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by Liam Kirkaldy
30 March 2020
In context: Just Transition


In context: Just Transition

The Just Transition Commission has released its interim report. What does it say, and why is it important anyway?

While Scotland has been working to move to a low carbon economy for more than a decade, growing public concern, as well as increasingly stark warnings from experts such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have seen the need to reduce emissions in every part of our lives rise up the agenda.

That growing concern saw Nicola Sturgeon declare a ‘climate emergency’ last year, promising “Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it”, and then following up with the climate change bill, which put in place targets for net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045 and a 75 per cent reduction by 2030.

The bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament as a direct response to the Paris Agreement, which called on countries around the world to increase action to reduce emissions while also taking account of “the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs”. That’s where the Just Transition Commission comes in.

But doesn’t everyone agree we need to move to a low carbon economy?

Well, there’s certainly a consensus that Scotland – and the rest of the world – needs to drastically cut emissions, but what is less certain is how best to do that. And while Scotland has taken big steps forward, it’s likely the next phase to tackle climate change will be harder, and will have a much more visible impact on people’s day-to-day lives.

Some have expressed concern that the move away from a high emitting society will see people lose their jobs – particularly in industries related to the oil and gas supply chain – while others have pointed to the way communities were hit by the closure and decline of other industries in the 1970s and 80s as proof that such large-scale change will need to be carefully managed to avoid communities losing out.

With that in mind, the Just Transition Commission will offer advice on how to maximise the economic and social opportunities that the move to a net-zero economy by 2045 offers, build on Scotland’s existing strengths and assets, and understand and mitigate risks that could arise in relation to regional cohesion, equalities, poverty (including fuel poverty) and a sustainable and inclusive labour market.

Climate scientist Professor Jim Skea was appointed chair of the commission in September 2018, while the other members come from industry, academia and the third sector.

So, they want to tackle climate change without everyone losing their jobs or big increases in poverty?

Essentially, yes. And the commission has now released its interim report.

So, what does the report say?

The report, released a few weeks ago, calls for clear ‘transition plans’ for individual sectors, which move beyond the sectoral emission reduction proposals set out in the Climate Change Plan, which it says will provide clarity to businesses, consumers, or communities, while also potentially acting as “a catalyst for prompt action to tackle emissions in a fair way by empowering stakeholders”.

It said it would be better if these plans were jointly developed and owned by government, industry, trade unions, consumer groups and other relevant stakeholders to make them most effective.

A second finding relates to communication, with the commission highlighting the need for “on-going and proactive dialogue with all corners of society that will be affected by the transition to net-zero” to ensure public buy-in for the transition and so that government understands public expectations.

Then a third point is based in equity, with the commission arguing that understanding of the concept must go much further than simply tallying up the creation or destruction of jobs. It calls for mechanisms, across all levels of government, to identify these equity considerations and then make sure they are properly addressed as policy is developed. As the authors point out, if action is either unfair, or seen as unfair, then it risks the kind of backlash seen in France with the ‘gilets jaunes’ protests.

What happens next?

In the run-up to the interim report, the commission focuses on gathering views from experts and stakeholders, and will provide formal recommendations to ministers in its final report, which is expected in early 2021.

So, we just need to wait around for a year, while the world keeps getting hotter?

No. Although the final report is a year away, the commission released 12 suggestions for government to focus on.

1) Ensure Fair Work is promoted across all climate change programmes receiving public money

2) Develop a Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan

3) Place equity at the heart of the Climate Change Plan update

4) Ensure the future of agriculture support post-2024 reflects the importance of just transition for the sector

5) Establish a Citizens’ Assembly in Scotland on climate change

6) Promote Scotland’s approach to just transition at COP 26 and take the opportunity to learn from others

7) Build on the success of energy efficiency initiatives and support them to expand

8) Manage the opportunities and challenges of the transition to low-carbon heating

9) Begin planning for and delivering inclusive low-carbon infrastructure now

10) Place the climate emergency at the heart of spending decisions

11) Improve modelling and research to help understand the transition

12) Provide support to enable the oil and gas industry to transition

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