Pushing forward Scotland’s transition to a net-zero economy can help heal “the scars left on our society” by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report.
The Just Transition Commission (JTC) has urged the Scottish Government to “not lose sight of the pressing need to tackle climate change”, suggesting a green recovery can help rebuild after Covid-19.
In the report to Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, the independent group highlights four “hotspot” areas to focus on – young people, transport, oil and gas and the rural economy.
Recommendations include boosting investment for warmer homes and ensuring recently announced job support for young people includes work opportunities for furthering the transition to net-zero.
Professor Jim Skea, JTC chairman, said: “We know that the impact of Covid-19 has not been felt equally across society and that already marginalised groups have been hit hardest.
“As we move into the recovery phase, now is the time for government to address the inequalities that have been exacerbated by the crisis while resetting our pathway to net-zero emissions.
“The stated focus from government on a green recovery is absolutely the right one and our recommendations show how Scotland can take actions that will reduce emissions, rebuild our economy while ensuring the benefits of this are felt widely across the country.
“These practical recommendations should be used to shape urgent action for the coming months.”
The report recommends more tree planting, a non-domestic boiler scrappage scheme and developing an enhanced and accelerated national plan for charging infrastructure.
Rapidly rolling out £500 million previously committed to prioritise buses is also suggested, including measures to reallocate motorway and other road space to high occupancy vehicles – with a nationwide bus scrappage scheme to replace older diesel buses.
Other recommendations include public investment in ports and harbours, as well as speeding up new initiatives such as the Shetland Energy Hub.
Calls are also made for maintaining oil and gas worker jobs while introducing a large-scale decommissioning programme with capital support to drive critical activity in the North Sea.
The RMT said the economic recovery must include rail as well as road transport schemes.
Mark Lynch, senior assistant general secretary at the union, said: “The JTC is absolutely right to prioritise maritime infrastructure and manufacturing investment alongside a skills transition bridge in areas like decommissioning, essential to keep offshore oil and gas workers in employment.
“But the economic recovery from Covid-19 must include rail – the Scottish Government should use the remaining emergency measures period to prepare to bring ScotRail back into public ownership from September.
“This would prevent mass job losses, a shrinking passenger and freight network and a climate catastrophe from increased car use.”
STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “The JTC has concentrated on immediate measures to alleviate the crisis, which are consistent with the journey to net-zero and community justice.
“However, governments are also going to have to face up to the need for a new industrial strategy including massive investment in public transport, clean construction and retrofit, and the renewables energy supply chain.
“That is why now is the right time to create a national infrastructure company to drive this work forward.”
Fabrice Leveque, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said: “If the Scottish Government takes on board the many welcome recommendations in this report, thousands of new jobs can be created and existing inequalities – like fuel poverty and unequal access to transport – can be addressed.
“As we recover from the current crisis, we need to learn the lessons of the 2008 financial crash and build an economy that tackles the climate and nature emergencies.
“Scotland is blessed with the natural resources, talent and ingenuity needed to deliver a just transition to a zero emissions future.”
In response to the report, Ms Cunningham said: “As Scotland emerges from Covid-19, we have a chance to build a greener, fairer and more equal society and economy.
“The commission’s report is clear – now is the time to reaffirm our commitment to ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change.
“The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the way abrupt or unplanned shifts can exacerbate inequalities, and emphasises the need to plan for a just transition to net-zero.”
She added: “I look forward to meeting with Professor Skea, chair of the commission, to explore the report’s recommendations in more detail.
“Now, more than ever, we need a transition that supports sustainable economic growth and jobs, whilst ensuring no one is left behind.”