Zero-car­bon world must be won with­out re­peat of min­ers’ strike chaos

The Scotsman - - Perspective - Mary Church

As the world starts to switch from fos­sil fu­els to a zero-car­bon econ­omy, key sec­tors could be pitched into the kind of tur­moil ex­pe­ri­enced by Scot­land’s min­ers in the 1980s with com­mu­ni­ties ripped apart as peo­ple lost their jobs and mass un­em­ploy­ment set in.

How­ever, al­though the is­sue doesn’t fea­ture on the of­fi­cial agenda, one of the main themes at the 23rd United Na­tions climate sum­mit un­der­way in Bonn is the idea of how to bring about a “just tran­si­tion” that would avoid this bleak prospect from be­com­ing a real­ity.

While of­fi­cial ne­go­ti­a­tions fo­cus on con­tentious is­sues of the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Paris Agree­ment – in a process in which his­toric and cur­rent global in­jus­tices are al­ways strongly present – nu­mer­ous side events are high­light­ing the need for ac­tion to en­sure that work­ers and com­mu­ni­ties de­pen­dent on high-car­bon in­dus­tries are not left be­hind in the move to zero-car­bon economies.

The trade union-crafted con­cept was ce­mented in the 2015 Paris Agree­ment’s pre­am­ble, which called for “a just tran­si­tion of the work­force and the cre­ation of de­cent work and qual­ity jobs” in the con­text of ur­gently needed emis­sion re­duc­tions and adap­ta­tion to the im­pacts of climate change.

What is par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing and in­spir­ing is the di­ver­sity and strength of the move­ment com­ing to­gether to call for a just tran­si­tion.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and trade unions may be per­ceived as un­likely bed­fel­lows, but what unites us is ul­ti­mately stronger than any dif­fer­ences and that is our shared recog­ni­tion of the grav­ity of the climate cri­sis and our shared de­sire for jus­tice. As the In­ter­na­tional Trade Union Con­fed­er­a­tion (ITUC) starkly puts it: there are no jobs on a dead planet. Clearly that is some­thing we should work to­gether to avoid.

In Bonn, Friends of the Earth In­ter­na­tional and the ITUC held a joint event at which we heard from a di­verse panel of speak­ers about some of the chal­lenges as well as some of the suc­cess sto­ries.

There was plenty to re­flect upon. We were able to cel­e­brate emerg­ing suc­cess sto­ries of planned tran­si­tions from coal to re­new­ables for work­ers in Aus­tralia.

But ques­tions were also raised about whether multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions could ever de­liver the kind of trans­for­ma­tive change needed to re­spond to the climate cri­sis – is it re­ally cred­i­ble to think of Shell turn­ing around, clean­ing up its dirty work in Nige­ria and de­liv­er­ing re­new­able power to the peo­ple with­out be­ing com­pelled to?

Scot­land was among those ex­am­ples with its re­cently an­nounced Just Tran­si­tion Com­mis­sion hailed as an ex­am­ple of the climate lead­er­ship the world so badly needs right now. The com­mis­sion was one of the key de­mands of the Just Tran­si­tion Part­ner­ship set up by Friends of the Earth Scot­land and the Scottish Trade Union Congress a year ago and we are de­lighted that the Scottish Gov­ern­ment lis­tened.

How­ever, at this stage there is very lit­tle de­tail about what the com­mis­sion will do, be­yond the brief ref­er­ence in the re­cent Pro­gramme for Gov­ern­ment.

The new Just Tran­si­tion Com­mis­sion will “ad­vise Scottish Min­is­ters on ad­just­ing to a more re­source­ef­fi­cient and sus­tain­able eco­nomic model in a fair way which will help to tackle in­equal­ity and poverty, and pro­mote a fair and in­clu­sive jobs mar­ket”. Not a bad start­ing point, but we need to put some flesh on the bones: who will sit on the Com­mis­sion and what will it ac­tu­ally do?

First of all it is clear that the mem­ber­ship of the Just Tran­si­tion Com­mis­sion must in­clude trade unions, work­ers, com­mu­ni­ties and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists.

Its re­mit must be linked to the de­liv­ery of the five-yearly climate change plans which de­tail how Gov­ern­ment in­tends to meet its legally bind­ing emis­sion-re­duc­tion tar­gets.

And the plan it­self must ex­plain how poli­cies and pro­pos­als will im­pact on em­ploy­ment and in­clude mea­sures to sup­port work­ers. There must be a fo­cus on the cre­ation of de­cent jobs in low-car­bon sec­tors in­clud­ing trans­port, re­new­able en­ergy and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency.

The com­mis­sion will not be ef­fec­tive if it is pi­geon-holed as a climate change ini­tia­tive: it must have a cross-port­fo­lio purview, par­tic­u­larly with econ­omy, jobs and fair work. It must also have a clear link to the work of the new Scottish Na­tional In­vest­ment Bank, an­other wel­come pro­posal in the re­cent Pro­gramme for Gov­ern­ment.

As the climate cri­sis, which once seemed like a far-off thing that a fu­ture gen­er­a­tion would have to deal with, starts to make it­self felt, the world is at a cross­roads. This is decade zero in the fight to limit global warm­ing to a level at which our planet can still sus­tain hu­man life.

The tran­si­tion to a low-car­bon econ­omy will no doubt hap­pen one way or an­other, but if it is left to mar­ket forces it will be a painful one. Scot­land has seen un­just tran­si­tions in the past – with the clo­sure of coal pits in the 1980s tear­ing up the so­cial fab­ric of com­mu­ni­ties, many of which still suf­fer from the con­se­quences of the way in which that sign­f­i­cant change to the econ­omy was mis­han­dled. We have the chance to do it dif­fer­ently this time. Let’s take it and use this op­por­tu­nity to build a fairer, more equal Scot­land at the same time.

● Mary Church is head of cam­paigns for Friends of the Earth Scot­land.


0 Scot­land’s coal in­dus­try saw the clo­sure of the last deep mine at Lon­gan­net in 2002

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