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Richard Lochhead

Richard Lochhead: A global effort to achieve a just transition to net zero

27 October 2021, 10:15 UTC 6 min read

This year the world’s most important global climate summit will take place in Scotland. COP26 gives us a unique opportunity to progress the society and economy-wide transformation demanded by the climate and nature loss emergencies. It is our best, perhaps only, chance to effect meaningful change for our people and planet on a global scale.

Here in Scotland, people remain at the heart of everything we do to tackle climate change and nature loss. As part of my job as Scotland’s first Minister for Just Transition, I’m working to ensure that we protect our planet in a way that leaves no-one behind.

‘Just transition’ is a concept which is rightly gathering momentum across the globe and emerging as a pivotal theme of the climate debate, with Scotland taking a lead. Our commitment to this principle can be seen in the establishment of a Just Transition Commission to advise us, and the fact we’ve written a just transition to net zero into law. Fundamentally, it is about ensuring that, as we reduce our emissions and respond to a changing climate, a better future is in store for everyone - no matter where they live, what they do, and who they are.

It’s essential that this huge societal change is managed well. Many of us remember the shocks caused by other sudden changes, such as the closure of our coal mines. Too many people and communities were left behind with the scars still with us today. This is what can happen when structural change in our economy is not managed properly and the impact on people’s lives and livelihoods is ignored.

States and nations have a critical and unique role to play in achieving the just transition we all need and deserve. We are closer to our populations and the challenges that a changing climate brings, have the tools to deliver innovative solutions and a tailored approach that works for people.

One way we’re putting this into action in Scotland is through our focus on communities and local areas. We’re investing in infrastructure to create twenty minute communities so people have what they need to live on their doorstep. Our ‘Scotland Loves Local’ programme encourages people to shop locally, thus supporting local businesses and strengthening and regenerating the towns at the heart of our communities. We know that an inclusive approach is required to deliver meaningful change for all.

It is meaningful change and action that we need leaders to commit to at COP26. Our First Minister was one of the first leaders in the world to declare a climate emergency, underscoring our commitment to tackling the greatest threat facing people and our planet. As part of our commitment to the Paris Agreement, we have world leading targets to achieve net zero emissions by 2045. Scotland has made great progress already - we are over half way there. Nevertheless to meet this goal and help meet the global commitment to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, we will all need to work together and learn from each other.

Scotland is dedicated to driving international collaboration and tackling climate change on a global scale. In recognition of the crucial role and responsibility of states and nations, the First Minister launched the Net Zero Futures initiative, which is providing a platform for state and sub-national governments to come together and help each other achieve net zero. We’re standing up to meet our international responsibilities also, including recognising that those least responsible for the climate emergency, such as those in the global south, face its worst impacts. Since 2012, our world first Climate Justice Fund has supported some of the world’s most vulnerable people in becoming more resilient to climate change and we committed to doubling the fund this year too.

Without doubt the journey to net zero will continue to fundamentally change global economies and society at large. I am acutely aware that this transition needs to be done in the right way and with the right priorities, bringing everyone on the journey with us – and I am determined to make that happen. Climate action, done well, can help tackle issues like child poverty and fuel poverty. Here in Scotland we’re committed to an inclusive approach and know that these issues are all connected – there is no success with one, without the other.

We continue to reinforce our values with action: we have the most ambitious and comprehensive fuel poverty legislation in the UK and our transformative investment to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency across Scotland’s homes and buildings proceeds at pace. On top of this, our National Transition Training Fund is delivering retraining support for people at risk of being left behind in the job market and we’re creating a new Green Jobs Workforce Academy to support employees and those facing redundancy to reskill for emerging green jobs. Our Energy Transition Fund is helping businesses in the oil, gas, and energy sectors adapt to meet the challenge of net zero, and the Scottish National Investment Bank is open for business, with its mission to provide capital to build a stronger, fairer, more sustainable Scotland. Throughout this we’re committed to ensuring we put people at the heart of what we do and bring industry and global partners with us. There is much to be excited about for all of us in the journey to net zero and the opportunities that lay ahead. The jobs many of us have in the run up to 2045 will be brand new and some won’t even exist yet.

Our collective experience during the coronavirus pandemic has reinforced our belief that our health and wellbeing must be the measure that drives our recovery and our long-term economic strategy. Transforming the economy so it works for people and our environment, so that we are not pushing beyond the resources of our planet, must be our goal. A just transition will ensure that everyone’s health and wellbeing is at the heart of our net-zero economy. In short, it becomes a wellbeing economy.

In order to achieve that, and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come, we must all take action now. Scotland is vulnerable to flooding, intense weather change and coastline erosion, but we know the impact on other communities could be far worse. We are standing up to the challenge and encourage all our global partners to do the same.

The scale of the action required cannot be underestimated – ambitious leadership is required, particularly from members of the Under2 Coalition and Regions4. We must look to tackling the tougher challenges: infrastructure, such as transport and heating systems; how to better use our land and natural assets; and pioneering new technologies, such as carbon capture and storage. Scottish ingenuity has been at the forefront of scientific progress throughout history and we’ll need to harness that innovative spirit to achieve a just transition.

COP26 is the world’s best chance to make the goals of the Paris Agreement a reality. We’re proud the summit is being held in Glasgow but know that it will take the collective action of all of us to deliver a net zero future. We’re ready to play our full part in getting there, and to help galvanise the network of likeminded nations and governments to work ambitiously towards this goal. There is no other choice.

This is our moment to commit to building a better, fairer world. Let’s continue to work together to seize it.

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