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Opinion article: Can we reduce car use fairly?

Jim Skea
Published on
11 Sep 2023

Prof. Jim Skea writes in The Daily Record

Today I’m announcing in the Daily Record that after five years in the job I will step down as Chair of Scotland’s Just Transition Commission. I’ve been elected to lead the IPCC, the United Nations’ climate science body.

I am sad to be leaving this role but have a clear message. It’s time to push ahead with bold action to make just transition a reality. Good ambitions needs to be translated into action that improve people’s lives across the country. The cost-of-living crisis adds real urgency to getting this right.

Internationally, people are looking at Scotland as a leader on just transition. Now we must strive to justify that position.

Our three new reports released this week exclusively in the Record are about some of the really big challenges Scotland is facing up to, in our transport system, construction industry and farming.

So here are three big challenges for starters.

  • Can we reduce how much we drive in a way that’s fair?
  • What’s the best way for major changes that will affect business models, such as smallholder livestock farming, to be communicated to those who will lead the change on the ground?
  • How do we rapidly get to the skilled and well-paid workforce in our construction industry that we need if we’re to make the changes to our homes and buildings that are needed to keep them warmer and more efficient?

Let’s focus on the first of these: reducing how much we drive. The Scottish Government has set a target of reducing the amount we drive by 20 percent by 2030. That would be really big change, and one that won’t be popular with everyone, but needs to happen if we are to play our part in tackling the climate emergency. It could include charges on road users, as part of a package of policies to make Scotland a healthier and better connected country.

If changes like this are going to be delivered fairly, it’ll mean supporting disabled people, those with caring responsibilities and low paid shift workers who are often doing absolutely essential work that currently requires them to use a car. It will be an unjust transition if people with disabilities have less mobility and workers can’t get to their jobs.

Our current transport system is far from just, and for many people it is already simply too difficult or expensive to get around. The Commission visited Dundee and heard directly from local people who have seen their bus services becoming less frequent, less reliable and more expensive in recent years. A just transition for transport will need to involve significant improvements to our public transport.

Building and maintaining trust and understanding around these changes will be key. People need to have faith that everyone is paying their fair share and that the benefits outweigh the costs.

The climate crisis means every country in the world is going to face up to tough questions like this sooner or later. The good news is Scotland’s commitment to a just transition means we are well-placed to confront these issues together right now.


The full article featured in the print version of the Daily Record on Monday 11th September