UK must rebuild trust in transition to zero-carbon economy

Delivering a national plan, such as a Green New Deal, is one of three necessary elements to delivering a just transition and restoring trust, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has said.

On 28 November, it published a report, Trust in Transition, in which it stated Britain had a “terrible track record” of managing deep industrial change in a just manner, leading to a “profound lack of trust”. It warned that the rebuilding of trust in the transition to a zero-carbon economy is “the central political challenge” that is facing the UK as it decarbonises.

It explained that concrete action can help to rebuild trust, listing three main elements as a means of doing this: a firm framework from government for deep investment in and the direction creation of a new generation of good jobs; the rebuilding of worker influence in the direction of national and local industrial strategy; and the devolution of significant parts of a national green jobs and reskilling programme to regions and localities, along with the funds and powers to match.

Based on these concrete actions, NEF made a series of recommendations for government, including bringing forward the target date for net-zero emissions as part of an economy-wide plan or a Green New Deal. It explained that to provide impetus for transition planning, reskilling and investment that has to start now, a significantly more ambitious net-zero target date is required than the current 2050 one. The date should form part of a galvanising of urgent short-term action, ensuring there is a transformative effect on the day-to-day of government decision making and economic planning for the economy as a whole. Off this, sectoral and industry-specific targets will be required to ensure that the key segments of the UK’s industrial landscape are focused on rapid and fair transition.

This, the NEF said, could include bringing forward to 2030 the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars or committing to no new oil and gas exploration in the UK post-2022.

Furthermore, the report called for the whole of government, citing the Treasury in particular, to align around delivering a rapid and just transition, noting this sort of institutional alignment would be key to successful delivery. The Treasury would have a central role with every budget for the next decade having to be explicitly green.

Elsewhere, it called for the UK’s carbon budgets to be disaggregated to reflect regional and local need, the establishment of a Just Transition Fund for local and regional use to support essential non-capital measures and for all existing economic support for high-carbon energy to be ended. This would see funding redirected, where possible, to support the just transition. The report further recommended that trade union legislation should be overhauled to enable the full participation of unions in the shaping of national and local just transition industrial planning, along with the creation of a legal framework to allow union members to organise and take legitimate industrial action to secure the environmental sustainability of their workplace.

The report also called for new local economic partnerships (LEPs) to be established, as well as new combined City and County Regional Authorities, to lead the just transition process at the local level. Combined regional authorities would have meaningfully devolved powers over local finance, local economic strategy, and the shaping of national economic strategy. With regards to current LEPs in place, the report said these would be replaced with new ones that have a reviewed membership and mandate to lead the just transition process at a local level. These new LEPs would have a duty to develop a Green New Deal economic plan and to set up Just Transition Commissions to implement them fairly.

NEF said the lack of a just transition to date was a “core function of how our economy is run”. With none of the principles of a just transition process guiding industrial strategy, those workers in high-carbon industries would have some justification in distrusting that the changes to be made would be to their benefit. Furthermore, there were no guarantees that the new jobs created would be good jobs. With business as usual not an option in the face of global trends and climate change, it said a new model localising industrial strategy around the distinct aspirations and needs of communities was required.