Commission calls for just transition to net zero to be made a ‘national mission’

Commission calls for just transition to net zero to be made a 'national mission'

Professor Jim Skea

Scotland’s transition to net-zero emissions by 2045 must be a “national mission with social justice at its heart”, according to the Just Transition Commission (JTC), the independent commission set up to advise the Scottish Government on how to manage the move fairly.

In its final report published today, the JTC acknowledges that creating a net-zero economy means a fundamental transformation of the nation’s economy. This offers great opportunities, but it must be implemented fairly. The Commission makes 24 recommendations aligned to four key messages to ensure the transition is made “by the people of Scotland, not done to the people of Scotland”.

The four messages are:

  1. Pursue an orderly, managed transition to net-zero that creates benefits and opportunities for people across Scotland.
  2. Equip people with the skills and education they need to benefit from the transition to net-zero.
  3. Empower and invigorate communities and strengthen local economies.
  4. Share the benefits of climate action.

Among its recommendations, the JTC calls for action that can improve wellbeing and improve the lives of the most vulnerable in our society, at the same time as addressing climate change. It calls for ministers to develop clear just transition road maps and to boost local democracy. It is also calling for a more flexible skills and education system to meet the needs of a net-zero society, including a “skills guarantee” for workers in sectors like oil and gas.

The Commission recognises the powerful role public finance can play in ensuring a fair transition and urges public sector pension funds and business support funding to be directed towards ensuring companies align with net-zero goals. It calls for a new public interest test for changes in land ownership over a certain threshold and a “sustainable Scotland” brand to be developed to support locally produced food and drink.

The report also looks to the more immediate future following May’s Holyrood elections and November’s COP26 meeting in Glasgow, making three recommendations to the Scottish Government:

  1. Make the Deputy First Minister, or at a minimum a Cabinet Secretary, responsible for a just transition to net-zero.
  2. Establish capacity for independent scrutiny and advice on the just transition provisions in Scotland’s Climate Change legislation.
  3. Launch a national call for action at COP26, that brings business, trade unions, and civic society together in a commitment to support just transition principles in Scotland.

Professor Jim Skea, chair of the JTC, said: “The experience of COVID shows us that global challenges require decisive action. As the pandemic recedes, Scotland has the opportunity to make real progress in tackling climate change, whilst improving the lives of its citizens. Given the scale of change required, It is more important than ever to ensure the hearts as well as minds of the nation are aligned behind this vital goal.

“Climate action, fairness and opportunity can and must go together. This will help avoid the mistakes of previous industrial transitions, the negative effects of which continue to be felt. We have the building blocks already in place in Scotland to make this a reality and it is vital that the transition to net-zero is backed by a sense of collective national endeavour, especially in this year of COP26. Our recommendations aim to do just that and showcase Scotland’s ambition to the world.”

The final report builds on two previously published by the JTC: an interim report published in February 2020 and a report on Scotland’s post-Covid green recovery in July 2020. The JTC drew on the expertise of 12 commissioners from industry, trade unions, the third sector and academia who engaged extensively with the public and businesses.

Commenting on the Just Transition Commission’s final report, climate change secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “Two years ago, Scottish Ministers tasked the Just Transition Commission with providing advice on how we can transition to a net-zero economy in a way that is fair to everyone and leaves no one behind – that is what we mean by a just transition.

“These principles are not an ‘optional extra’ – they are central to how we make choices about reducing emissions in order to end our contribution to climate change.

“The Commission is clear in its report, published today, that the transition to net-zero will impact regions and sectors differently and that managing an orderly, just transition should be a national mission. The Scottish Government agrees that delivering a net-zero future requires ambition and collaboration – a truly national endeavour, where everyone has a role to play.

“We have already begun embedding just transition principles across Scottish Government’s work. Our current Programme for Government and the Climate Change Plan update put a just transition to net-zero at the heart of our action on jobs, skills, procurement, finance and investment and a green recovery from the pandemic. 

“There is, of course, more to do. I am grateful to the Commission for the work they have undertaken over the past two years and the many stakeholders who have helped shape that work. This report will guide our approach, drive policy development and help open up constructive and productive dialogues both in Scotland and internationally. It will be invaluable as we plan and prepare our long term approach to a just transition to net-zero. 

“We will now take time to consider the report in full with a comprehensive response to follow in late summer. As we work, the spotlight will be on Scotland ahead of COP26 being held in Glasgow. Just transition is a key theme for COP26, as announced by the First Minister, and we are looking forward to showcasing our actions to deliver a just transition and working with global partners to advance this essential issue.”

The Existing Homes Alliance Scotland (EHA) has welcomed the publication and its call for a “national mission with justice at its heart”.

Responding to the JTC’s calls for action that can improve wellbeing and improve the lives of the most vulnerable in society, EHA chair Lori McElroy said: “The Commission rightly acknowledges the major challenge and opportunity of reducing carbon emissions from our homes to zero. Improving the energy efficiency of our homes should be the cornerstone of a just transition to zero carbon homes, helping to reduce energy bills and cut fuel poverty.

“With a quarter of Scots living in fuel poverty and with this figure at risk of increasing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, investing more in insulation can both help those in fuel poverty and create quality green jobs. Maximising that job creation potential should be at the heart of ensuring a just transition right across the country.”

Dave Moxham, JTC commissioner representing the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), added: “Scotland urgently needs to tackle the climate emergency but the action we need to take will only be sustained if it is fair, and workers and communities across Scotland feel the benefits.

“The recommendations in this report call on Government to take action to support workers in carbon-intense sectors and start building the local supply chains that can create jobs across Scotland and power our transition to net-zero. The next Government will need to commit to working in social partnership with trade unions and business to implement these recommendations and deliver a just transition.”

Lang Banks, JTC commissioner and Director of WWF Scotland, commented: “The suffering caused by social and economic upheaval associated with failing to tackle the twin climate and nature emergencies would eclipse any challenges associated with the transition we must make, here in Scotland.

“While we recommend steps that government and others should take to ensure this shift is done fairly and equitably, they must all commit to involve workers and communities at every stage on how to deliver on this ambition and to seize the many benefits available from doing so. Our report is clear: together, we can deliver a future Scotland where both people and nature thrive.”

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