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Chamber and committees

Economy and Fair Work Committee [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Just Transition (North-east and Moray)

The Convener

Agenda item 2 is the fourth evidence-taking session in our inquiry into a just transition for the north-east and Moray. We will hear from three co-ordinators from the University of Aberdeen’s just transition lab on the findings of its multidisciplinary investigation “Just Transition for Workers and Communities in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire: Indicators and Scenarios”.

I welcome—I am going to get this wrong—Dr Daria Shapovalova, senior lecturer in energy law; Dr John Bone, senior lecturer in social sciences; and Professor Tavis Potts, dean for environmental sustainability and researcher in geography, University of Aberdeen. If members and witnesses could keep their questions and answers as concise as possible, that would be helpful.

I invite Dr Shapovalova to briefly introduce the research that the just transition lab has conducted.

Dr Daria Shapovalova (University of Aberdeen)

Thank you very much for the invitation, convener. I am here to represent the just transition lab, which is an interdisciplinary group of researchers at the University of Aberdeen. We are working on advancing impact-driven research on just transition, with co-ordinators based in law, economics, social sciences, geography, geosciences and engineering, as well as associate researchers across other departments. We have submitted to the committee an excerpt from our report on measuring just transition in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. We have also been involved in projects on just transition and energy cities, the role of the third sector in just transition, visioning of just transition in the region and climate assemblies in the north-east.

This particular report develops a comprehensive approach to measuring just transition in the region. Having looked at international practice on just transition and evaluation, we have found that, although just transition is a well-established concept in policy making and academia, there is a notable lack of data with regard to taking a place-based approach to measuring just transition and the progress that is being made towards it. That is despite repeated calls by stakeholders, the Scottish Parliament and the just transition commission for some sort of measuring and evaluation framework.

We have done a rapid evidence assessment and some archival research, and we have also co-developed with stakeholders through knowledge exchange events a set of proposed indicators for just transition in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. We have done that holistically across four themes—employment and skills; equality and wellbeing; democratic participation; and community empowerment, revitalisation and net zero. Using data from Government statistics, the local authorities, public bodies and third sector organisations, we have provided further information and background, not only to identify gaps in data but to give a more comprehensive description of what is happening in the region and a picture of the impact that the transition is having there.

We have found communities and stakeholders in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to be very enthusiastic, and they want to engage. Often, however, they do not feel as if there is a connection between the very high-level principles that have been identified for just transition and the issues that are important to them. As a result, we need to build and strengthen the way in which we provide for community and public participation in decision making, and we must use the opportunity that is provided by the transition not only to build on our strengths, but to address existing inequalities through some targeted measures that support underrepresented groups. We also need to listen to workers and deliver on their demands, including the offshore training passport, and we need to do a better job of developing and maintaining the social consensus around transition.

There is quite a lot of data in the report, and we hope today to be able to elaborate on some of our findings and engage with the committee.

The Convener

Thank you for those very helpful opening remarks, which reflect some of the issues that we have been discussing over the past few weeks. For a start, we have heard from various panels about a lack of a shared understanding. There is, as you said, a high-level understanding of what just transition is, but when we ask people what it might mean for their sectors or communities, we get different answers. Do you think that that is problematic? Is that partly why you have undertaken your piece of work? Is the intention to try to establish an agreed set of measures or some shared understanding on the matter?


Dr Shapovalova

That was certainly our intention. It is important to have the high-level principles and outcomes, with the principles that are defined in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. The just transition outcomes framework is very helpful, with its shared, general understanding. However, in order to make the framework relatable to stakeholders and communities, we need to translate it through a more sectoral approach. We found that people definitely care.

A lot of issues are included within the concept of just transition. We initially hoped that our report would be about 30 pages long, but it is actually more than 100 pages long because we have included several sets of measures and indicators. For example, we did not initially include transport but, after engaging with stakeholders, we have now included a whole section on sustainable and active travel.

I refer to my colleagues, who may be able to help to answer the question. Perhaps Professor Potts can add something.

Professor Tavis Potts (University of Aberdeen)

Good morning, everybody. I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak today.

We reflect the difference between higher-level work and community work in our report, which builds on some previous work that we did at the just transition lab. We ran an 18-month project that involved working specifically with communities, civil society groups and third sector groups in the north-east to unpack the notion of “What the just transition means for you.” The high-level principles were recognised, but people have their own interpretations of them. We found that there was a desire to have a good, open process.

