energy projects, along with new city-level climate commissions. In Yorkshire, the TUC has set up its own Low Carbon Task Force to drive the process forward.
To date, the focus of the just transition has been on urgent changes needed in the energy shift. But a similar transformation is needed in terms of food and land use, not just to respond to the climate crisis but also to end the loss of biodiversity and revive rural communities. For Mike Berners-Lee, author of There is No Planet B, “a sustainable food and land system offers a huge net livelihood opportunity”, one that can lead to more jobs with better working conditions.
“Unless we get the just transition right, we won’t win the climate battle”
Illustrations by Rafael LÓpez www.rafaellopez.com
jobs. Sadly, at UK offshore wind farms, the rate of accidents is about four times higher than in offshore oil and gas, with lower rates of unionisation one explanation.
A just transition will also need to be guided by the priorities of place. Geography has determined the location for the world’s carbon-intensive sectors such as coal, oil and gas as well as iron and steel. New green sectors are rarely in the same location. In the UK, carbon emissions peaked in the early 1970s as deindustrialisation got under way, in the process offshoring much of the pollution to developing countries. Decades later, the result has been the creation of the most regionally imbalanced economy in Europe. Not surprisingly, there’s understandable concern in many parts of the country that the drive to zero carbon could simply exacerbate this trend. Avoiding these carbon divisions requires stronger powers at local and regional levels to deliver climate plans that meet their needs, backed up by a more decentralised financial system. Positive signals are coming from the bottom up in terms of community
Making these connections between climate, Nature and justice has to become a national endeavour. Scotland has taken the lead, setting up a multi-stakeholder Just Transition Commission to show how a climate-neutral economy can be “fair for all”. A similar initiative is needed at the UK level too, in order to ‘people-proof ’ the strategy to build a zero-carbon economy. A top priority needs to be the Treasury’s policies for tax and spend. Carbon prices, for example, need to be designed in ways that leave low-income households and vulnerable communities better off, and matched by a National Investment Bank to mobilise the capital required. More than this, the just transition could become an essential part of delivering an ambitious outcome at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow this November. As countries come forward with their new climate targets, these should be accompanied by just transition plans. Some countries are already stepping up, not least South Africa, which is designing an ambitious just transition transaction to pay for phasing down its ailing coal-based power sector and boosting renewables in ways that respect workers and communities, all set against a backdrop of entrenched poverty and high unemployment. Bold approaches to increasing public finance and channelling private capital are going to be essential to make this happen. The stakes are high, according to Fiona Reynolds, chief executive of Principles for Responsible Investment, the US$80 trillion-plus alliance of investors working on environmental and social issues, who argue: “Unless we get the just transition right, we won’t win the climate battle.”
Nick Robins is Professor in Practice for Sustainable Finance at the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute. www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute
Resurgence & Ecologist