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A just transition to net zero requires us all to play our part

Jim Skea
Published on
17 Dec 2021

Prof. Jim Skea writes in The Times

Last week the chimney stack of Scotland’s last coal-fired power station, Longannet, was demolished. It was the largest free-standing structure in Scotland and a landmark along the Forth, whose chilly waters once cooled the station. The tower’s removal is a clear symbol of the transition that is underway to make Scotland a net zero country. For many, it also represented an ending to a proud tradition of demanding, skilled and often courageous work that powered our homes, businesses and infrastructure while forging tight communities for workers and their families.

Scotland has a nice story to tell about our approach to climate change so far. We’ve talked the talk, and now it’s time to deliver. Obviously that must mean tough choices, hard work, and careful planning based on the best evidence.

Yesterday the members of Scotland’s Just Transition Commission were announced. Over the next four years, our new Commissioners will take on the task that lies before us all: making a transition to net zero that is truly just and makes our country resilient for the challenges ahead.

The Commission will draw on a deep well of experience and expertise from across industry, business and finance, trade unions, environmental and community groups and academia.

Many of those whose livelihoods were bound to Scotland’s heavy industry, like those who worked at Longannet or dug the coal it burned, know only too well the enduring harms of big changes that never had fairness at their heart, where the transition from one way of living and working was simply decided from on high with little thought to the consequences for the workers and communities affected.

There is no doubt that climate action can bring multiple benefits, including quality green jobs and better social inclusion. But our recent history shows us that for these benefits to be realised, we must plan thoroughly and take decisive action. The creation of new jobs in the offshore renewables sector has been disappointing so far, but it is heartening to see domestic supply chain capacity building up. It is a task for government to support further efforts in this direction. Developments at the Port of Nigg show us what’s possible, but the case of BiFab stands as a cautionary tale.

How exactly do we deliver big changes across every sector of our economy in a way that is truly just? How should they be paid for? And how do we encourage people to pay their fair share? We need citizens, businesses, local authorities and communities to do their bit to make this a collective national endeavour rather than just leaving it to government to make top-down changes.

We know that business as usual is simply not viable. We are not a country that likes to think of itself as shrinking from a challenge. A just transition requires action at all levels of our society. It is time to make this a truly national mission.