From that work, which we reference in our report, we identified five key areas where communities and civil society want action. They involve practical things that are place based and locally relevant. I will not go into the five areas in detail, because they are covered in our report, but they are revitalising community, community infrastructure and community wealth; jobs and skills as we move from oil and gas into a much more diverse economy, which we can cover a bit more later; fuel poverty, which is a really significant problem across Scotland, but is particularly concentrated in the north-east; green space, which is a huge issue, particularly in Aberdeen, with the conflict around the energy transition zone at St Fittick’s park being a good example of the problems of building consensus and social licence around a transition; and, finally, participation and empowerment.

As I said, all those themes are covered in our report. It is a question of working with communities to unpack what a just transition means for people on the ground in the north-east and how to action it.

Committee members will ask some more questions on that area. We move on to questions from Colin Beattie.

Colin Smyth

Good morning. As you point out in your written evidence, the committee and others have recognised, as you have done, the absence of a clear definition of a just transition. Given your work on seeking to define and measure a just transition, do you think that there is enough clarity and certainty when it comes to what UK and Scottish Government policies are seeking to achieve in relation to the transition to net zero? If not, where are the gaps? I note the work that you have done and the comments on how we measure a just transition.

Professor Potts

I will answer that first, before handing over to colleagues. There is clarity on the principles at a high level. As for where we lack clarity—on the process, on investment and on indicators—that really involves dialling down to a place-based approach and referring to what works in the north-east, for example, or what has been happening with the recent issues around the Grangemouth cluster. That is where we lack clarity and consistent data. There is uncertainty about the processes and mechanisms that are needed to advance the just transition.

Our work has started to fill in those gaps, although we have probably spent too much time focusing on definitions, certainly in academia. Definitions are important—we have two decades of definitions of just transition—but what we actually need is clarity in the planning process, in directions to local authorities, in investment and in the building of civil society and democratic processes. We need to improve on those aspects in many areas.

The Convener

Does anyone else want to comment in response to that question? I see that Daria Shapovalova does. As a way of organising the meeting, Daria, we will direct our questions initially to you, and you can then invite the other witnesses to comment if you wish. That will make it easier.

Dr Shapovalova

Thank you. We recognise that many of the challenges that are involved in planning a just transition are associated with making sure that the process is inclusive and that there is co-development. That takes time. However, there is also an urgent need to speed those processes up. Despite years of discussion and planning, the energy strategy has been delayed, the draft heating strategy came out only yesterday, and the more regional strategies for the north-east and for Grangemouth are still in development. There is certainly scope to work more with local third sector organisations and stakeholders in order to ensure that those processes are not delayed any longer. Communities and stakeholders need more clarity on how the high-level principles translate into issues that are directly relevant to them.

Colin Smyth

You listed just some of the many strategies that we have. There are lots of strategies out there. I am not going to ask whether a strategy is missing, but does the gap lie in the physical delivery to meet the definition? Is the implementation not there? Is that what you are suggesting?

Dr Shapovalova

It all has to happen at the same time, unfortunately. As well as the sectoral strategies, we need a clear measurement and evaluation framework for each of them.

Professor Potts

I will give a quick example. A just transition will embed such principles as democratic engagement, consensus building and social licence. A good example that my colleague has brought up is the lack of process. In our work, we looked at what seems to be a flourishing of things such as community assemblies, civil society assemblies and climate assemblies in the region. A project that we have been part of under the just transition funding has been working with communities in the north-east on developing such assemblies. There have been half a dozen of them in the past 12 months and more are planned, which is great. That is a welcome process.

However, we lack a means of taking the outputs from those community assemblies into policy. There is no formal link between what happens in a community climate assembly and what happens in local government, be it in Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Moray Council or the council in any area that we focus on.

The community assemblies are great. There is good will and they come up with ideas, but there is some dissatisfaction as well, because they can be seen as talking shops. How can their outputs be used as material evidence in planning, for example? We want to strongly push that, but there is no formal link between the two. The way that the civil society element feeds into work to improve policy and local planning outcomes needs to be formalised. For example, there is a big disconnect between the outcomes of the Torry people’s assembly and the master planning process for the energy transition zone. There is a huge gulf between them. We need to bring the two processes together much more strongly, which may take regulation.

Is that because the processes are just not in place or is it because what local government aims to achieve may be very different from the community’s aims, because of the lack of a definition?

Professor Potts

It is a process issue, in my view.

Dr Shapovalova

I agree. Currently, the ways in which the public can participate in decision making are very formal. They require community members to have a lot of free time and expertise—so, potentially, communities with retired professionals are well placed. Urban communities in city centres with high levels of social and economic deprivation are not empowered by the current regulation of public engagement in local and national decision making to participate in those planning and decision-making processes—and, even when they participate, they do not see their opinions reflected in the final decisions that are made.

