SSE vows to produce ‘Just Transition’ plans to bolster science-based climate targets
SSE has become the first UK energy firm to commit to developing 'Just Transition' plans, which will protect affected workers and communities as it aligns with the UK's net-zero target.
In a statement of written responses from its annual general meeting, published late last week, SSE responded to a question from key investors concerning its plans to address the full scope of the socio-economic implications of its net-zero ambition and decarbonisation targets.
The question concerned SSE’s recently announced science-based targets, which will see the business reduce its absolute Scope 1 (direct) and Scope 2 (power-related) emissions by 40% by 2030 and halve emissions generated by its products at the use stage by 2034. SSE claims that meeting these targets will reduce the carbon intensity of electricity it generates by 60% between 2018 and 2030 and is investing £7bn to drive progress.
While the climate benefits of these targets are clear, the investors asked how SSE would support staff made redundant as it closes its unabated fossil fuel power stations in the coming decades. The question as to how renewable generation projects would be developed in collaboration with local communities was also floated, as were opportunities for repurposing existing infrastructure and rolling out upskilling initiatives.
SSE agreed with the basis of the question and concurred that the transition to net-zero would have “many social implications”, which the business has a “direct role” in addressing. It ultimately pledged to publish a statement of Just Transition principles and a plan for delivery by November 2021.
The statement will kick-start the creation of “new low-carbon economic activity in a way that maximises the opportunity to a diverse range of people in local areas that can benefit,” SSE said. It will include measures for collaborating with staff, regulators, policymakers, local authorities and communities.
SSE laid out four pillars which it has framed as key to the delivery of a just transition: securing the necessary investment in decarbonisation; regarding employees with respect and guaranteeing decent work; ensuring that communities in which generation takes place are regarded as key stakeholders; and providing consumers with affordable and accessible energy services.
Boris Johnson’s Government has vowed, as one of its core objectives, to “level up” economies across the UK – ensuring that low-income regions and marginalised socio-economic groups have proportional access to funding and opportunity, so that their contribution to the economy and their wellbeing can be boosted.
Previous research has suggested that the UK is not on track to deliver on this mission. One study by Imperial College London found that the UK’s current green policy frameworks could create a “two-tier” economy, with regions such as the North of England and East Midlands not receiving the financial and social benefits of the low-carbon transition in the way that London and the South East are. At present, two-thirds of jobs in the low-carbon industries are estimated to be based in London and the South East.
Hosting COP26, however, provides the government with an impetus to improve. Before she was removed from her position as President of the conference, Claire Perry O’Neill MP had spoken strongly and repeatedly of her intention to use the event to further a just low-carbon transition domestically and internationally.
While the Treasury and Cabinet have made reference to the just transition since the general election in December, as has new COP26 president Alok Sharma, the government is facing mounting pressure to go further and faster on turning its promises into actions.
February saw Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, warning that the UK’s net-zero transition will be viewed as “hypocrisy” unless more is done to further climate action overseas and to maximise the socio-economic benefits domestically. Then, in May, a cross-party coalition of MPs called on the Treasury to establish a £5bn national Just Transition Fund as part of its Covid-19 recovery plans.