There is no doubt that we are already facing the effects of climate change. Sea levels are rising; glaciers and ice caps are melting faster than anyone envisaged. Around the world the frequency and strength of extreme storms is creating misery for the coastal poor while the rich move to higher ground.
Speakers at the Edinburgh Just Transitions conference will argue that our response to climate change has to be political. The recent UN report, and almost all large-scale policy initiatives, has been based on an assumption that market forces will drive a transition to a low carbon economy. There is a market response. Massive increases in wind and solar are a case in point. However, if current policies are continued, there is no chance that carbon reduction targets for 2030 and 2050 will be achieved either locally in Scotland or globally.
We have the technological knowledge to make a rapid transition to a sustainable economy. What’s missing is political will. We’ll argue that the politics of transition is as critical as the technology. On the one hand there is the status quo in a state reliance on the market. A top down approach that protects the rich and powerful – builds walls and fences and curtails civil liberties. On the other hand there is what is increasingly described as a Just Transition. This would involve programmes of publicly funded investment creating new jobs, protecting the livelihoods of those who will move from oil, gas and defence industries to new jobs and dramatically improving the living conditions of the bulk of the population through better insulated homes and improved public transport.
To achieve a Just Transition the response has to be international but action is required in every local context. In Scotland we start with significant advantages that could make us a beacon for the world. Across manufacturing, defence and construction there is a rich base of engineering skills. We have access to a wealth of natural resources wind, wave, tidal and hydro. Scottish Universities are at the forefront of developing wave and tidal technology. The Scottish Government’s response is hugely better than Westminster’s. The proposed national energy company and green investment bank are essential for a Just Transition. However, the current plans show a poverty of ambition that falls far short of the radical steps that are required.
Only right wing ideologues now deny climate change. But beyond a relatively small layer of activists most people feel disconnected and powerless. This is reinforced by appeals to personal and lifestyle choices that are inaccessible to many. Surely the challenge is to link the necessary steps to the immediacy of working class lives. Workers in defence, construction and hydrocarbons are key. Their skills are needed to build the new and democratic economy. Yet at present they work in sectors that have seen a huge increase in agency workers and worsening pay and conditions. Despite excellent resolutions on climate change at the STUC, unions in these sectors continue to put jobs, any jobs, first. But this strategy is bankrupt morally, practically and politically. And increasingly workers in the industry recognise this. However, they need to believe that there is an alternative.
At the conference we’ll hear from authors of the Million Climate Jobs plan for transition, from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, from climate activists and critically from workers in defence and construction. We will also hear from welfare campaigners fighting for social justice as represented by fuel poverty. Through the day discussion will focus on developing ideas that translate the issues and challenges that we face, and the steps that we know have to be taken, into a draft manifesto for action. We hope to circulate this far and wide to provoke debate, discussion and develop more ideas. Core to this will have to be a sense of developing collective organisation and social solidarity that will be essential in making the transition but will also shape our future and how we and those who come after us live in the world.
This article first published on Common Space 13/11/18