Scotland’s Just Transition Commission: Guiding a Green Recovery and Seizing the Climate Opportunity (2023)

Scotland’s Just Transition Commission: Guiding a Green Recovery and Seizing the Climate Opportunity (1)


In September 2018, the Government of Scotland established a Just Transition Commission to recommend how to maximize the economic and social opportunities of decarbonization and mitigate risksfrom the transition. The Commission’s final report is due in January 2021, but based on a process of inclusive dialogue, it has already released several reports, including advice for the COVID-19 pandemic recovery. The Commission’s work to date stands out for its stakeholder engagement and how it connected the just transition with broader policy priorities, from the concept of “fair work” to peatland restoration and reforestation. Looking ahead, however, it is unclear whether the Commission will stay active beyond its initial two-year mandate, or whether there will be sufficient resources to implement its recommendations.


Scotland has ambitious climate goals, including net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.As of April 2019, Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions were49% below 1990 levels, with progress in decarbonizing the power sector contributing most of the emissions reductions. In October 2019, the country adopted theClimate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Actwith some of the world’s most ambitious climate targets: a 75% emission reduction by 2030 from 1990 levels, andnet-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.In September 2020, theScottish Governmentannounced a Green New Dealfor Scotland, which would createa £3 billion($3.9 billion) package of investments from the Scottish National Investment Bank in order to attract green finance to Scotland.

Scotland also has a large oil and gas sector that has struggled in recent years, an aging workforce, and an economy that increasingly requires high-skilled labor.Theoil and gas sector, which represented about5% of Scotland’s GDPin 2019, has faced challenges inrecent yearsdue to decliningoil and gasprices, withthe impact felt particularly in North East Scotland. This region had the strongest growth in the country in 1998–2008, 3.7% per year, but declined to only 0.6% per year in 2010–2017. Economic growth overall has been subdued, due in part to the oil and gas sector’s difficulties, as well as Brexit, slow population growth and weak growth in household incomes. In February 2020, the Scottish Fiscal Commission had forecast annual GDP growth of1.0 to 1.2%for 2020–2024, butdue to COVID-19, the economycontracted in 2020and may not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023.

In Scotland, the net jobgainbetween 2018 and 2028is expected to be only 85,000, withmore than half of openings requiringsome higher education. Overall, the greatest job growth is expected in private sector services and construction, while manufacturing, the public sector, agriculture and mining are projected to lose jobs.This means that a just transition may require helping workersgain new skillsand shift among industries.

Policies, Actions and Results

Even before the Climate Change Act, the Scottish government faced growing calls for a just transition as it pursued itsclimate goals. In September 2018, it established theJust TransitionCommission(JTC)to advise on transitioning all sectors of the Scottish economy to become net-zero emissions and more inclusive (including through the implementation of the new climate law). Launched in January 2019, the Commission is slated to release its final report by January 2021, ahead of the parliamentary election and COP26 in Glasgow. The Commission is working in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s recovery efforts.

The Commission was asked to provide practical, independentand affordablerecommendations on how to apply theILO Just Transition Principlesto Scotland’s forward-looking workforce development and industry-specific transitions, including the oil and gas industry. This includesrecommendationson how to:

  • Maximize the economic and social opportunities offered by the transition to a net-zero economy by 2045.
  • Build on Scotland’s existing strengths and assets.
  • Understand and mitigate risks relating to regional cohesion, equalities, poverty (including fuel poverty) and a sustainable and inclusive labor market.

The Commissionwill report to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Communities, and the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work, and Culture. The12 members of the Commissionrepresentvaryinginterests, perspectives and expertise on the challenges related to a just transition, including academia, unions, industry (including oil, gas and renewable energy, chemical processes, waste recycling and farming) and climate and environmental NGOs. The Commission members are remunerated and supported by asecretariat.

The Commission first releasedJust Transition: Comparative Perspectivesin August 2020with theoretical discussion and case studies from Canada, Germany, Peru, Norway and the United States, with Norway and Peru seen as the most relevant to the Scottish situation because of their significant oil and forestry industries, respectively, which Scotland shares.  

The Commission was tasked to work in an open and transparent manner and to engage meaningfully with workers, communities, NGOs, businesses, climate-related public institutions (such as theUK’sClimate Change Committee)and other relevant bodies. To inform its recommendations, it conducted site visits andseries of meetings with unions, communities and various industries. In June 2020, anonline consultationcalled for input from the widest possible range of individuals, representative bodies, public bodies and businesses. By the end of 2020, written responses from268 stakeholdershad been posted online.