Evelyn Tweed

Good morning, panel. Your research proposes a series of indicators to measure whether a just transition has been delivered. Daria, you mentioned that in your opening remarks. Will you tell us a bit more about how you formulated the indicators and what evidence they were based on? Could the Scottish Government follow a similar process?

Dr Shapovalova

We used a combination of archival and evidence assessment, overseen by a diverse steering group, and stakeholder engagement to co-develop the themes and the indicators. We fed in the results of a project that involved the holding of climate assemblies and of a previous project on the visioning for a just transition.

The main principle of our approach was to engage with stakeholders as widely as we could under the circumstances. We ensured that we considered the impacts on the region of hosting the energy industry over the decades before now, what has happened, and how communities perceive the transition, but we also asked what the most important issues were for those communities now.

We think that the model is a workable one that could be applied in the planning process in the north-east and elsewhere. It requires nuanced place-based approaches but, as a methodological model, we feel that it is appropriate for just transition planning. It takes some time to carry out the work, but we managed to do it in about 18 months. I think that my colleague John Bone wants to comment on that point.

Dr John Bone (University of Aberdeen)

An aspect that has come across strongly in our work is that the concept of a just transition has meant different things to different people. There has been an emphasis on industry transition, skills and so on, but our approach takes very seriously the fact that the process is multidimensional.

We are contemplating widespread social change, which is my area of research at the university’s just transition lab. We must therefore consider whether the implementation of policies in one area could have unintended negative consequences in another. We are trying to build a comprehensive picture, which is why we have brought together stakeholders from many diverse groups to get a rounded picture of what a just transition would look like and the various elements that might be missing from people’s current understanding of how we need to make that transition. We must also understand the context in which it is happening. It is not taking place in a vacuum. We must consider many different factors, and their knock-on effects, in producing a just transition.

The Convener

I will ask a question that follows on from Evelyn Tweed’s question about whether the Scottish Government could follow a similar process. As you mentioned, we are still waiting for the Scottish Government’s just transition plan for the north-east, and also one for Grangemouth. The committee undertook an inquiry into the situation at Grangemouth. Given the recent announcement about its future, it is more pressing than ever that we have that plan. What is the status of your work? Have you had discussions with the Scottish Government? I think that you said that the model involves 18 months of work. One of the frustrations that we have experienced in our inquiry so far is that we are wondering where the indicators are and how we will know whether a just transition has happened. Have you had discussions with the Government about the work that has been produced?

Dr Shapovalova

While the project was under way, we delivered a lunchtime seminar to the Scottish Government. Last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition visited the university, and we had a long discussion with her about the project and about just transition in general. It is important to note that the final draft of the report was finalised only last week. We plan to meet Government officials in the near future to discuss our methodologies and the outcomes of the work that has been delivered.

Thank you—that is helpful.

Maggie Chapman

Good morning. Before I kick off with my questions, I remind colleagues of my membership of the board of NESCAN—the North East Scotland Climate Action Network.

I am interested in exploring some of the tensions between the different themes of the indicators. I will come to Daria Shapovalova first. Can you give us the rationale for the distinctions that you have made between the community empowerment and revitalisation section and the democratic participation section? Those are often squidged together and seen as one and the same thing. How did you determine that they should be separated? Why does that matter, and what are the consequences of that separation?

Dr Shapovalova

First, it is important to note that we do not think that the themes operate independently of one another; the jobs and skills section, for example, will have a knock-on effect on all the other sections. As we note in the opening section, democratic participation is intrinsically linked to community empowerment and revitalisation.

However, community empowerment is about more than just democratic participation—it is also about the shift of power in communities that can be achieved through democratic participation and through community wealth building, by equipping communities with ownership of assets and of renewable energy projects, and by having revitalised local economies through active climate adaptation, for example.

Therefore, it is just a matter of scope, but it is in no way the case that you could deliver on democratic participation but not on community empowerment yet still have a just transition. You cannot pick and choose indicators: you have to work on them all.

Maggie Chapman

That is helpful. You talk about community empowerment shifting where power lies and you gave a couple of examples of different ownership models and that kind of thing. Have you, in your research, come across examples of where community empowerment is happening in the just transition space?

