Any plan to tackle climate change has to have Just Transition and an industrial strategy at its core.
Those of us who take a close interest in climate change tend to leap into the detailed aspects of the policy. In the era of Trump and false news, we should always remember to start any discussion by making the case for tackling climate change.
In short, we are faced with rising temperatures relating to the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. To address this, the Paris Climate Change agreement seeks 1.5°C and 2°C commitments. However, if we continue with ineffective mitigation measures, in less than 12 years current emissions will see the 1.5°C aspiration pass by, with the 2°C carbon budget exceeded by the mid 2030s. We need to put long-term planetary stewardship before short-term profit, if our generation is going to bequeath a sustainable planet to our children.
Scotland can rightly take credit for our radical Climate Change Act, secured with cross party support. However, grand aspirations and ambitious long-term targets need to be backed up by practical action. A new Climate Change Plan should be an opportunity to set out a clear pathway for slashing emissions and building a thriving green economy. Sadly, Parliament found Plan fell remarkably short on new policy action and lacked credibility in key areas like the budget, energy efficiency, cleaner transport and agricultural emissions.
There is public support for stronger action. 99% of people who responded to the consultation want the Government to commit to net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest, and increased action in the next decade with a stronger 2030 target.
On Just Transition, we should welcome the announcement of Just Transition Commission, but again this has to be about more than just process. For example, the growth in renewables has benefited our energy mix, but Scotland has a shockingly poor record on manufacturing jobs associated with renewable energy. Workers in these industries are entitled to expect that Just Transition plans are closely linked to a new industrial strategy. Warm words and vague aspirations don't pay the rent, or put food on the table.
Just Transition plans should build in the principles that livelihoods will be maintained; and training and re-training will be funded. They must also include measures to tackle disadvantage in the labour market.
Practical action should include:
- A heat map of vulnerable industries and companies.
- Advance planning, not last minute BiFab style interventions.
- Links to a green industrial strategy and Fair Work principles.
- Investment, including the National Investment Bank and pension funds.
- Community benefit including the use of local supply chains.
- Recognising that ownership matters, including taking a stake in enterprises to ensure just transition and support for co-operatives.
- Using public sector procurement to promote transition.
There are international examples of good practice that we can call upon including; Statoil, Alberta coal and the Latrobe Valley in Australia. Canada and New Zealand are also looking to develop Just Transition commissions.
I am concerned that the Scottish Government is planning a very low key Commission model, reporting just to ministers with a short life span. The Commission needs to adopt a social dialogue model with social protections; an independent secretariat and adequate resourcing, not a rehash existing funding pots
It should also report to Parliament as well as ministers, allowing the economy and climate change committees to scrutinise its work. There is a case for putting it on statutory footing in the new Climate Change Act, but at a minimum it must have a balanced membership, with credible people, a realistic work programme and extensive worker engagement.
The Just Transition Partnership will shortly be publishing their detailed proposals for the Just Transition Commission. These proposals will argue that the focus should be on transforming Scotland’s whole economy through driving the transition to low carbon emissions, attending to jobs and job quality and the needs of workers and geographical communities. Setting out what needs to be done and how it can be done expeditiously and with a fair distribution of costs and benefits.