Trade unions are calling for the government to put regional voices at the heart of its climate strategy – or risk catastrophic consequences.
Meeting the UK’s 2050 net-zero target requires a “reset of the way we live and work”, a report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) published today states.
“Get it right and we can develop new, innovative industrial sectors providing great new jobs,” it reads. “Get it wrong and those working in fossil fuel sectors of the economy will lose their jobs and livelihoods, with only low skill, low value jobs to replace them.”
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The report uses case studies from five regions known for their manufacturing expertise – the North East, North West, Midlands, Yorkshire and The Humber as well as Wales – and makes the case for a transition that focuses on both regions and nations within the UK.
Union members are calling for long-term investment into industries relevant to their regions, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Yorkshire and The Humber, nuclear energy in the North West, and electric car batteries in the Midlands.
In concrete terms, the TUC is demanding specific investment in individual areas, an integrated skills policy, a UK-wide “integrated and balanced energy policy” and the formation of regional panels with union representatives to take on the dual challenge of COVID-19 and an ongoing climate emergency.
TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, says a regeneration of former and emerging powerhouses is crucial, recalling how workers were simply “dumped on the dole” during the last major industrial upheaval of the 1980s.
“National action is vital, but regions need to cut their own path to net zero too,” she said in a statement.
“Each region has its own character, with its own industry, culture and geography. We need local knowledge and expertise to play to an area’s strengths and address its needs.”
The report highlights the significant challenges posed by a fast-changing industry, from the phase-out of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035, to the dwindling of jobs that have often accompanied technological advances.
2050 or earlier?
Unions have long called for a “just transition” in the UK. A 2008 pamphlet on a A Green and Fair Future urged the government to take a “more proactive approach” to share the costs and benefits of new environmental measures.
Today’s report suggests that the UK may meet the net-zero target sooner than the government’s target of 2050 because of new technologies not yet factored into the pathway. The TUC says this is “good news for the planet”, but could mean that regions need to transition even more rapidly than widely realised to bring Britain’s workforce with them.
Read DeSmog’s series – A Just Transition: From Fossil Fuels to Environmental Justice
Professor Kevin Anderson, of the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Centre of Climate and Research, told DeSmog: “At a high-level the TUC’s Just Transition report provides a sensible process of inclusion to deliver the fundamental transformation required of the UK’s energy system, including energy demand, infrastructure and supply.”
However, he described the 2050 target as “highly misleading”. A paper published in June suggests the UK’s carbon budget is 2.4-3.2 times higher than is Paris Agreement-compliant, and therefore more aligned with 2.5-3°C of warming than 1.5-2°C.
“The TUC’s headline framing reinforces the highly inequitable and deeply colonial ‘net-zero by 2050’ agenda, now embedded in UK legislation and left largely unquestioned by both the academic and journalistic community,” Anderson said. He urged the TUC to “revisit their analysis to deliver real-zero emissions by 2035-40.”
Despite these concerns, O’Grady is hopeful that the TUC’s plan could build a truly sustainable future.
“If workers have a genuine say, plans can be agreed with the government and businesses that provide job security, and protect job quality,” she said.
“That’s going to win community backing too, so progress will be both fairer and faster. And we’ll all become proud when our generation delivers a major upgrade to Britain that improves everyone’s quality of life.”
Photo credit: Pxfuel