Just Transition Commission call for evidence: analysis report

Analysis of the responses to the Just Transition Commission's call for evidence.

1. Executive Summary

1.1 Scotland has set a target to move to a net-zero economy by 2045. Significant change is required to realise these ambitions and will necessitate structural shifts to the economy and our society.

1.2 In 2018, the Scottish Government established the Just Transition Commission ('the Commission') to provide Scottish Ministers with practical, realistic, and affordable recommendations which: maximise the economic and social opportunities of a net-zero economy by 2045; build on Scotland's existing strengths and assets; and understand and mitigate risks.

1.3 Following publication of its interim report in February 2020 the Commission ran a Call for Evidence, providing stakeholders across Scotland - individuals, representative bodies, public bodies and businesses - with an opportunity to share their views in advance of the Commission's final report.[1]

1.4 Six open consultation questions covered: the economic and wider social opportunities and challenges associated with meeting Scotland's climate change targets; the actions the Scottish Government should take to manage these; what a successful transition to net-zero emissions would entail; and steps to address issues faced by groups or communities that may be adversely affected.

1.5 The Call for Evidence received 274 responses.[2] This report presents the range of views expressed and common trends in comments. Responses to the consultation, where permission for publication was granted, can be found on the Scottish Government's website.[3]

Q1: What do you see as the main economic opportunities and challenges associated with meeting Scotland's climate change targets?

1.6 The positive economic impact of new jobs associated with a transition was the dominant theme in comments on opportunities. Several referred to a new workforce of green jobs and noted the potential for job creation across multiple sectors. Conversely, many highlighted the significant challenge of managing job losses in industries negatively affected by the transition.

1.7 Opportunities and challenges associated with developing the renewable energy sector were described. Most commonly mentioned was the opportunity to invest in, and develop, a strong and resilient renewable energy sector. A few respondents specifically noted the importance of focusing on green hydrogen. Respondents noted that Scotland is rich in natural resources with potential for onshore, offshore and floating wind, solar, hydro, wave, tidal and biomass, and that if successfully utilised, these could create significant economic gain for Scotland while reducing emissions.

1.8 Training and skills were frequently mentioned as a challenge, including concerns for workers transitioning between sectors, in particular those in oil and gas or the wider fossil fuel sector. More broadly some noted the challenge of ensuring a pipeline of skilled workers to fill the roles needed to achieve a successful transition.

1.9 Several referenced the potential growth of industries such as forestry, and new jobs in sustainable agriculture, land and wildlife management and tourism. Respondents highlighted the opportunity for better, more responsible land use and management, through rewilding, forestry, peatland restoration and conservation, and the protection of other natural environments as ways to improve biodiversity.

1.10 A desire among some businesses and sectors to maintain the status quo and slow or prevent change was described as a challenge by some. Many argued for a fundamental change to Scotland's economy and in how economic success is measured, moving away from a focus on GDP towards wellbeing, for example. Several noted the opportunity to enhance the role of the circular economy in Scotland.

1.11 The cost of the transition was also widely highlighted as an economic challenge, for individuals, businesses and society as a whole. Several noted that significant investment is needed to facilitate change at the scale and pace required and a need for up-front investment in new and renewable technologies and supporting infrastructure. A few highlighted the additional challenge of COVID-19 potentially reducing public funds and limiting the appetite for the private sector to invest.

Q2: What do you think are the wider social (health, community etc.) opportunities and challenges associated with meeting Scotland's climate change targets?

1.12 Health benefits were most commonly highlighted by respondents, who anticipated better outcomes resulting from cleaner air, active travel, dietary changes and improvements to the housing stock. Many respondents described the changes they would like to see in transport infrastructure and travel behaviours, foreseeing a growth in active travel, public transport and electric vehicles.

1.13 Potential improvements to mental health were referenced by several respondents, who linked the transition to greater use of the outdoors, green space and exposure to nature; being more active with more walking and cycling; better quality and warmer homes; and access to services and social activities.

1.14 Respondents highlighted opportunities for greater community cohesion through the transition, resulting from localised approaches to achieving lower emissions. Themes in these comments included discussion of community services and shared spaces, and reflections on the potential benefits of community ownership of land and energy generation infrastructure.

1.15 The effect of the transition on social justice and inequality was the focus of many responses, with discussion of the challenge to ensure that the transition benefits everyone - both socially and economically. Many saw the net-zero transition as an opportunity to reduce inequality and create a more just and fair society. In relation to this, fairer distribution of economic benefits, more inclusiveness, support for marginalised or vulnerable groups, less social exclusion, and improved transport and connectivity enabling access to education, jobs and services, were referenced. The potential negative impacts of a badly managed transition were also highlighted as a challenge, with issues such as potential higher living costs for people in poverty cited.

1.16 Many reflected on improving the energy efficiency of Scotland's housing stock. Themes included: that such a large undertaking could generate many jobs; that lower heating and electricity costs would have a positive economic impact for individuals; and the challenge of funding improvements, particularly given those in the poorest quality housing tend to be least able to afford to take action.

1.17 Food was mentioned by several who highlighted the opportunity for dietary changes to benefit health and for more food to be grown and purchased locally.

1.18 Opportunities to create, expand, protect and encourage greater use of green outdoor space were noted. Many championed more sustainable approaches to day-to-day life and some shared views on how the transition could be an opportunity to change working practices, including more working from home.

1.19 Many respondents raised the need to change public attitudes and behaviours, typically describing this as a challenge. The public were described as disengaged about the climate emergency or the scale of change required to alleviate it.

Q3: What would a successful transition to net-zero emissions look like for your sector/community?

