like proposed diesel tax in France, are put forward without dialogue and negotiation with groups who might be directly impacted by taxation measures. 

– States need to work proactively to identify groups and sectors who could potentially lose out in a green transition, and make sure to include them in dialogue and get ready to negotiate.

She says that these consultations potentially could take a similar form to how unions and industry today negotiate salaries and working conditions. The main goal should be to initiate dialogue on how climate policy should and could be implemented.

– A just transition needs to include different segments of the society where different groups have a chance to provide an input in how climate policy is rolled out. Society also needs to be willing to transition to something else. For that to happen policies need to be adapted to a local context.

Social inequalities a barrier to involvement 

Just as important as dialogue and consultation is to recognize that social inequality is often at the heart of ongoing resistance says Mine Islar. Many groups who could potentially take a greater part in a sustainable transition are also the ones who prioritize getting food on the table.

– The slogan of the yellow vest movement: The end of the month versus the end of the year, really sums up the reality that different groups have different priorities. Recognizing, and addressing existing inequalities, is a first step to enable more involvement, from all parts of society.

Another important factor in a just transition is to focus not only on lowering carbon emissions, where sectors such as transport and energy will be impacted, but also on consumption patterns. States can, for example, choose to start formulating policies directed at people who already have more, for example taxation on high-end luxury goods including flight travels, than just taxing diesel for example.

– Class and social justice struggles are not going to go away. In that sense resistance can be  productive since it can direct states towards recognizing which groups need to be included in a just transition. This is also essential for avoiding increasing polarization and divisions. Otherwise, low-income groups will continue to feel excluded, she concludes. 

Download the article on springer.com: Martin, M., Islar, M. The ‘end of the world’ vs. the ‘end of the month’: understanding social resistance to sustainability transition agendas, a lesson from the Yellow Vests in France. Sustain Sci (2020).