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How can socio-economic transitions be better managed? Lessons from four historical cases of industrial transition

This report uses four case studies from across the globe to draw lessons on how cities and regions can equitably manage the decline of major industrial and mining activities and minimize disruption to local economies. It finds commonalities among decarbonization transitions in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and South Africa, expanding the scope of success from simply closing industries to including social and economic equity in the transition process.

Aaron Atteridge, Claudia Strambo / Published on 30 July 2021
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Atteridge, A. and Strambo, C. (2021). How can socio-economic transitions be better managed? Lessons from four historical cases of industrial transition. SEI report. DOI:

As pressure to decarbonize the global economy grows, regions that today are carbon-intensive face potentially major disruptive changes. As historical industrial transitions show, managing such change is rarely an easy task, and the consequences of a poorly managed transition can be devastating for local communities and regional economies.

This report examines lessons from four past experiences across the globe that can help governments, labor organizations, local businesses, and communities manage these transitions in a way that promotes fair outcomes to those affected.

The authors examined the experiences following: closure of a large steelworks in Newcastle, Australia; closure of the Kodak plant in Rochester, United States; the decline of the steel industry across the United Kingdom; and collapse of gold mining in South Africa’s Free State province. Each case explores the social, economic and environmental consequences for these regions, and how different actors tried to address these.

Finding commonalities among the four cases, the authors find that the process of transitioning away from carbon-intensive industries needs to empower local governments and communities to chart their course to avoid social and economic upheaval and disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations.

Measures that can facilitate just transitions include environmental remediation paid for by polluters, engagement of trade unions, local ownership of economic diversification and the strengthening of social safety nets.


Read the report / PDF / 1 MB

SEI authors

Claudia Strambo
Claudia Strambo

Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

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