1.20 Respondents painted a picture of a prosperous, healthier and sustainable Scotland where environmental considerations are central to decision making. Success has resulted in higher employment in sustainable and valued jobs. Poverty has been reduced or eliminated, with ambitious changes to housing alleviating fuel poverty. Decarbonisation and renewable energy have reduced pollution, as has more public transport and active travel.

1.21 A few respondents suggested COVID-19 has meant people in Scotland have experienced some of the changes that would feature in a successful transition, demonstrating how lives could be improved by adopting such changes permanently.

Q4: What actions do you think the Scottish Government should take to manage the opportunities and challenges referenced above?

1.22 Calls for leadership and a sense of urgency were frequently identified; several respondents urged the Scottish Government to be bold and set more radical targets for emissions. A range of legislative and policy approaches was suggested to manage the opportunities and challenges outlined in submissions. Many respondents urged the Scottish Government to engage in an information and awareness campaign to garner public support and understanding for the transition.

1.23 Suggestions linked to energy and emissions included calls for a decommissioning plan for the oil and gas sector and a more ambitious goal of achieving a 90% reduction in carbon emissions by 2035. Suggested actions to support Scotland's emissions goals included addressing practices that undermine net-zero (such as peat extraction), ending subsidies for oil and gas and encouraging ways to improve energy efficiency in homes.

1.24 An appetite for innovation and investment was evident in many responses, including research and funding to support the development of renewable energy systems technology and to enhance Scotland's energy infrastructure.

1.25 There was wide ranging discussion in relation to land use and agricultural practices. On food, there was a focus on sustainable approaches, including frequent references to food waste, with calls for an end to schemes that encourage excess food purchasing, and for single use plastics to be banned in Scotland.

1.26 Calls for actions linked to transport appeared frequently, for example: the development of an electric transport system; national ownership of public transport services; general discouragement of car use; and requests for the Scottish Government to nurture and promote a cycling culture.

1.27 The contribution of expenditure and activity by the public sector to the process of reducing emissions was highlighted by many respondents. They urged the Scottish Government to, for example divest public sector pensions from any investment in fossil fuel companies, and to direct procurement systems to increase the spend on local, sustainable businesses.

1.28 Some respondents suggested taxation could support the shift to a net-zero economy, for example tax to discourage activity contributing to emissions, or tax as a means to generate revenue to invest in developing the green economy. Many respondents spoke positively about the Scottish National Investment Bank and suggested it could play an important role in the transition, for example by funding projects that contribute to achieving net-zero or by investing in green bonds.

1.29 Respondents anticipated a role for communities in supporting the public to change, fostering energy efficient ways of living and raising awareness of the need for a transition. This included arguments for devolved decision making forums such as Citizens Assemblies and comments on the Community Empowerment Scotland Act (2015) and role of Community Planning Partnerships in shifting the balance of power and engaging communities in efforts to achieve a transition.

1.30 Frequent calls for sectoral adjustment plans and for investment in workforce training and development to support the transition were identified. This discussion included: an acknowledgement that those working in carbon intensive industries will need support to shift to new forms of employment; and wider reflections on the range of skills Scotland will need for a greener economy.

1.31 Some suggested households with low levels of income should receive financial assistance, on the basis that the shifts required in behaviour could disadvantage the most vulnerable. In some cases, this was spoken of in general terms; others made specific calls for the introduction of a universal basic income.

Q5. Are there specific groups or communities that may be, or feel that they may be, adversely affected by a transition to a net-zero carbon economy? What steps can be taken to address their concerns?

1.32 Views on groups that may be adversely affected typically fell into one of six categories: those working directly or indirectly in jobs linked to fossil fuels or carbon intensive industries; lower income households; vulnerable groups including people with protected characteristics; farmers and landowners; car users; and people living in rural or remote rural areas.

1.33 Respondents called for close consideration of impacts and mitigating actions. Examples of steps to address concerns included job guarantees, income protection, apprenticeships, training incentives and investment in the growth of sectors and technologies that are not fossil fuel dependent, to encourage job growth.

1.34 Some suggested that without a specific focus on lower income households, or vulnerable groups, existing inequalities could be exacerbated. In this vein, a few advocated for a human rights-based approach to just transition, highlighting principles of non-discrimination, participation and accountability as important.

1.35 Many respondents called for recognition that people in rural areas depend on cars to access the employment and services they need. Significant changes in land use were anticipated as part of a transition to net-zero, including a shift in production from livestock to crops. Solutions included research, education and training, and financial support such as fair pricing schemes or a guaranteed basic income.

Q6. Please provide here any other information, evidence, or research you consider relevant to the work of the Commission.

1.36 A multitude of examples, reports, books, websites and articles were shared. This information typically fell into three groups: (1) scientific evidence illustrating the urgent need to achieve net-zero; (2) material discussing the political, philosophical or economic implications of managing climate change; and (3) examples of practice or models for the Commission to consider. A full record has been compiled for the Commission to review and is included in the Annex to this publication.


1.37 A range of informed individuals and stakeholders took part in the consultation. They appeared to be engaged and knowledgeable about a huge array of matters relating to a just transition, including both the economic and social impacts of change and the groups who are likely to be affected. Respondents were also able to outline their vision and ambitions for a successful transition and the actions required to achieve this. Together, these responses provide a useful evidence base for the Just Transition Commission to draw upon when developing their final report.

1.38 While the severe consequences of climate change and the importance of moving to net-zero was an ever-present theme, the significant challenges in ensuring a just transition were acknowledged, including the need to ensure no one is left behind or disadvantaged through the process of change. Overall, the key message from those who participated in the consultation was that ending our contribution to climate change offers the opportunity for growth, innovation, improved wellbeing and a healthier, fairer society.


Email: justtransitioncommission@gov.scot

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