The Just Transition Commission began its work in 2019. Established by Scottish Ministers its remit is to advise on how just transition principles can be applied to climate change action in Scotland. It is tasked to complete a final report with recommendations for Scottish Ministers by January 2021. The Commission published an interim report on 26th February 2020.
The interim report has four main themes:
- Planning Ahead
- Public engagement
- Bringing equity to the heart of climate change policies
- Opportunities and the need for immediate action
The report notes that since the Commission began its work both the Climate Change (Emission Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act and Scottish National Investment Bank Bill include reference to just transition principles. However, it is critical of a lack of action by the Scottish Government and highlights opportunities that have not been taken. The closure of the coal-fired power station at Longannet is cited as a case where the local community in Kincardine contest the view of Fife Council and other agencies that the closure was well managed and socially just.
There is a strong emphasis from the Commission on the need for strategic vision that cuts across sectors and for government leadership and direction. It contends that the task of making strategic progress across sectors
… cannot be left to enterprise agencies or indeed companies themselves. There is a crucial need for Government leadership.
Further, it argues that the Scottish Government shouldn’t wait for its 2021 report before acting, stating that
We firmly believe that all decisions taken by Government in the year ahead need to be made with a view to supporting a just transition for Scotland. We don’t want Government to wait for our final report to begin planning how a just transition will be achieved.
It notes that current planning approaches are insufficiently rigorous and suggests that all Scottish Government funded investments should be prioritised against inclusive, net-zero economy outcomes. Planning is essential if we are to avoid the kind of unjust transition that has characterised previous major economic transitions.
While arguing for a much more proactive role for the Scottish Government the interim report doesn’t make recommendations for how a state energy company could be used to drive transition. It’s to be hoped that the final report will say more about this.
While it is critical of lack of action and leadership from the Scottish Government, the interim report is weak on the role of public ownership and democratic engagement. The former is largely neglected while the latter is viewed in terms of consultation – there’s no real sense that system change is on the agenda. This is most evident in the way that the report approaches North Sea Oil and Gas. The oil industry’s Vision 2035 and associated roadmap are mentioned without criticism. The truth is that aiming for the North Sea to become the ‘first net-zero carbon hydrocarbon basin’ means continuing extraction and carbon capture and storage on a massive scale.
‘Just Transition’ was prominent at COP24 in Katowice – developed by the workers movement and climate activists – it has been partially co-opted by corporations and government agencies. It’s critical that the climate movement defends the radical core of the concept. If social justice is not central to transition then it will not be possible to build the scale of social mobilisation that is needed and the risk of a climate catastrophe is magnified. Here in Scotland we need to put social justice at the heart of our actions as we build the climate movement and mobilise for COP26. The Just Transition Commission is asking for civil society to submit their views as it works through 2020 and prepares its recommendations for Ministers. We should do that. But even more important is raising the level of mobilisation so that the pressure for action becomes irresistible, system change is on the agenda and corporate greenwashing is exposed as a desperate attempt to cling on to business as usual.