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Hot topic: Transition to a green economy

Polling for December's general election suggested that the environment was a greater concern for voters than ever

Cross-party MPs, think tanks and trade unions have all argued that major industrial changes must take place. While this could create thousands of new jobs, there are also fears that some workers could lose out. So what can be done to support a just transition and protect those at the heart of the changes?

David Powell, head of environment and green transition at the New Economics Foundation, says:

"Industrial transitions can be managed well or badly. Done badly they devastate people and places, like Margaret Thatcher’s dismantling of the coal mines in the 1980s. But done well they offer an opportunity to deliver pioneering models for wider systemic reform – power, democracy and ownership – that would perhaps be impossible without that urgency.

"The UK is already one of the most divided and regionally unequal countries in the world. A new approach to economic development is needed that puts power into the hands of places and communities.

"Lasting solutions to national problems should not be forced onto the people that they most directly affect. The scale of what is needed to decarbonise the UK economy means the age of pitting winners against losers must end. Consensus, joint working and a sense of shared endeavour are the only way that political support for radical decarbonisation can be seized and locked in."

Paul Nowak, deputy general secretary of the TUC, says:

"This year we set out four principles for how the government, employers and unions can work together to deliver a just transition to a net-zero economy. These outline what we need a clear and funded plan for the transition, developed in consultation with workers, business and consumers with the costs shared fairly. Workers’ voices must be at the heart of this change, as part of a national Just Transition Commission, and through transition agreements in every workplace.

"Major investment is necessary to equip the workforce with the skills needed. Every worker should have access to an individual learning account and the right to retrain in new skills. The transition must be designed to deliver decent jobs, with the government using procurement power to ensure good pay and conditions in low-carbon industries, with union recognition."

Check back tomorrow for part two of this hot topic

This piece appeared in the January 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk