Just Transition Commission call for evidence: analysis report

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

3.2 Social opportunities and challenges

3.2.1 The focus of the second question in the call to evidence was on the wider social impact of the transition to net-zero:

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

3.2.2 As with question one, many respondents described both economic and social challenges. Given the detailed analysis in the previous chapter of economic arguments, this chapter focuses on the wider social themes evident in responses to question two. Themes are presented based on the weight of opinion expressed at question two, from most to least frequently mentioned. Where relevant, responses from question one which relate to social opportunities and challenges have been included in this chapter.

3.2.3 A majority continued to indicate both opportunities and challenges within their responses and where possible themes are identified as such below.

Physical health, transport and pollution

3.2.4 There was a significant overlap between the three most prevalent themes in response to question two - physical health, transport and pollution. For example, those who mentioned improved air quality cited increased public transport use and active travel as key contributing factors. In turn, walking and cycling help tackle obesity, and better air quality helps to reduce respiratory problems. These arguments represented a significant proportion of responses across the three themes. The following summarises additional responses specific to each of the themes.

3.2.5 In regard to health, virtually all respondents viewed the transition as an opportunity to improve health outcomes. In addition to the impact of improved air quality and active travel, respondents described:

  • Improvements to the quality, insulation and heating of housing stock impacting on a range of physical conditions and reducing winter deaths[7]
  • Dietary changes, such as eating locally grown organic fruit and vegetables and eating less red meat, could improve the health outcomes of people in Scotland

3.2.6 A few noted the potential health benefits from greater access to and use of green space, with a small number specifically suggesting prescribing outdoor use. A minor theme was improvements in health leading to reduced health spending.

3.2.7 When it came to transport, many respondents reiterated the changes they would like to see to transport infrastructure and travel behaviours, while others focussed on the impact on air quality and health. Furthermore, some respondents discussed the importance of public transport in allowing people to access services and contribute to society. They made suggestions such as ensuring public services are accessible by a 15-to-20-minute journey on public transport. A few called for car-free town/city centres to encourage people to walk and cycle around them, keeping high streets functioning. One transport organisation provided a detailed response championing the role of community rail in progressing to net-zero. An individual response for the Commission to read called for free public transport in Glasgow, given the potential for this to lift people out of poverty and reduce isolation. A small number highlighted the challenge of connectivity in rural areas, with greater distances, dispersed populations and declining public transport availability. Suggestions to remedy this included more public and community transport.

3.2.8 Another minor theme was safety. Some described safer roads and fewer road deaths due to declining car use. This was seen to encourage active travel, with a few specifically referencing more children being able to cycle to school.

3.2.9 Finally, comments relating to reduced pollution were brief and described better air quality due to a reduction in traffic and fossil fuel use. A small number of comments referenced improved water and soil quality and less litter.

If we can encourage more people to walk, cycle or use public transport, this will have positive health benefits. A reorganisation of city centres, with increased pedestrianisation would help in this, but only if public transport is heavily invested in and fares are subsidised, so that people do not feel the need to use a car. I have seen many examples of good use of this principle in continental Europe, and Canada.


Community cohesion, ownership and decision making

3.2.10 Responses highlighted the importance of communities in achieving a just and successful transition, and that the transition was an opportunity to reinvigorate the role of communities. Themes within this were the value of communities providing services and shared spaces; the potential benefits of community ownership of land and energy generation infrastructure; and the opportunity for greater community cohesion.

3.2.11 Many respondents highlighted the need for local shops and markets to service local food chains. They described the value of shared spaces, community hubs, work hubs, and green spaces, as well as a means of co-operation for shared amenities, such as community libraries and car clubs. A few also talked about people having more time to volunteer in their communities as a result of the move to a net-zero economy.

3.2.12 Several responses described the role of political and decision making structures and the policies which derive from these. A common theme was the opportunity to create more democratic decision making, particularly at a community level, which would allow communities to have a greater say in decisions affecting their area. It was generally felt that communities would be better placed to make strategic decisions and to take action than politicians or private companies. Community-led action groups were also seen to be able to adapt more rapidly and flexibly to the needs of their community. A response from Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership highlighted that Scotland already has strong mechanisms for community engagement through the Community Planning Partnership (CPPs) approach, but a lack of resources, influence, and alignment with national bodies limits the impact of these groups. It was also suggested that local authority procurement could be reviewed to better enable community groups to deliver services, generating greater cohesion, empowerment and ownership.