Before that consultation, in February 2020, the Commission published anInterim Report, highlighting areas that require immediate action to be on track with national climate change targets. The report called for three elements to lay the foundation for a just transition:

  1. Clean transition plans,jointly developed and owned by the government, industry, trade unions, consumer groups and other relevant stakeholders, with a roadmap of actions and specific investments in infrastructure and skills development;
  2. Proactive and ongoing dialogueto understand society’s expectations relating to the transition, inform individuals about their roles and inform the companies about the impact of the transition as well as emerging economic opportunities;
  3. An equity-focused approach to all climate policies,so that the benefits are shared widely and the costs do not unfairly burden those least able to pay, or those whose livelihoods are at risk.

Thereporthighlights challenges, including a lack of awareness among workers about the strategic plans prepared with oil and gas companies, a lack of engagement of local communities and equity concerns in the transport and health sectors. The Commission warned that if climate action is unfair (or perceived as such), the government could face backlash like thegilets jaunesprotests in France.

Thereportalso highlighted four areas of opportunity:

  1. Making climate policy more inclusiveby mainstreaming the concept of “fair work,” placing equity at the heart of the Climate Change Plan update, investing in research on the transition, creating a Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan and establishing a Citizens Assembly on climate change.
  2. Placing the climate emergency at the heart of spending decisions.
  3. Accelerating the transitionto sustainable practices in heating, infrastructure, agriculture and the oil and gas industry, through measures including expanding energy efficiency retrofits and fuel poverty programs while increasing building energy efficiency standards, and collaborating with the oil and gas industry to research cost-effective deployment of technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen fuels.
  4. Promoting a just transition at COP26.

Upon request from the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform,in July 2020the Commission also publishedAdvice for a Green Recoverythrough a just transition lens. It called for aligning COVID-19 recovery plans with the net-zero target, since those investments and policy decisions will have long-term impacts. The Commission warns against emissions lock-in and urged the government to make decisions consistent with its ambitions on just transition, for instance by linking aid to companies’ commitments to transition planning and by including economic and social justice considerations in recovery plans.

Thepublicationidentified four “hot spots” that merit particular attention: youth; public transport; the oil and gas sector; and rural sectors and regions. Recommendations include to:boost investment inefficient home heating; expand, improve and electrify bus services; keep oil and gas workers employed through a decommissioning program and accelerated deployment of low-carbon energy technologies; support rural economies by investing in nature, especially tree-planting and peatland restoration and by helping Scotland’s nature; align skills development—for people of all ages—with the net-zero transition; and give a clear sense of direction and attach conditions to funding to avoid “locking in” emissions.

The JTC’sInterim ReportandAdvice for a Green Recoverywere welcomed by theScottish Trade Union Congressand many sectoral unions, includingSustrans Scotland,UnisonandUnite Unions. Many of them built on the JTC’s advice to strengthen their demands. Some of the JTC’s recommendations are reflected in theGovernment’s 2020–21 Programmemeasures, announced in September 2020. Theplans include a £1.6 billion ($2.07 billion) investment to improve building efficiency and tackle fuel poverty; a £100 million ($129.5 million) Green Job Fund; £60 million ($77.7 million) to help industrial and manufacturing sectors decarbonize and diversify; the expansion of public apprenticeship and undergraduate schemes to boost youth employment in nature-based jobs; and £70 million ($90million) to improve waste collection infrastructure, improve recycling and achieve a circular economy.


  • Economy-wide, long-term approach:The Commission looks far beyond just transitioning oil and gas workers. The analysis and recommendations take a wide-ranging approach to leveraging Scotland’s assets and strengths to respond to economic trends and realize ambitious climate targets, from improving home heating efficiency, to prioritizing“Fair Work,”to restoring peatlands.
  • Whole-of-government support:The Just Transition Commission’s remit cuts acrosscabinetportfolios and connects with their existing work, and built on previous efforts including theOil and Gas Just Transition Training Fund.

Inclusive engagement:The Commission’s meetings and consultation mobilize a wide and diverse range of stakeholders to inform its recommendations. This engagement has fostered debate among unions, industries and the government about their priorities for a just transition.

Challenges and Gaps

  • Uncertainty about the future of the Commission:The Commission’s original two-year mandate would end in early 2021. Acoalition of trade unions and environmental organizations,as well asLabour environment spokeswomanClaudia Beamish, have asked the Scottish government to extend the mandate and give it a statutory footing (independent status) so that it can guide the longer-term transition of workers and local economies. It is not clear where funding for the Commission or transition measures would come from in the longer-term, which is compounded by the economic uncertainties of Brexit.
  • Room for improvement in connecting with the public:The Commission doesn’t receive muchmedia coverage, and its reports could improve their analysis on roles of non-governmental actors such as the private sector, civil society or NGOs.

