A Green and Fair Future: For a Just Transition to a Low Carbon Economy
A shift to a lower carbon economy is not just necessary but increasingly inevitable. Although much more needs to be done to reduce the risk of significant climate change this century, new environmental regulation and the establishment of carbon markets will begin to change the shape of the UK economy over the next decade.
Unfortunately, significant periods of economic restructuring in the past have often happened in a chaotic fashion leaving ordinary workers, their families and communities to bear the brunt of the transition to new ways of producing wealth. Indeed, many individuals and communities in the UK are still paying the price for the rapid shift away from industrial production over the last 30 years.
Such injustice cannot become a feature of environmental transition. Not only would this be morally wrong and socially damaging but it would undermine the credibility of the transition itself and could slow or even halt this vital and urgent shift.
For this reason, among others, we need a 'Just Transition' to a low carbon economy. Just Transition recognises that support for environmental policies are conditional on a fair distribution of the costs and benefits of those policies across the economy, and on the creation of opportunities for active engagement by those affected in determining the future wellbeing of themselves and their families.
In particular, the wider and more detailed arguments for Just Transition can be summarised as follows:
Social justice and employment
It is as yet unclear whether environmental transition will result in a rise or fall in overall levels of employment. What is certain is that there will be 'job churn'
- a shift in the location of jobs between sectors and in the types of jobs done within sectors. Thus Just Transition measures are needed to ensure that job loss as a result of environmental transition is minimised and that change within sectors does not occur at the expense of decent work and decent terms and conditions.
A Just Transition strategy is also required to ensure that environmental initiatives not necessarily related to employment - for example, green taxes - do not impact on lower income groups.
Untapped potential and the need for workers' support
Substantial evidence exists that environmental transition happens fastest and most efficiently when workers are involved, so that those affected by environmental policy are secure in the knowledge that their views and needs are being fully considered and responded to. Despite this, UK employees are currently an 'untapped resource' when it comes to tackling climate change.
Involving employee representatives, such as trade unions, in the planning of environmental measures - as advocated by Just Transition - is one way to make better use of employees as drivers of environmental change.
Economic return and the benefits of long-term planning
Evidence shows that Just Transition measures should not be seen as one-way traffic in terms of the flow of money and support from the wider economy to those at risk from environmental transition. The necessity of the long-term planning required by Just Transition can have additional benefits, in terms of both research and development and potentially strategic investments in green industries.
Many of these Just Transition concerns are now reflected in the International Trade Union Confederation's submissions to the UN in support of a new global climate change treaty. And as this pamphlet shows, they are proving influential across the world, in countries including the USA, Argentina, Spain, Germany and Denmark. However, the issues raised by Just Transition have been, at best, marginal to debate about the environment in the UK. It is time this situation changed.
Drawing on the way the concept has been understood in other countries, this pamphlet develops a detailed set of principles and provisions of Just Transition appropriate to the UK context.
Just Transition principles
1. Meaningful environmental transition and sustainable development
Environmental transition is both inevitable and desirable. Environmental degradation is one of the most serious threats facing humankind; all sections of society need to work together to prevent further damage to the planet's natural ecosystems.
2. Representation and employee involvement
It is essential that all sections of society have their perspectives voiced, considered and defended in decision-making bodies dealing with environmental transition. This includes representation at a variety of levels, from seats on national policy-making fora to involvement in more specific local negotiations, such as those surrounding environmentally-triggered plant closures.
3. Stable employment and long-term planning
A key element in ensuring a Just Transition is the long-term planning necessary to achieve stable employment. This does not just involve keeping individuals in work: it also includes preserving job equity, and ensuring that pay, conditions and health and safety do not suffer as a result of the changes that occur.