3.2.13 Community ownership was mentioned by several respondents, particularly in relation to land and energy. Some respondents felt renewable energy projects in particular lent themselves to community ownership, for example wind or solar power. Community involvement and ownership was seen as beneficial since any funds raised by local projects could be reinvested in the area to boost social cohesion. There were calls for expert help, funding, and incentives to help create community groups to support communities with solutions to the transition and with enabling ownership.

3.2.14 All of the above was seen as important in fostering a sense of community and empowerment, and in building more cohesive, resilient communities which are better able to manage and support the transition to net-zero.

Communities should be at the heart of the green recovery. We need to create a sense of urgency, create the political space and develop a clear framework for action. Communities across Scotland should be engaged in this national conversation, indeed many of us already are. Tap into it, include us, use our knowledge and expertise. We are the citizens of Scotland and we are here to help. Opportunities for local decision making and empowerment, for local growing and food economies, opportunities for social cooperatives and community land ownership models which support greater equity in terms of wealth, health, education and economies. These should be supported financially and through knowledge, advice and mentoring from a national network.

Climate Action Strathearn

Social justice and inequality

3.2.15 The effect of the transition on social justice and inequality was the focus of many responses. Most commonly, respondents reflected on the challenge of ensuring the transition benefits everyone - both socially and economically - and does not adversely affect any individuals or vulnerable groups. In particular, respondents noted the challenges faced by those already on low incomes. They argued this group should experience the social and economic benefit but should not be disproportionately burdened with the cost of the transition. A few contrasted this to more affluent groups who can afford to, for example, work from home and upgrade homes and cars to be more energy efficient, while maintaining their existing standard of living.

3.2.16 Another common theme was the opportunity for the transition to reduce inequality and create a more just and fair society. Some made general comments to this effect. Others called for specific changes that were perceived as necessary to generate positive social outcomes. These included, for example, reducing social exclusion, support for marginalised or vulnerable groups, and improved transport and connectivity enabling access to education, jobs and services. A small number noted that a failure to deliver potential benefits could undermine support for further action.

3.2.17 A minor theme was the need to give sufficient consideration to rural areas to ensure they benefit. The difficulty of implementing some of the changes required from the transition in these areas - such as improving public transport and home energy supplies - means additional funding or alternative approaches may be required.

Public attitudes and behaviours

3.2.18 Many respondents shared their views on the need to change public attitudes and behaviours. This was generally perceived as a challenge. The public were often described as disengaged, disempowered and apathetic; to have not yet grasped the extent of the climate emergency or the scale of changes required to alleviate it. However, a few respondents pointed out that public concern over climate change is building and has never been higher. As the Commission highlighted in their interim report, this is an important foundation for action to build upon.

3.2.19 A primary concern was to change attitudes to consumption. Respondents discussed the difficulty of encouraging the public to change their habits and behaviours. There were several comments championing more sustainable approaches to day-to-day life. A few called for a change in mindset, to reduce consumption and move away from the 'Amazon culture' of instant need. Others hoped for people to become more resourceful and less wasteful, learning to reuse and recycle goods and clothes. While legislation was described as having a role to play in this, there were calls for greater support for behaviour change initiatives, and for stronger incentives to make good choices. A few pointed out that a prerequisite for the public's support is clear direction on what changes are needed and how to make them, such as being fully informed about programmes to improve housing and the rationale behind them.

3.2.20 To address these challenges, respondents championed a significant increase in clear, sustained communications. Public awareness campaigns were considered essential to educate the public about the consequences of climate change and the steps needed to mitigate it. They suggested communication should be honest, realistic and positive, and grounded in relatable features of daily life, rather than intangible statistics like levels of CO2 emissions. A few argued that linking change with health benefits is effective. A small number suggested mechanisms to ensure the public's concerns are listened to.

