The move to net zero will bring challenges and opportunities. If we get it wrong, thousands of jobs will be lost and communities destroyed, as fossil fuel based energy and production sites close, with no alternatives for workers. If we get it right, we will bring great new jobs to those same communities, with the UK leading the way in green technology.
That is why trade unions are campaigning for a just transition to a net zero economy, bringing workers and environmental campaigners together in pursuit of a common goal.
The scientific evidence is overwhelmingly clear: we must decarbonise our economy. Trade unionists, including those in industrial communities, understand the urgency of winning the battle against climate change. But our history tells us that, if the transition to a green economy is left solely to the market, the economic and social consequences will be devastating.
Four steps to making a just transition
In June 2019, the TUC published its flagship statement, ‘A just transition to a greener, fairer economy’. This statement makes four fundamental asks.
First, we need a clear commitment from government, including financial resources, to deliver a net zero economy. The TUC is calling for a cross party commission to deliver a long term energy strategy, involving affected workers, unions, industries and consumers. Investment delivered through progressive taxation is necessary to support this change.
Second, workers and communities most affected by the transition should have a central voice in how it is implemented. Greening the economy is a challenge in every country. However, in Germany, their social partnership system guarantees a voice for workers, giving our friends in German unions confidence that any change will be achieved in a fair and sustainable manner. The TUC believes that companies and organisations moving to a low carbon model should implement Transition Agreements – agreed with unions – that cover a range of issues, including jobs, job security, pay and conditions, working time, training and skills, and equal opportunities.
Third, every worker should have access to funding to improve their skills. The opportunity for skills development is the single most important factor in determining whether workers will be able to access the jobs of the future. The government should give workers the confidence to train by establishing individual learning accounts for all adults, so that everyone has a personalised budget for training, as well as a right to career reviews and face-to face guidance to help workers access training. The benefits system must also support workers, so if they take time out of work to learn a new skill, they have the means to do so.
Fourth, new jobs must be good jobs. The ‘green economy’ must recognise unions and bargain with them to ensure high quality employment, with terms and conditions at least as good as those in energy and the transitioning carbon intensive sectors.
A successful economy and a thriving planet
Taken together, these four asks can deliver a just transition to a low carbon economy. Addressing climate change is the biggest challenge we face. The choice between good, well paid jobs and a stable, thriving planet is a false choice; with proper policy support, we can have both. A just transition strategy is the way to get us there.