Political economy of just transition: Disparate impact of coal mine closure on state-owned and private coal workers in Inner Mongolia, China

Xinxin Wang, Kevin Lo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


This paper adopts a political economy perspective to examines the transition management of China's coal mine closure policy and explores how and to what extent a just transition has been achieved. Drawing on first-hand evidence collected from a coal city in Inner Mongolia, China, we found that while the coal workers from state-owned mines were supported by job reallocation and retirement plans, the coal workers from privately owned mines, who were mostly of rural origin and hold a rural hukou, were laid-off without adequate compensation and job assistance. Furthermore, the government failed to help the private coal workers, as the predicament of the private coal workers was not considered the responsibility of the government. These issues were fundamentally linked to China's political economic contexts such as rural-urban inequality, incomplete marketization, and authoritarianism. In addition to demonstrating the importance of understanding just transition through a political economy perspective that is sensitive to local contexts, the findings also warn against treating workers from the fossil fuel industry as a homogenized whole because it may mask the reality of structural inequality, obscure the differences among workers, and create a false appearance of justice by excluding certain groups from the logic of a just transition for all. We argue that the transition cannot be considered as “just” without identifying who is the most vulnerable group affected by such a transition. Therefore, “just transition for whom” is a key question in the evaluation of transition management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102585
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Nuclear Energy and Engineering
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

User-Defined Keywords

  • China
  • Coal mine closure policy
  • Coal workers
  • Just transition
  • Political economy


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