Only a few months ago, world leaders lined up on the shores of the Clyde to promise ambitious action to cut carbon emissions and ensure a safe future for all. Those decarbonisation plans are now threatened by geopolitical and financial instability, with households and small businesses bearing the burden of stratospheric energy costs.
The Scottish Government has committed to deliver a “just transition”, where Scotland decarbonises and builds a climate resilient economy in a way that delivers fairness and tackles inequality and injustice.
In this way, climate action can be an opportunity to be grasped, maximising environmental, labour, health and social outcomes.
The new Just Transition Commission report, published today, details a plethora of things the Scottish Government can do right now to achieve such a win-win for people and climate.
This includes a national mission to retrofit housing stock, decreasing bills and energy use while creating jobs. A low-carbon overhaul and expansion of public transport could move people off motorways and into affordable –or free – trains and buses that are better designed for all Scotland’s communities. Communities could be supported with a more radical Land Reform Bill that ensures they benefit from low-carbon land management, rather than billionaire “green lairds”.
Throughout the Commission’s report, a clear message resonates: we know a lot of the changes that must be made to achieve a just transition, but they require serious investment that is just not there yet.
As it stands, the Scottish Government is worryingly off-track both in terms of climate goals and spending commitments; annual net-zero investment will need to grow at least five-fold by 2030 to begin to reverse this trend and close the investment gap.
Quality investment can create secure and well-paid jobs, tackle inequality, build an innovative industrial base and more resilient social and physical infrastructure. These are essential pillars of any just transition, but will not happen by themselves and public financing will need to play a leadership role. Increased investment will ultimately pay for itself in the long run, stabilising the public finances and building a nation fit for the future.
There are real fiscal and monetary constraints with which the Scottish Government must work, but this comes across as an excuse as long as actions that can be taken today to build a more transformative economic foundation are rejected.
The Scottish Government needs to set out a clear capital raising plan on how they will close the investment gap for a just transition. This should include exploring progressive new revenue streams at both national and local authority levels. The Scottish National Investment Bank’s first 18 months of operation needs to be reviewed to understand progress, shortcomings and ways forward to realise its mission to support a just transition.
Recent cuts to local authorities and public services should be reversed – the pandemic is a painful case study for what chronicunder-investment can do to economic resilience. We will need more resilience for oncoming climate shocks, not less.
The economy-wide priority of just transition and “fair work” must be embedded across all public finance spending in Scotland. This comes down to both policy coherence and maximising impact – we need all levers of government to be oriented to a just transition.
Mobilising additional private investment will also be essential, and to this end, the Scottish Government should ensure that financial institutions operating in Scotland are embedding just transition principles into actionable net-zero and resilience plans.
This is an opportunity for Scotland to lead the global sustainable finance agenda.Stalling – or reversing – action on climate change is a recipe for higher costs, economic insecurity and climate disaster. Accelerating investment in a just transition is the best route out of the current crisis, one that we can and must afford.
Katie Gallogly-Swan works on advancing a global just transition at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Ann Pettifor is an economist and author of The Case for The Green New Deal (Verso, 2019). Nick Robins is professor in practice for sustainable finance with the Grantham Research Institute at the LSE.