This paper sheds light on the importance of evaluating climate justice concerns when forging climate-neutral strategies at the city level. Climate justice can be a useful policy lever to develop measures that promote simultaneously greenhouse gas emissions reductions and their social justice dimension, thus reducing the risk of adverse impacts. As a result, evaluating policymakers’ awareness of (i) recognition (ii) distributive (iii) procedural, and (iv) intergenerational issues about the transition to climate neutrality might help identify where to intervene to ensure that decisions towards more sustainable urban futures are born justly and equitably. This study uses data from the European Mission on 100 Climate Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030 and a principal component analysis to build an index of climate justice awareness. It then identifies control factors behind different levels of climate justice awareness.
The empirical analysis suggests that the more cities are engaged in climate efforts, the more they implement these efforts considering also the social justice dimension. It also reveals that the geographical location and the relationship with higher levels of governance contribute to shape the heterogeneity in a just-considerate climate action by virtue of different governance structures, historical legacies, and economic, cultural, and political characteristics. Overall, the analysis unveils that the availability of governmental support in capacity building and financial advisory services, and the breadth of the city’s legal powers across different fields of action are positively related to justice awareness. Conversely, the perception of favourable geo-climatic conditions is negatively correlated. These relationships can be read as assistance needs that cities perceive in their pathway to just climate neutrality and highlight where future efforts in research and policy-making should focus in the following years to pave the way to a just transition.