At the heart of the Just Transition concept is a recognition that ensuring social justice in the transition to a low carbon economy cannot be based on the vain hope that the market alone will provide. Planning and proactive policies by government to take full economic advantage of the global environmental transition is a basic precondition of a just transition. Without the necessary incentives and conditions for green enterprise and investment to get underway, current jobs will simply be lost to other countries, rather than be transformed into green jobs. The UK Government is only starting to recognise the truth of this now and there is still a very long way to go when we compare our economy to our European neighbours.
4. Social justice and a fair distribution of costs
Just as support for environmental change is needed from all sections of society, so the costs of that change must fall proportionately on all sections.
5. Government backing and a united purpose
Achieving Just Transition relies on a high level of commitment from all relevant stakeholders - not least the Government, trade unions and employer federations.
Just Transition provisions
1. A national framework or mechanism to ensure long-term planning and
representative decision making on environmental transition
The framework would outline how the Government planned to engage with trade unions and other key stakeholders on Just Transition. It could involve the creation of a new body or bodies to plan for, and advise ministers on, the transition process. It may also stipulate consultation requirements for subnational bodies and companies involved in environmental transition.
2. Education and training to aid sustainable employment
It is vital that adequate planning and provision of education and training takes place to protect jobs in the sectors that will be most affected by environmental transition. The Government is beginning to recognise the importance of this.
For example, an energy skills and training strategy is taking shape following a commitment in the Energy White Paper (May 2007). From a Just Transition perspective, key priorities must include the following: a genuine partnership approach to negotiating skills strategies that are fit for purpose; a reliable forecast of the UK's likely energy supply profile to 2015 and 2020; development of employer support for a new apprenticeships strategy; a new diversity strategy for the energy sector; and employers fully recognising the role of union learning representatives
3. Decent jobs
Just Transition must not just be about creating 'green jobs' to meet the direct material needs of those workers affected by the shift to a low carbon economy. It must also be about ensuring the jobs are decent jobs. While the transition process in sectors such as energy is meeting this goal, other environmental industries - in particular, waste and recycling - are not. A combined effort is
required by employers, government and unions to address insecure and dangerous working conditions.
4. Greening the workplace
Following the success of initiatives such as the TUC's Greenworkplaces project, there should be an extension of schemes to help employers and employees work together to set and meet environmental targets. These goals could relate to simple environmental measures (e.g. basic energy saving practices) or more complicated schemes such as efforts to increase the sustainability of production processes. In particular, the Government should offer legal rights to green reps to give them time off for training and environmental activity at work..
5. Flexible transition packages for workers
Support for workers whose jobs may be lost or may face significant change due to environmental transition is crucial to any Just Transition programme. Although support packages would need to be flexible - in order to take account of the different situations in which workers find themselves - a general outline or timeline for such a scheme could be agreed. It might include: consultation requirements; education/training/re-skilling; compensation to cover relocation costs or living costs for those finding new work or who are facing significant change in the nature of their work.
Achieving such a programme of support packages will require significant interdepartmental working from the Government, with particular involvement from the Departments for Work and Pensions, for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and for Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, as well as regional development agencies (RDAs).
6. Support for communities
It is likely that some areas will face more challenges than others because of the geographically concentrated nature of many energy-intensive industries. Responsibility for a clearer understanding of which areas need to be monitored and the likely impacts of environmental transition on those areas must fall to the Department for Communities and Local Government, the relevant local authorities and regional development agencies, employers bodies such as the
Engineering Employers Federation and trade unions with high densities of membership in the key communities.
Many elements of a Just Transition programme, while paying for themselves in the long-term, will require an initial - or indeed an ongoing - investment to make them possible. An obvious source of funding is the massive revenue stream due to flow to the Exchequer from the auctioning of allowances under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
8. Monitoring and further research
The lack of research regarding many areas of environmental transition needs to be addressed. In particular, information needs to be collated on (1) the UK skills base required in a low carbon economy; (2) the effect that the extra costs of environmental regulation is likely to have on pay, conditions and levels of employment; (3) the impact of environmental transition on job equity; and
(4) the regional impact of environmental policies on jobs and skills.
Issued: 16 June, 2008