Dr Shapovalova

A good example from Aberdeen is the Donside community hydro scheme that is run by Aberdeen Community Energy, which is a community benefit society. It is near Seaton park in Aberdeen, which is not the bluest region on the Scottish index of multiple deprivation map. It has been operating quite successfully—it is in its fifth full year in operation—and its operation empowers the community. However, it is a very rare example. A lot of improvement is needed in renewable energy ownership in urban areas. My colleague Tavis has some examples to hand.

Professor Potts

Thanks, Maggie and Daria.

The first point that I want to make about how we arrived at the categories is that there was a stakeholder-driven co-developed process at every stage, throughout the entire research process. We had a steering committee, which was a really diverse group of stakeholders from the community and from the energy and other sectors. They helped us to guide and steer the research and said what they would like to see.

In essence, the distinction between community empowerment and democratic representation or democratic processes is arbitrary. One leads to the other. We have a long way to go in the north-east of Scotland on improving participation, which is why we are advancing on that. We are seeing impacts from the just transition fund, which is supporting some work.

There are also some problems with regard to funding, including how we engage with the funding process and the capacity of communities to engage in it. We are making strides, but there is still a long way to go.

We need to place capacity building and representation and community revitalisation on the same level as, say, industry net zero skills. They should be commensurate with each other, because they are both fundamentally important. There is huge scope for social innovation and community wealth building, but there are huge issues in reaching marginalised and underrepresented communities, who are not part of the narrative or the process of discussing what a just transition means for the north-east. There is a long way to go on that front. We need to invest in those skills as well as in the industry skills. They are both fundamentally important for getting a just transition in the north-east.

The focus of the just transition tends to be on energy and decarbonisation, but there are so many other things happening, as you say. We want to look at the whole social and economic picture.

Professor Potts


Maggie Chapman

On democratic participation, I heard what you said earlier in response to Colin Smyth’s questions about community assemblies and the process for getting the outcomes from or desires of those into policy and implementation. Are there other things that we need to think about to ensure that people’s views, whether they are community members or workers, are translated into action and the transformations that we need? What do we, as policymakers, need to do to enhance trust in the process?

Professor Potts

We have, particularly in Aberdeen, captured data on the lack of trust and declining trust in engagement in the process. Tracking that has been quite effective. I would formalise it—[Inaudible.]—what community processes deliver and then how they are taken up. I would like outputs of community assemblies, or any other assemblies, to be material evidence in the planning process, for example. They are not, at the moment.

In parallel, we have conducted primary research, which I am happy to forward to the committee—once I have finished writing it up, of course. We have done, in the north-east, the UK’s first—if not the world’s first—survey of how decision makers, community councils and councillors respond to and view climate assemblies and community assemblies. Although there was some positivity around what they could mean, there was also a lot of uncertainty about what to do with them—how to construct them and how to link formally the outputs of one to the other.

That is not to say that the only value of the outputs of assemblies is in provision of material evidence to put into policy—it is not. There is a lot of work around strengthening civil society discourse and capacity, which is important in its own right. However, we believe that there needs to be a formal link to policy. A constituted regional assembly in the north-east, for example, that is representative of not just the energy sector but all the voices in the north-east who have a role to play in the transition, is fundamental.

Dr Bone

Work is happening, as an adjunct, to try to get more community and third sector groups involved in the transition. I am working with Aberdeen City Council on inequality and poverty issues and with Community Planning Aberdeen on reforging the local improvement plan. Net zero is part of that process and involves bringing in community groups to get their opinions and so on, so there is a lot happening in various silos. I am also part of the health determinants research collaborative in Aberdeen.

Different groups are bringing in different aspects, so we need to find a way to bring them all together because, as I said earlier, we are looking at a societal change, and not just an industry or economic change. All the different elements have to be taken account of, together with the views of the people who are underrepresented and who need to be brought along in the process. Trust will be forged when community groups and individuals believe that their issues are represented and that the things that are important to them are part of the just transition process.

Maggie Chapman

Thanks, John. I have one final question, if I may. It is probably for you. It is about the work on housing poverty and wellbeing. The links that are being made are really interesting and important and build on what you have just said about equality and wellbeing and the connection between our environmental situation and our individual and community wellbeing. Can you tease that out a little bit more and say why those elements are grouped as they are in the indicators and measures?

Dr Bone

Societal change of any kind is problematic for wellbeing. We have a problematic relationship with change, so the change has to be managed and people need to have information on how that is being managed. They also need a positive vision, and they need to be supported.

The problem at the moment is that we have an insecure society that is confronting the changes. We have to provide people with a greater sense of security and a greater sense of hope that the changes that they are about to go through will make their lives better.