3.2.21 Respondents highlighted the importance of making sure everyone feels part of the change and of establishing how it would benefit everyone. This would create a sense of community and national solidarity. A few noted that it is important for the public to see government and organisations taking the initiative, as individuals do not want to feel the burden and costs of change rest solely on them.

Without buy-in across society, transitional efforts will be ineffective and may be largely ignored by the general population... It can be argued that the wider population has not yet grasped the extent that changes will be needed to the way they live in the future. This cultural shift will need strong national, regional and local leadership, tackling the issues in a structured way to get the wider population assisting rather than resisting. Identification of equitable approaches and clear communications are vital.

Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership

Housing and fuel poverty

3.2.22 The potential to make significant improvements in the quality of housing stock, including improved heating and insulation, was described by many respondents. Several strands of discussion were evident within this theme which highlighted how these changes would have a positive impact on the quality of life of many individuals in Scotland.

3.2.23 A central focus of comments was the need for more and better-quality housing stock. In addition, many highlighted the opportunity to renovate and retrofit existing housing with better, more efficient heating systems and improved insulation. Respondents described how these steps would provide better living conditions which would in turn improve the physical and mental health of people no longer living in cold, damp homes.

3.2.24 It was also widely hoped that these steps would lead to a significant reduction in fuel poverty, which is a particular challenge among older and rural households. While fuel poverty is an economic challenge, respondents often linked tackling this to the improved quality of life people would experience from lower energy spend and from having more disposable income.

3.2.25 Respondents made a number of points in relation to how these changes should be implemented. In relation to building new housing, there were calls for buildings to be designed to minimise energy use, and to be built with high quality materials. A few called for changes in land ownership to release land for more housing, or for use of brownfield sites to aid regeneration. There were calls to ensure both new and existing buildings meet stricter energy efficiency standards. A few noted the challenges of implementing changes in a proportion of Scottish housing stock due to age or poor build quality or to location in rural areas or in shared residential buildings, or in the rental sector.

3.2.26 Some suggested alternative approaches to heating systems and energy generation, such as district heating, heat pumps, smart energy management systems and incorporating solar panels or wind generators into buildings. A small number called for better education on how to heat, ventilate and maintain buildings. One organisation made a specific call for greater use of Thermal Mass to balance temperature fluctuations. A very small number of organisations noted the need to establish local solutions to heat decarbonisation, particularly in rural or 'off-grid' areas. One detailed response for the Commission to read outlined the potential role of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) in such areas as part of a mixed technology approach to decarbonisation.

3.2.27 It was noted that adaptations and any new heating systems should be affordable to tenants or paid for by local or national government initiatives. A few respondents also pointed out the need to be mindful of potentially increased energy prices as renewables or electric heating could be more expensive than natural gas. If not carefully managed, the transition could risk harming social inclusion by pushing more people into fuel poverty.

Improved mental health and wellbeing

3.2.28 The opportunity for the transition to improve mental health was referenced by several respondents. A few commented that people in Scotland would be happier, without providing further detail. However, the majority gave at least one reason, with the most common factors including 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 being able to access services and social activities.

3.2.29 Linked to this, the creation, expansion and protection of green outdoor space was called for by several respondents, as well as improved access to encourage greater use. Respondents referred to both green urban spaces, such as parks and gardens, and to more rural, natural environments. A few called for integrating green spaces into planning procedures and new homes and others suggested greening of routes between and within communities to encourage active travel. One noted the challenge of upkeep, particularly in urban areas.

3.2.30 Two respondents made a specific point about younger people experiencing anxiety around climate change. They argued that listening to the concerns and taking climate change seriously would prevent future mental illness. Another shared their view that citizens of a nation working to meet its climate obligations would feel a sense of civic pride.

Food security

3.2.31 Food was mentioned by several respondents, with a number of themes evident. Most common was the opportunity for food to be grown and purchased locally. This would help individuals develop a better understanding of food and diet and reduce the need to import or transport food over long distances. More local shops and markets was also seen as helping to support sustainable communities. This local supply was viewed as important to ensuring a reliable supply of food and reducing food poverty and insecurity.

