Blog: What do we mean by a ‘Just Transition?’

Written by: Ellie Smith, Project Officer at GMCVO

Just Transition is a term that has only entered my vocabulary this year. When mentioned in the context of the environment and the climate crisis, I could take an educated guess but not with any great certainly. Having done some research to find out exactly what ‘Just Transition’ is I am still no expert, but I have a much better idea. Here’s what I have learnt:

What’s the problem? 

We are facing an environmental crisis as the planet warms due to the carbon emissions being produced around the globe. This is causing extreme weather and is having devastating effects on the planet, health and equality, with those most vulnerable around the globe being the worst affected. The World Health Organisation summarises climate change and the impact here.

To stop the planet reaching dangerous temperatures, drastic change is needed in society and the economy to reduce the amount of fossil fuels being burnt and transitioning to renewable sources is necessary to decrease the carbon emissions to achieve 'net zero'. Net zero is when the amount of harmful gas produced is in balance with that which is taken out of the atmosphere. 

This all sounds very sensible and is essential, but changing the way the world operates can have negative impacts on the lives of some, particularly those who work in more carbon producing industries. 

Changing the way the world operates can have negative impacts on the lives of some people/communities

What is a ‘Just Transition’?

A 'Just Transition' is the concept of reducing the amount of carbon we produce and creating a greener economy, while considering that these changes will negatively impact some people’s lives. It is acknowledging that these changes need to happen in a way that is fair and ‘just’ to all -  they need to consider the consequences of changes and put measures in place to protect people affected without increasing inequalities. 

Institute for Public Policy Research have put together a video which explain what the Just Transition is and why it is important.

Why do we need a ‘Just Transition’?

Reducing carbon emissions will bring huge changes to the economy. With every policy change and action to move to a greener economy the consequences need careful consideration, to ensure the transition is fair to all in society. 

To move to a greener economy, the consequences need careful consideration to ensure the transition is fair to all in society

To put this into perspective, consider the impact moving towards electric vehicles may have on those who work in factories that manufacture diesel and petrol cars. What happens to them when the production of those cars stops? Without any measures in place, their job becomes redundant and finding alternative employment from that role will be difficult in a green economy. Without work, will they still earn enough money for suitable housing, for food, to stay in good health? Probably not.

We have seen communities in the past who have had their lives impacted by the closure of fossil fuel industries and have been unable to recover - we should ensure the same mistakes aren’t repeated.  

What is the solution? 

Those affected by the shift towards net zero need to be considered before and while changes are put in place. 

Providing training to upskill workers whose jobs are affected by the move to a green economy enables workers to be transferred into greener roles. Take the previous example of the person who manufactures petrol and diesel cars, one solution would be to continue to use those factories to make electric cars and provide training for that person to build on their existing skills and continue to work within that factory in a new role – something that many car manufactures in the UK are doing.

As some roles will become redundant moving to net zero, it seems many more will be created in the green economy while the infrastructure is built and thereafter. Providing training to support people from redundant roles to these new roles is another possible solution which mitigates negative consequences.

Huge investment will be needed to protect people and keep them in work. Shifting power more locally would allow place specific measures to be put in place, based on the local economy and societal structures. 

The Place-based Climate Action Network (PCAN) takes a closer look at the impact on different sectors and areas of the UK and how the transition can be managed while protecting workers in this article: Tracking Local Employment in the Green Economy: The PCAN jJust Transition Jobs Tracker

What’s next?

In Greater Manchester we have the 2038 target for net zero, 12 years earlier than the UK target. This is great, but it also means the local economy will radically change how it operates. Transition to a greener economy is happening across the UK now. How this is managed and funded is still evolving and will be pivotal in the make-up and ownership of the new economy. 

Will economic structures continue to be dominated by those that already own many assets or is this time of transition an opportunity for our economy to become more inclusive, democratic and community owned?

Is this time of transition an opportunity for our economy to become more inclusive, democratic and community owned?

In partnership with the GM VCSE Leadership Group, we will be holding a week of action in November ‘A Just Transition: A Greener and Fairer Greater Manchester’ to explore what the VCSE sector is currently doing and can do moving forward to support the environment, sustainability and a fair - and just - transition to a green economy. 

See the programme for the week of action here

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