Scottish Commission calls for just transition to net zero to be made a “national mission”

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 (23 March), 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”:

  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.

Dave Moxham, JTC commissioner representing the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), said: “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 added: “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.”