Climate justice must be both global and local

COP28 is currently in session to identify global solutions for tackling the climate emergency and move to a fairer, more sustainable world. Morven Masterson, our Head of Community Engagement and Advice Services, shares her insight into the unjust energy economy we have here in Scotland.

An early success for COP 28 is the commitment of $420m to a Loss and Damage fund. The fund – agreed at last year’s conference in Sharm El Sheikh – will be accessed by developing countries who are struggling with the worst impacts of climate change.

The provision of financial aid for the Global South reminds us that equity – ensuring a just transition to net zero – must be at the heart of our response to the climate emergency. In global terms, this means that countries which historically have benefited most from a fossil fuel economy should decarbonise more quickly whilst paying for the damage caused. In national terms, a just transition leaves no-one behind on the path to low-carbon living. It ensures fair and inclusive support for the most vulnerable in our society.

Fuel poverty in Scotland

At Changeworks, we know what an unjust energy economy looks like. Since Scotland has some of the least energy efficient housing in Europe, around 860,000 Scottish households are in fuel poverty. Our Affordable Warmth Service currently supports around 2,000 householders each year. Many of the people we speak to characterise their circumstances as “dire”, with unaffordable energy costs and cold homes impacting their physical and mental wellbeing.

The energy advice and advocacy service that our Affordable Warmth advisors provide is often a lifeline. In 2022-23, our team achieved over £1 million savings for householders by helping them switch to a better energy deal, resolving debt issues, and providing them with energy efficiency advice. We achieved a further £400,000 of savings through securing grants for householders.

Despite these positive impacts, with our energy supply tied to a volatile fossil fuel market, the dilemma of “heating or eating” will continue to remain very real for thousands of people across the country. This is profoundly unjust.

We need a just transition

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on two strategies which will help us achieve our legally binding target of net zero by 2045. Both the Heat in Buildings Bill and the Social Housing Net Zero Standard in Scotland Bill are right to focus on improving the fabric of our homes and switching to non-polluting forms of heating. As the government acknowledges, these same strategies will also help Scotland to end fuel poverty. However, someone who is struggling to top up their electricity meter needs extra financial support to add long-term solutions like wall insulation to their home. Someone who is worried about their gas supply being cut off must be able to access  sustainable support for switching to a low-emissions form of heating.

The real challenge of the climate crisis is to accelerate the pace of decarbonisation whilst providing more support to ensure a decent standard of living for everyone. COP is currently trying to deliver these types of solutions on an international level. In Scotland, we must look to our own government to ensure that a just transition is at the foundation of our decarbonisation journey. Household energy bills and carbon emissions from homes will remain high until we retrofit homes in Scotland and the rest of the UK with energy efficient measures, and until the UK stops relying on gas and oil and instead focusses on the electrification of heat.

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