Government commission necessary for 'just' transition to net-zero, trade unions argue

A coalition of trade unions have urged the UK Government to create a cross-party commission focused on ensuring that the transition to net-zero by 2050 is socially and economically "just".

The UK Government estimates that around 400,000 people are currently employed in "green-collar" jobs

The UK Government estimates that around 400,000 people are currently employed in "green-collar" jobs

In a new report, entitled ‘a just transition to a greener, fairer economy’, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has recommended Ministers should set up such a commission as soon as possible, and ensure that businesses, unions and the general public are represented within it.

The TUC claims that such a move would help to ensure that no regions or social classes – particularly the 5.5 million working-class people covered by its 48 unions – are adversely affected by the economic impacts of complete decarbonisation.

Published today (8 July), the report also recommends that the Government creates a “transition skills” funding pot, to be used for training workers in high-carbon industries in a way that will future proof their skillsets and help to close the skills gap.

The TUC’s other key calls to action are for the protection of employment standards, to ensure that new jobs in the low-carbon economy are of equal skill and pay scale, and the creation of company or union-led “workplace transition agreements”, which would give workers a say in how their employers adapt to net-zero.

“It’s vital to avoid the mistakes of the 1980s, when industrial change devastated communities because workers had no say,” the TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady said.

“This time we need a plan that everyone can get behind, with workers’ voices at the heart of it. A greener economy can be a fairer economy too, with new work and better jobs right across Britain.”

Fair and square

The TUC will launch its report at an event in London this afternoon, where Shadow Environment Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey and the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) deputy chair Baroness Brown are expected to support its recommendations.

The CCC has notably estimated that the transition to net-zero can be achieved within the same cost envelope currently allocated to decarbonisation in line with the Climate Change Act 2008’s original 2050 proposal of an 80% reduction, against a 1990 baseline. It has priced the shift at 1-2% of GDP by mid-century.

CCC chief executive Chris Stark has also argued that the body had opted against setting the net-zero deadline before 2050 over concerns about the social and economic disruption too rapid a shift would likely cause.

Since the CCC published its advice on reaching net-zero, several key players from across the UK’s green economy have begun using their position to urge for a “just” transition. They include the likes of Green Alliance, The Climate Coalition and the Institute of Public and Policy Research (IPPR), which runs the UK’s environmental justice commission.

Speaking at an event in London last week, the commission’s lead, former Labour leader Ed Miliband argued that the UK will not meet net-zero goal unless decarbonisation policies are "explicitly and intrinsically" linked to the creation of a more socially equal society.

The good news is that the concept of a “just” transition is beginning to gain traction in Government. Energy Minister Claire Perry has previously stated that she will not back decarbonisation policies which risk leaving entire sections of British society – particularly the North, rural communities and working-class people – behind.  

Her approach to this has largely involved ensuring that the Government is splitting its funding between regions and between projects that mitigate and adapt to negative environmental impacts. She has also stated that her department is increasingly working on policies which balance “who pays for projects, how much of a carbon reduction they will drive and, increasingly, what the competitive advantage will be”.

On a global level, the Paris Agreement includes a commitment to a ‘just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs’. As of May 2019, the agreement had been signed by 194 states and nations. 

Sarah George



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