Just Transition Commission says “significant action needed to put Scotland on track

13/12/2023
Prof. Dave Reay (Just Transition Commission)

IN ITS annual report published today Scotland’s Just Transition Commission says “significant” further action is needed to ensure a just transition to a low carbon economy. This includes meaningful support for workers facing job losses at Grangemouth and offshore as the country moves away from fossil fuels, as well as changes to public procurement rules, and clarity on how significant new revenue streams associated with renewables expansion will benefit the public.

The Commission is an independent expert advisory group with members drawn from business, industry, trade unions, environmental and community groups and academia. It aims to make sure the benefits and burdens of the major changes involved in Scotland’s net zero transition are shared as fairly as possible. The Commission is tasked by the Scottish Government with making an annual assessment of progress towards a just transition to a low carbon economy. 

Today’s report concludes that “the current path will not deliver a just transition”, citing potential redundancies at Grangemouth and offshore as “an early litmus test” for the credibility of just transition as a national mission. Last month the Commission warned it was “deeply concerned” the closure of the Grangemouth oil refinery in 2025 “risks a repeat of previous unmanaged industrial transitions in coal and steel”. It called for “a credible just transition plan that ensures employment levels and economic activity within the community are protected”.

The report commends the Scottish Government for its “continued commitment to what is a new and evolving process of just transition planning and delivery” as well as the appointment of a Cabinet Secretary with portfolio responsibility for just transition (Mairi McAllan). It calls for “transformative leadership” to ensure just transition becomes integrated across the whole of government “as a core consideration across all directorates and portfolios”.

“We are at a critical juncture now,” says the report. “The architecture for success has taken shape over recent years through the painstaking effort and foresight of a great many people across government, commerce and civil society. What is required now is transformative leadership that delivers the tangible progress that will give vital early proof of concept.”

Citing the effects of Storm Babet, the Commission’s report says practical measures needed to adapt to climate impacts will be an important part of Scotland’s just transition. A new Scottish National Adaptation Plan is expected to be prepared next year.

On investment, the report warns: “New and innovative investment models are needed. Scotland’s just transition will not be funded by the current approach. If investment provision is left to the market alone, we will see an unjust transition.”

“The cost of failure is sky high given the scale of the opportunity for Scotland,” says the report. “The short- and medium-term capital figures associated with achieving a just transition may look daunting in the current fiscal context. But investment planning at all levels of government must also factor in the cost of failure, whether in terms of adverse health outcomes, loss of jobs, loss of supply chain and manufacturing opportunities with potential for many decades of growth, economic leakage. Short term “savings” will be hugely costly to Scotland if these ultimately stymie economic development.”

“Public procurement is key to unlocking a just transition,” says the report. “A core element of any just transition approach is to invest strategically now in order to make savings later. While significant additional investment is required, there are major potential gains if the routine deployment of public money can successfully be aligned with just transition principles. Across multiple sectors, this cannot yet be said to be the case, and significant action is required to ensure the potential of public procurement in catalysing change at scale is maximised; embedding social value and gearing public investment towards the achievement of high quality, secure employment, fair work, local supply chains, equitable ownership and meaningful community engagement and participation. Continuing a “cheapest wins” approach to procurement will not deliver a just transition but instead prove profoundly costly in the mid-long term.”

  

The Commission will visit Grangemouth early in 2024. It will then publish findings and recommendations on next steps to support a just transition for the site.

In September the Commission published a series of reports pinpointing major challenges and opportunities in bringing down carbon emissions across three key sectors of Scotland’s economy: transport, the built environment and construction industry, and land use and agriculture.

The Commission says farmers need much more information about the changes that will be made to bring down carbon emissions. It warns that unless difficult and honest conversations about the future of farming happen now there is a risk of slowing down Scotland’s progress and making it harder for unavoidable changes to happen in a fair way.

On transport, the Commission said that reducing how much we drive can be part of a better and fairer transport system, as long as plans account for the needs of low paid and essential workers, disabled people and those with caring responsibilities. The Commission said Scotland’s current transport system makes increased social isolation a risk.

On buildings, the Commission’s report set out key steps for delivering the huge new workforce that will be required to deliver Scotland’s ambitions to retrofit homes and buildings, including action to improve pay and conditions in the construction industry and changes to public procurement rules.

In its first regular report published last summer, the Commission said the cost-of-living crisis means major changes need to be made urgently to decarbonise the country’s economy, benefit those most in need and secure lots of good jobs.

Co-chair Prof. Dave Reay said: “We are at a critical moment now in terms of whether or not the big changes associated with building a low carbon economy in Scotland can be delivered fairly, making the most of opportunities for economic and social renewal and avoiding the harms of previous unmanaged industrial changes. Scotland has established an internationally recognised approach to just transition through the efforts of a great many people across government and civil society. It is now time to justify that reputation through strategic action that delivers tangible benefits in people’s lives.”

Co-chair Satwat Rehman said: “Our report today has a clear message. The next big steps in tackling the climate emergency will change many aspects of our everyday lives, whether that’s about how we work, how we get around, the food we eat, how we heat our homes. This is a huge opportunity for policymakers to address inequalities, but there is a real risk these will instead continue to widen. Fairness isn’t a reason to water down or delay climate action. It must be a driver to go further and faster, backed by the practical actions we know will deliver a just transition.”

The latest stories