Further Reading

  • Just Transition Commissionwebsite.
  • Just Transition Commission. 2020.Advice for a Green Recovery.30 July. Edinburgh: The Scottish Government.
  • Just Transition Commission. 2020.Interim Report.27 February 2020. Edinburgh: The Scottish Government.


What is the just transition policy in Scotland? ›

We are committed to ending our contribution to climate change in a way that is fair and leaves no one behind. The actions needed to become net zero by 2045 will transform all sectors of our economy and society and will require rapid structural change.

What is Scotland's green recovery? ›

It drives action to reduce our emissions and protect and restore our natural environment.” We share the Scottish Government's vision of a fairer, greener Scotland that focusses on delivering economic transformation, creating a wellbeing economy, and reducing Scotland's contribution to climate change.

What has Scotland done to help climate change? ›

Bills and legislation

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 was amended by the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019, increasing the ambition of Scotland's emissions reduction targets to net zero by 2045 and revising interim and annual emissions reduction targets.

What Scotland is doing to reduce the impact of climate change? ›

The Scottish Government's climate change plan Securing a green recovery on a path to net zero: climate change plan 2018–2032 – update, sets out how Scotland can achieve the emissions reduction targets; for example, by increasing renewable energy generation, decarbonising heat in buildings, transforming transport, ...

What is the Scottish Energy Transition Strategy? ›

This Strategy gives certainty to investors that Scotland is a place that supports renewable energy wholeheartedly. Our vision is that by 2045, Scotland will have a climate-friendly energy system that delivers affordable, resilient and clean energy supplies for Scotland's households, communities and business.

What are the principles of just transition? ›

The principle of just transition is that a healthy economy and a clean environment can and should co-exist. The process for achieving this vision should be a fair one that should not cost workers or community residents their health, environment, jobs, or economic assets. Any losses should be fairly compensated.

What is the Scottish Government doing about climate change? ›

The Scottish Government has set climate change ambitions to become a net zero greenhouse gas emitting nation by 2045, with interim targets of 75% by 2030 and 90% by 2040, against 1990 baseline levels. It has also committed to doing this in a way that is just and fair for all people across Scotland.

What are the main aims of the Scottish Greens? ›

The party's 2019 manifesto included pledges to implement a green new deal to tackle climate change and for future investment, introduce a universal basic income, phase in a four-day week, support rent controls and treat drug use as a health issue rather than a crime.

What is the nature recovery plan in Scotland? ›

To reach Scotland's target of restoring nature by 2045 across our land, rivers and seas, we must take ambitious action. NatureScot is already tackling the nature and climate change crises with large-scale work to establish nature networks, protect our vital habitat and species, and support skills and communities.

Is Scotland leading the way on climate change? ›

Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to declare a climate emergency and in the the last 30 years we've halved our greenhouse gas emissions. As part of our ongoing commitment to protect people and our planet, we've set a world-leading target to reach net zero emissions by 2045.

Is Scotland a leader in climate change? ›

Scotland will transition from Europe's oil and gas capital to its net-zero capital as it provides "moral leadership" on the climate crisis, Humza Yousaf has claimed.

Where in Scotland is best for climate change? ›

Glasgow and Edinburgh are among the safest cities in the world when it comes to protection against the effects of global warming, according to new research.

What country is making climate change worse? ›

Interestingly, however, it shows that global land-use change emissions overall are dominated by China and South Asia, a region predominantly made up of India.

What is the nature crisis in Scotland? ›

We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. The facts are beyond doubt: nature is declining fast. It is estimated that 1 million species across the world are at threat of extinction. Here in Scotland, nearly half of our species have decreased in abundance and 11 per cent are under threat of extinction.

What is the just transition policy in the UK? ›

The just transition offers investors in the UK a strategic opportunity to connect climate action with positive social impact across the country. In essence, the just transition means making sure that action on climate change supports an inclusive economy, with a particular focus on workers and communities.

What is the closing the gap strategy Scotland? ›

The Pupil Equity Funding is allocated directly to schools and targeted at closing the poverty related attainment gap. Every council area is benefitting from Pupil Equity Funding and 97% of schools in Scotland have been allocated funding for pupils in P1-S3 known to be eligible for free school meals.

What is the Getting It Right for Every Child policy in Scotland? ›

Through GIRFEC, everyone in Scotland can work together to build the scaffold of support children and young people need to grow up loved, safe and respected. GIRFEC provides Scotland with a consistent framework and shared language for promoting, supporting, and safeguarding the wellbeing of children and young people.

What are permanent exclusions in Scotland? ›

Permanent exclusions are when a pupil is removed from the school register and cannot return to the school. This is rare in Scotland. If your child is permanently excluded from their school, the local authority is still responsible for their education and must find them a place at another school as soon as they can.


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