The Just Transition Partnership has called for just transition principles to be applied to building a Circular Economy in its submission to the consultation by the Scottish Government on Delivering Scotland’s circular economy – A Route Map to 2025:-
A more circular economy is a vital part of plans to hit climate change targets. Reducing resource use associated with material consumption by businesses, households and public services is essential to meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5oC. Done correctly, a circular economy could be job rich and contribute to conserving critical minerals required for renewable technologies (e.g. recycled steel) and producing recycled materials.
Whilst the stated ambition in this consultation is welcomed, the measures described are insufficient and the consultation document is not aligned with the fundamentals of just transition. The Scottish Government should collaborate with workers and Trade Union representatives, affected communities and environmental stakeholders to understand their concerns and suggestions. The Just Transition Partnership hosted a roundtable with unions with a particular interest in the circular economy and our submission is partly informed by that.
Just Transition principles and practice should be applied to the shift to a more circular economy and the targets proposed for the circular economy should be derived from and integrated with those for decarbonisation and Just Transition in the Climate Change Plan.
At the core of a Just Transition must be attention to Fair Work practices. The transition to a circular economy will require both job creation – including increased demand for repair, reprocessing and recycling jobs; and job transformation – including retraining, upskilling and potentially relocating as jobs shift from linear to circular models, technologies and processes. The Scottish Government’s approach should aim to ensure that workers are protected in these changes and that overall the employment conditions of the workforce improve.
Some of the other important ways in which just transition principles should be applied to circular economy policies are as follows:
- The changes which will make industrial sectors and the enterprises in them more circular should be made in ways which are equitable and which protect workers from adverse consequences – greater security of employment and social protection should be the consequences, not the attacks on workers’ rights seen in previous transitions. Where a more circular economy requires changes in employment patterns, the affected workers should have a clear offer of support, skills training and, where necessary, alternative employment. Government should guarantee this while requiring employers in each sector to negotiate the relevant agreements with trade union representatives. Strong social partnership mechanisms and sectoral bargaining arrangements are therefore crucial to a Just Transition to a circular economy.
- Where public policy is driving employment change, through for example legislation, regulation, licensing, grant support, investment or procurement, it should ensure that jobs created are secure and well-paid. Training programmes put in place so that the right workers have the right skills and they should incorporate programmes which extend opportunities to groups which are under-represented in well-paid occupations or sectors.
- To drive forward these important social objectives, the public sector will have to be more directly involved. The implementation of circular economy policies must enhance the powers and roles of public bodies, especially local authorities. If it does not do so it risks undermining the financial sustainability of local authorities and extracting wealth out of local economies, at a time the Scottish Government is meant to be supporting community wealth building. The Partnership is concerned that the delivery of the Deposit Return Scheme has, instead, in effect been outsourced to Circularity Scotland. It calls for a review of this approach.
- The transition to a circular economy should be a participatory process in which workers affected can co-create the changes needed. It will have big implications for workers, changing what they do and how they do it across the whole (extended) product life cycle. While some may see threats, there are enormous opportunities for job creation, upskilling and enhancement of work roles. At the moment it appears to be a top-down process which will be done to the workers and communities affected. Instead it should engage them and learn from their knowledge and experiences.
- High levels of policy integration between decarbonisation and circular economy will be necessary so it is regrettable that at the moment this is not being achieved. Neither the Climate Change Plan Update, nor the Just Transition Planning Framework, nor the National Strategy for Economic Transformation pay serious attention to embedding circular economy principles across the whole economy. Equally, the consultation document is not aligned with the fundamentals of just transition. It has just two mentions of Just Transition and no references to either the Just Transition Plans or trade unions.
- Carbon-based consumption reduction targets should be the main indicator of progress towards a circular economy in Scotland. Scotland’s current carbon targets create perverse incentives to offshore important but carbon intensive industries, such as steel processing, rather than finding low carbon solutions which would allow Scotland to retain jobs and skills. Whilst Scottish territorial emissions from steel-making have dramatically fallen, this has not coincided with a drop in Scottish consumption of steel. Instead, millions of tonnes are imported, some of which comes from coal-based economies. Despite steel being responsible for about 8% of global carbon emissions, and its continued importance to the Scottish economy, the impact of Scotland’s steel demand is unknown and there are no policies which aim to make Scottish steel consumption more sustainable.
- Linked to these consumption based targets is the need for an assessment of the scale and timing of investment needed in each sector. Resource sector plans should be integrated with the Just Transition Plans and together should amount to a new and much more vigorous industrial strategy. The Scottish Government should create a circular economy strategy for steel by June 2023. This should prioritise retaining the materials and skills required for the energy transition in Scotland. This strategy should be developed in consultation with steel workers and their trade unions, and outline opportunities that could be made available to workers with transferable skills from high-carbon industries..
The Just Transition Partnership calls on the Scottish Government to:
- Consult workers and their trade unions on these proposals;
- Revise the Route Map to incorporate just transition principles, drawing on the points made above;
- Create a circular economy strategy for steel, in consultation with steel workers and their trade unions, by June 2023.
- ensure that just transition and circular economy policy is mainstreamed across all government departments and policy areas; and
- Include in the Circular Economy Bill the same requirements regarding just transition as in the Climate Change Act 2019. Specifically, the following proposals within the consultations should consider the role of workers in more detail:
- Extended Producer Responsibility schemes, including Deposit Return Schemes and other proposals designed to change producer and retailer practices;
- Improving public procurement practices;
- Changes to the waste sector, including greater investment in reuse and recycling;
- Changes to the construction sector, including more roles in reuse and recycling of materials; and
- Changes to the energy sector, particularly around oil and gas decommissioning, processing of scrap steel and renewables.