3.2.32 One organisation - NFU Scotland - made a specific call for targets for locally produced food to be introduced into the public bodies' procurement to increase local buying. Two similar responses gave an example of an initiative where people have been given £5 to spend on Scottish produce when doing their food shopping.

3.2.33 A few respondents advocated changes in diet to improve health and reduce emissions. Reducing red meat and dairy consumption, eating organic plant-based foods, eating seasonal produce and fewer fast-food outlets were part of this. The Vegan Society noted that Scotland needs to eat more fruit and vegetables, but highlighted the demand for more local growing, given the UK as a whole grows half the vegetables and one sixth of the fruit being consumed.

Changed working practices

3.2.34 Some respondents shared their views on how the transition could be an opportunity to change working practices. Most mentioned greater numbers of people working from home, which was often seen as a positive development, allowing for a better work life balance with more time for family, for engaging with the community or for volunteering. However, a few noted drawbacks such as isolation and challenges faced by those who cannot work from home.

Concerns around impact of change

3.2.35 The potential negative consequences of change were raised as a challenge by some respondents. Most common was a fear of social problems created or exacerbated by a badly managed transition. A few referred to past experiences such as the decline of coal mining and heavy industry in Scotland and the resulting unemployment, poverty and social decline. Other concerns included stemming population loss from declining areas and managing stress caused by economic uncertainty at an individual and industry level (e.g., job losses in oil and gas sector).

Changes to education

3.2.36 Some respondents shared their views on changes to education and the opportunity this presents to equip Scotland's young people to flourish in a net-zero economy. Most common were calls to include new skills in energy, sustainability, ecosystems, and food education in all levels of the education system, so children can learn them from an early age. Other changes mentioned by very small numbers included encouraging children to envision their own future, more nature-based/outdoor education, and the importance of education in fostering an entrepreneurial spirit, setting up innovation hubs and providing practical training programmes for re-skilling.

General comments and overarching themes

3.2.37 A few respondents provided additional background or contextual information, or provided short statements asserting that the opportunities and challenges posed by the transition were many and varied.

3.2.38 Some used question two as an opportunity to stress the importance of the transition, or reiterated comments about the overwhelming severity and global impact of climate change. A few noted the scale and impact on society of the challenge. They described the need for wholesale change to ensure people - especially disadvantaged groups - feel part of a community or society, where they can thrive in clean, healthy cities and environments, and can secure wider social benefits.

3.2.39 Several respondents referenced COVID-19 in their responses. Two main themes were evident within this. Firstly, that the pandemic and lockdown have shown what society could look like if there is a greater focus on wellbeing and sustainability. Respondents argued the public have seen the benefits of reduced travel, changed working practices, a sense of community, greater use of the outdoors and a focus on physical and mental health. It has also shown change is possible when the public is educated and engaged, and when the government offers clear direction and support. However, it has demonstrated a lack of resilience to change and the potential to worsen existing inequalities, for example further marginalisation of vulnerable groups and increased food insecurity.

3.2.40 The other theme in relation to COVID-19 is the opportunity it presents to drive change. Some commented that the pandemic has accelerated changes which would feature in a just transition, such as reduced traffic and more active travel, greater use of green spaces and more working from home. There is a desire for these changes to be sustained, but this might be a challenge in the face of the economic consequences of the pandemic. For that reason, a few argued that the transition needs to work alongside the COVID-19 recovery and highlighted the aims of campaigns such as Build Back Better[8] and Just and Green Recovery for Scotland.[9]

3.2.41 A small number of respondents made specific points which fell outside the themes above. Opportunities included: a request for best practice to be recorded and shared so all people and communities can benefit; an opportunity to generate fewer extreme weather events; community involvement in reducing crime; the role of the historic environment within communities; and calls for good public services and support for the NHS. Challenges included an ageing population; the need to tackle racism and the influence of social media; the hostile view of tabloid media towards measures designed to tackle climate change; the importance of attracting younger people to Scotland and encouraging students to stay after completing their studies; and capturing data to evidence that tackling climate change also has wider social benefits.



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