A union leader involved in guiding Scotland’s just transition has warned of the danger of wishful thinking around how net-zero efforts will deliver such plans.
Richard Hardy, National Secretary for Scotland and Ireland at the trade union Prospect and one of the members of the nation’s Just Transition Commission, said he was “upbeat” on delivering change, but that the initiative faces problems of understanding and engagement with politicians and industry.
Speaking at a virtual event on Thursday covering Scottish energy policy and the just transition, Mr Hardy spoke of what he described as “a ‘field of dreams approach’ to just transition – that if we do this, it will happen.”
“I’m not so convinced about that.”
Mr Hardy said there must be more consideration of how such a transition is incorporated into strategic planning, noting that net zero will not deliver it in and of itself.
The commission explains the term “just transition” refers to how society can reach a net zero and climate resilient economy, in a way that delivers fairness and tackles inequality and injustice.
In its 2022 report, the commission warned that a “perfect storm” of COVID and the war in Ukraine had widened inequalities through impacts on food and energy prices, while the wider energy crisis has serious implications for net zero.
Instead, he warned of the dangers of simply against reproducing current inequalities – such as fuel poverty and deindustrialisation – within a new low-carbon economy.
“We won’t replace every single oil and gas job with a job in the offshore wind sector… What we need to think about is supply chains and we need to have much more active government involvement in setting where we need to be,” he added.
Pointing to earlier discussions around the need for Scottish port infrastructure to support an offshore wind buildout, Mr Hardy said the government must “capture the moment” around floating wind manufacturing, backed up by an industrial strategy for Scotland.
“We’ve had wind generation for many, many years and it hasn’t produced jobs in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England either.”
It follows longstanding complaints from union leaders around the lack of local benefits from renewable energy to date.
Gary Cook of the GMB said earlier this year that Scotland had been the “blueprint for how not to deliver” a fair transition, as much of the work to build offshore wind structures has been sent overseas.
Meanwhile Scottish energy secretary Neil Gray recently wrote to the Prime Minister, criticising an alleged “lack of focus” from Westminster on delivering the just transition.
‘Short’ on transition wins
Mr Hardy suggest there should be a greater role for the public sector to promote local benefits and guard against offshoring, arguing that leaving decisions to market has not produced equitable results so far.
“We need to start putting just transition at the start of these processes, not at the end of the process in hopes that it will be delivered,” he continued.
“We have to be able to point to wins for people, and at the moment we are really short on just transition wins – and if I’ve got one ask for people it’s that we need to get some soon.”