Transitioning to a post-carbon economy must be inclusive

The transition to net-zero must not create or exacerbate social inequalities, warn a group of academics from the COP26 Universities Network. 

Established in 2020, the Network combines more than 45 UK-based universities with an aim to improve access to evidence for the government, NGOs and the international community.

In a new policy briefing, the network has stressed the importance of policy being developed in partnership with communities to help ensure that the costs and benefits of climate action are shared in a fair way.

The paper identifies five ‘blind spots’ in the current debate around decarbonisation:

  1. Job creation does not necessarily deliver ‘just’ outcomes – the types of jobs, what they pay and how secure they are matters.
  2. The effects of climate change policy will be experienced differently across genders, ethnicities, class, age and geography.
  3. A just transition will look very different in a developing country, therefore additional support is needed.
  4. Social backlash is likely if the transition is not perceived to be just.
  5. Businesses and investors can help to mitigate the negative social impacts of the transition by implementing socially inclusive decarbonisation policies.

The group of experts have identified a number of tools for policymakers to meet net-zero targets whilst also upholding social justice.

These include shifts in energy production towards more local, community-led initiatives and a greater focus on democratic platforms such as Citizen Assemblies.

Professor Simone Abram from the University of Durham said: ‘During the pandemic, emergency policies have given us a glimpse of how clean air and a drop in traffic congestion can improve everyone’s quality of life, but the uneven access to services and inequalities in employment have revealed how differently climate and economic impacts are experienced.

‘We are seeing a collapse in certain industries, such as aviation, while the benefits of remote, low-carbon working go primarily to already advantaged groups.

‘Future decarbonisation might be expensive in the short term for manufacturing industries and transport services, even if the longer-term benefits are enormous, so now is the time to rethink our goals.

‘Given the scale and urgency of the changes we need, we have to stay focused on the need to ensure that the benefits of the transition to a low carbon economy can be shared by all.’

The briefing paper is the second by the COP26 Universities Network to be published ahead of COP26 which will be held in Glasgow in November 2021.



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