Net Zero - a “just transition”? - Stephen Vere

With COP26 behind us and many commitments having been made, there is wide consensus across Scotland that the move from a fossil fuel intensive society to a net zero one should be a “just transition”.

West Bromwich Albion mascot Boiler Man may get a new look as old-style equipment disappears (Picture: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Scotland has done incredibly well at decarbonising its electricity supply, with about 97 per cent of our electricity consumption coming from renewable sources, with onshore wind delivering about 70 per cent of capacity, followed by hydro and offshore wind.

Although we’ve made great strides in decarbonising our electricity, decarbonising our heat and transport will be a far bigger challenge. As we switch from gas to renewables, we’ll need to convert our boilers and, in many cases, replace our pipes and gas cookers too.

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Whilst it could be argued that many of the technologies we require are “proven” to work, they currently cost a lot more to buy, install and operate than our current, polluting technologies. These costs will inevitably come down, as we’ve seen with solar power and wind turbines as efficiencies and economies of scale are achieved. But the fact remains that this transition is going to cost more than we currently pay – what is not often discussed is: who is going to pay?

So, how do you pay? Raising taxes is one lever; household bills is another. Governments can regulate around this and no doubt a combination of approaches will be required. However, consumer engagement and education and personal responsibility is central to bringing the nation on the net zero transition journey. Carbon reduction is still perceived as someone else’s problem by many and therefore someone else’s responsibility when it comes to paying for it. Difficult decisions are going to have to be made which will need to balance the economy, wellbeing and sustainability of our planet.

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Given the additional cost, this transition isn’t going to happen without the public’s support and we’re not going to have this support without the transition being viewed as “just”. By this we mean creating high value secure jobs, fair wages and solutions that work. But we also have to ensure this reduces fuel poverty and costs are not borne by those least able to pay. The Net Zero transition isn’t in itself going to solve fuel poverty or fully address inequalities, but it has an important role to play in it.

What we must also do is focus on “place”. People won’t pay more if they can’t see any benefits beyond carbon reduction, which is largely invisible. Therefore, in tackling the challenge we must also make the transition about improving our lives, our communities and making our towns cities and villages more desirable places to live, work and bring up families.

For this reason, the Scottish Futures Trust has developed a toolkit for the public sector and put “place” at the heart of our Net Zero Public Sector Buildings Standard which helps deliver net zero-ready buildings.

Working closely with central and local government we’re emphasising the importance of “place” – because only by making Scotland an attractive place to live and work will we attract the inward investment and skilled jobs that’ will make this transition much easier to fund. It’s a hard nut to crack but without doing so we’re unlikely to achieve those commitments made at COP26.

Stephen Vere, Programme Director – Net Zero, the Scottish Futures Trust

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