MSP briefing: Delivering on climate change and a just transition

The Royal Society of Edinburgh welcomes the opportunity to brief MSPs for the Scottish Government debate: Delivering on climate change and a just transition.

The RSE welcomes the Energy Strategy and Just Transition plan. We recognise that the transition is very complex – economically, politically, and socially – and we support a whole system approach that involves the various components essential to such a transition. We must build upon our strengths and past success by supporting the contribution that everyone can make to an inclusive transition that will be just for all. We would like to see the next generation central to the transition by participating in the co-creation of a greener and more sustainable Scotland.

Professor Raffaella Ocone FRSE

As Scotland’s national academy, the RSE has built up a wide-ranging collection of advice papers and briefings in this policy space, including responses to Scottish Government consultations such as the Just Transition Commission Interim Report, and Scotland’s Supply Chain, and we are currently working on our response to the Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, following a workgroup chaired by Professor Raffaella Ocone FRSE.

The RSE applauds the Scottish Government’s ambition to have an energy system that provides maximum community and economic benefits, leaving no one behind.

A just transition could be the catalyst for a move towards a well-being economy and a more participatory democracy. Indeed, a well-being approach reflects and upholds many of the principles of what a just transition should look like, including the integration of social, environmental, democratic, and economic outcomes.

However, there is a gap between ambition and reality that must be addressed to make Scotland’s Just Transition deliverable.

The pathway to a just transition is less clear than is currently being indicated by the draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan. In particular, the absence of roadmaps to set out how we make this transition in a way that is achievable and in a way that is genuinely integrated is concerning. The RSE would like to see the development of such roadmaps and graphical representations in the simplest-to-understand format explaining how the integration and alignment across the areas covered in the Plan are to be achieved. This strategy should pay more attention to the outcomes and impacts that arise from setting ambitious targets, both in demand-reduction and renewable energy generation, whilst building in accountability and risk assessment to mitigate against unpredicted hazards.

Key points for discussion – Delivering on climate change and a just transition

Education and skills

The strategy sets enormous ambitions for scaling up renewable energy and decarbonising heat and transport, which will demand an unprecedented rollout of skills to operate and maintain this infrastructure. Over the next decade and beyond, colleges will likely step into a more significant role as one of the primary vehicles for delivering a just transition. We need to develop deep connectivity between schools, colleges, and industry, ensuring learners are developing competencies most in demand, and stimulating external investment into colleges to enhance delivery capability. Flexibility in the curriculum will be essential.

Circular economy

The RSE workgroup noted that circular economy thinking should be brought front and centre in the vision for a just transition. There are huge opportunities for both managing resources and delivering social, economic, and environmental benefits, that are currently being missed. Activities such as the decommissioning oil and gas fields and the reintroduction of some of those materials back into the economy require huge reskilling/multiskilling of the workforce, and they represent growth opportunities for businesses and industry as we consider end-of-life cycles from the outset.


Considerations related to procurement models are limited in the proposed just transition plan. Sitting at the heart of a just transition should be procurement models that give confidence to the pipeline and overcome the existing ecosystem challenges. Such procurement models should move away from short-term lowest cost and focus on longer term, whole system and societal, value instead. The RSE recognises the challenges this poses when faced with year-on-year targets, however, the absence of a value-based procurement strategy will hold our ability to increase renewable energy capacity and reduce energy demand, by delaying the development of a resilient and mobile supply chain and labour market.


There are opportunities to deliver benefits from the transition to net zero for households and businesses that the Scottish Government can act upon now, for example, through introducing Passivhaus or equivalent building standards, which can reduce energy bills and increase energy efficiency. The workgroup was encouraged to see Alex Rowley MSP’s Members Bill and the Scottish Government’s commitment to subordinate legislation within two years to give effect to the proposal. However, the RSE recommends that the draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan includes references to these standards, and similarly ambitious targets as other sectors are developed to map out a strategy that prepares our supply chain and workforce to deliver these high standards.


There will always be resistance to change and we cannot afford to simply hope that people buy into what is being proposed. On the contrary, if individuals are involved in policy development and implementation from the outset, they are more likely to feel a sense of ownership over the policy outcomes and so act to fulfil them. Addressing the climate crisis will require a new form of collective and distributed leadership where people and communities are not just led but are placed at the heart of this leadership effort. The RSE acknowledges that a programme of public engagement is under development by the new public energy agency (Heat and Energy Efficiency Scotland); there is as yet, however, little available information to enable us to assess the likely effectiveness of any programme, which is now a matter of urgency. Large-scale social and behavioural intervention and engagement is needed to facilitate individual and collective action to reduce energy use at scale.

Nation-wide resilience

The workgroup believes the impact assessment should consider communities and livelihoods that fall out with areas with promising supply chain development opportunities. There are some communities with an abundance of local, natural, and sustainable materials, who will really benefit from this transition through the creation of high value, high growth jobs. However, a stable, resilient, and capable supply chain must be balanced across the country and the just transition plan should acknowledge the challenges facing certain parts of Scotland without natural resources and which already face complex place-based challenges of rural living. Further consideration should be afforded to how we ensure that job creation, and where possible high value job creation, is set into plans, both within the strategy itself and through local authorities.

Contact us

If you have any further questions, please contact Dr Cristina Clopot: [email protected]