Read time: 2 mins      Added: 23/02/2024

The Just Transition is an overarching concept of ensuring fairness and equity in the process of transitioning to a net zero economy, ensuring that no one is left behind and that the most vulnerable communities and workers are supported during the transition.

So what will it take for Scotland to achieve a Just Transition? A conference organised by Bank of Scotland brought together experts and business leaders from a broad range of sectors to discuss, including keynote speaker Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the UK Climate Change Committee. Find an overview of the debate below.

Scotland has set an ambitious target, backed by legislation, to reach net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045 – five years earlier than the rest of the UK. Huge investment (both financially and in terms of intellectual capital), combined with technological innovation, will be necessary to achieve this goal.

If net zero is to deliver for the people of Scotland, it will require more than just a drop in greenhouse gas emissions. “The transition to net zero has risen to the top of every business and community agenda in Scotland and across the UK,” says Scott Barton, Head of Corporate Coverage for Bank of Scotland. “But we will not achieve our net zero aims – and generate prosperity – unless we deliver a Just Transition.”

The need for a Just Transition is especially resonant in Scotland. When the UK transitioned from coal to gas in the 1980s – halving carbon emissions – the mining workforce was reduced from 1 million to around 1,000 jobs, says Barton. The closure of coal pits had a deep impact on Scotland; many communities have yet to recover. “This time it has to be different,” he adds.

Kirsten Jenkins, Senior Lecturer in Energy, Environment & Society at the University of Edinburgh, says a Just Transition is not just about addressing future inequalities: “It’s also about restorative justice to correct past wrongs.”

Graham Arnold, Regional Co-Head at Bank of Scotland, agrees that “Our 21st Century transition to net zero must be managed differently to those of the past. It needs to be planned carefully with the flexibility to allow the rapid adoption of new technologies, ideas and business models.”

Scotland Just Transition Commission

Scotland Just Transition Commission

Bank of Scotland works closely with the Scottish Just Transition Commission, an independent advisory body which provides expert advice on the development of Scottish Government led Just Transition planning. The Commission states that Scotland’s Just Transition will not be funded by the current approach, advocating instead for an enhanced place-based approach with a “key feature of a successful Just Transition being thriving community ownership and investment sector for a variety of sectors and assets.”

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A tailored transition

While the concept of a Just Transition is universal, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, explains Chinyelu Oranefo, Director, Sustainability & ESG Finance at Bank of Scotland: “It must be determined by the specificities of each sector and Scotland’s unique circumstances.”

The panel agreed that the maintenance and creation of high-quality jobs should be a key component of a Just Transition for Scotland. “Scotland is home to the majority of the UK’s oil and gas production and there are a large number of SMEs in the fossil fuel supply chain, creating potential vulnerabilities,” notes Mark Munro, Chief Investment Officer at Scottish National Investment Bank, a Scottish state-owned development bank based in Edinburgh.

However, while Scotland faces some big challenges, the country also has strong green growth opportunities, notes Tara Schmidt, Head of Climate & Sustainability Strategy and Regional Co-Head at Bank of Scotland. Research by Bank of Scotland and Oxford Economics shows that Scotland is home to 11% of the UK’s green jobs and produces more low-carbon energy than any other part of the UK. Scotland has more onshore wind capacity than the rest of the UK combined (PDF, 1.40 MB) : 100% of the country’s electricity demand is now met by renewable sources.

“The 100,000 or so workers in Scotland who depend on oil and gas jobs are an asset, not a weakness,” explains Stephen Sheal, Director of Government Affairs & Policy at the not-for-profit Net Zero Technology Centre. “Much of the supply chain for the oil and gas industry also serves the renewable sector, so the opportunities to transfer skills can be considerable provided sufficient support is available.”

The importance of systems thinking

While the savings that result from investment in net zero pay off quickly in sectors such as surface transport and energy supply, they are slower for buildings and industry. “The right policies have to be in place to spread the costs and the benefits for these sectors,” says Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the independent body that advises the UK and devolved governments under the UK's Climate Change Act.

In some sectors, substantial financial support will be necessary. “Decarbonising homes, especially social housing, across Scotland does not generate new revenue streams which can support the up front investment necessary,” says Jon Turner, CEO of social landlord Link Group. However, it has potentially significant Just Transition benefits. “As we retrofit the fabric and structure of buildings this not only paves the way for using net zero heating technology but can help to address fuel poverty as well as creating new, valuable, green job opportunities across the country.”

While government policy and support will be important, businesses are also motivated to act by a sense of purpose. “We added electric vehicles to our operation, and built charging infrastructure as none existed in the Highlands. We did this because the payback was attractive over time, and because we are a family business wanting to reduce our impact on the communities where we live and work. We knew it was the right thing to do,” says Fraser MacLean, Managing Director of logistics firm M&H Carriers.

Hazel Gulliver, Director of Engagement at ScottishPower agrees that supporting a Just Transition cannot be a branding exercise. “It has to run through everything you do,” she says. “You have to provide a whole systems approach to the challenge. In our industry, that means working with communities to ensure that they benefit from renewables.”

An opportunity, not a cost

While the challenges associated with reaching net zero can seem overwhelming, the good news is that both the world – and the UK – are cutting greenhouse gas emissions, according to Stark. “As we continue to make progress, what’s crucial is that net zero is not seen as a cost or about ending activities such as oil and gas. Instead, the focus should be on investment in capital assets that ultimately deliver savings and growth, and the creation of new industries. It is an invest-to-save mission for the country.”

Likewise, delivering a Just Transition should not be seen as an extra complication on the road to net zero. Instead, it should be treated as a further opportunity to generate growth by building a more inclusive future, improving access to high-quality affordable housing, enabling regional development, and greening the built environment, says Barton.

Indeed, many net zero and Just Transition goals overlap and create a virtuous circle. For example, “Scotland’s Trees for Life project aims to restore the Caledonian Forest. This will not only deliver biodiversity gains and sequester carbon but also create tourism employment and education opportunities for local communities,” he adds.

Stark says a Just Transition is within reach: “The only constraint is our willingness to invest, and to ensure that that transition is fair – and perceived to be fair.”

Key messages

  • Scotland faces challenges from the net zero transition, such as a large number of jobs in oil and gas and related sectors, that need to be addressed to secure a Just Transition.
  • Net zero and a Just Transition should not be seen as a cost but as an investment in capital assets that will benefit Scotland in the years to come.
  • Scotland has opportunity to be a stand out example for other countries to follow. Scotland, however, is too small to do it alone and needs to be part of the ecosystem which is heavily engaged in Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS), Hydrogen and Renewable Generation.
  • In some sectors, financial support may be necessary given long payback times or the absence of new revenue streams from implementing net zero technologies. 
  • Scotland needs to be ambitious and flexible on its journey to net zero. Consistent policy is required to support this.


This article, and quotes within, are based on discussions at the Bank of Scotland Just Transition Conference held on 13 November 2023. The views expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bank of Scotland.

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