For example, we have included housing in our work. I notice that housing does not feature very strongly in the Scottish Government’s vision of a just transition. If we are to move towards being a fairer economy and a fairer society, housing is crucial. Until recently, housing was unrecognised as a source of deep insecurity that has impacts on our wellbeing.

I promised that I would not go into my bio-social theory today, so I will not. All I will say is that—[Laughter.] I can see that you are laughing, as well.

It has been shown that people who live in insecure and poor-quality housing actually age quicker and are more prone to having poor health and poor immune systems than people who live in secure and affordable housing are. Therefore, housing has to be part of the mix.

Housing is also important for the vitality of the economy. We want a vibrant and fairer Scotland and a fairer economy after going through a just transition. The high cost of housing, particularly in the private rented sector, is taking a lot of disposable income and is contributing a great deal to poverty because people have to make up a shortfall in rent and so on from benefits.

Housing is a major problem and has to be included as part of the just transition, which, as I said earlier, has to be multidimensional. We have to look at what is happening in lots of spheres of society and the economy, and at how people can be supported through a very managed multidimensional process to produce the kinds of outcome that we are looking for.

We are looking at the Scottish Government’s vision for a just transition: I would like to live in that society by 2045. A great deal of work needs to be done in many areas, which is what we are trying to do. We are looking at areas that have been neglected in the just transition process and at how they connect to other areas, so that we produce something that does not miss important aspects.

That is really helpful. The committee has talked quite a lot about jobs, but housing is one of the other anchors of wellbeing and the positive vision that we want to achieve. I will leave it there for now.

Colin Beattie

I will turn to the opening statement by Daria Shapovalova. It is interesting that you referred to what is happening in respect of the just transition in other countries. As has been discussed today, there is uncertainty in some areas about what “just transition” means to particular sectors. Have people overseas done better on defining “just transition”? Do they recognise a just transition? What about measurements? Have people elsewhere got in place anything that is basically better than what we are doing? Are there lessons that we can learn from them?

Dr Shapovalova

It is important to recognise that Scotland is seen internationally as a leader in just transition planning and policy, which is very reassuring. There are quite a lot of developments internationally. They are not always called “just transition”, but they are about a just transition. The Canadian Sustainable Jobs Act, which is currently going through the Canadian Parliament, focuses on the jobs aspect, but it includes the same model, in that an independent commission will be instituted by the act to help with planning.


Some processes internationally are more focused on coal transitions, for example. The European Union’s just transition mechanism and fund, for example, have a specific platform for coal regions that are in transition. The Appalachian Regional Commission in the US also focuses specifically on coal.

We have not seen any specific methodologies for multifaceted just transition measurements. There is a report by the World Benchmarking Alliance on just transition indicators, but those indicators are directed more at industry. That report looks at publicly available data on various companies to see how they comply with human rights obligations and how they deal with workers representation, and it awards them a specific score. However, that is industry focused.

There are, of course, much higher-level dashboards, such as the United Nations sustainable development goals, which are holistic, but they are very high level—they are at nation level and do not cover specific regions.

Therefore, “just transition” is framed in various ways, depending on whom you ask. Some non-governmental organisations frame it more widely in terms of lifting up of communities, empowerment and democratic participation, while others take a much more jobs-focused approach. It is important to remember that the term “just transition” originated from the trade union movement in the United States, so it is understandable that it is sometimes much more focused on the jobs aspect.

Did you do any comparisons with European countries?

Dr Shapovalova

We have not, within the scope of our research, done an in-depth comparison. The practices that we looked at included practices in Europe, but we focused more on the EU just transition movement. We did not see any specific methodologies or good practices on measurement of just transition.

I guess that you are saying that there are no lessons for us to learn from other countries, at this time.

Dr Shapovalova

As it is conceived in our report, we have not found what we were looking for in terms of measurement of a just transition, but that is not to say that there are no such methodologies.

From what you are saying, it seems that there is a bit of a worry that a lot of countries are not making a co-ordinated effort in heading to net zero and so forth.

Dr Shapovalova

Absolutely—it is a worry. It is much easier to measure and present data on greenhouse gas emissions limitation. That is where the focus is, because we have data that goes way back, which can be presented at a local level and at the national level. It is easy to track that data and to assess it. There is definitely a sentiment in academia and in commentary that it is much more difficult to track the more social issues, which has not been done comprehensively.

There are two issues. First, a just transition is difficult to track: there is not enough data. On democratic participation, we have some Scottish household survey data and some Aberdeen City Voice survey data, but we have found that there are a lot of data gaps.

Another issue is that the just transition will mean different things in different regions. In some regions, it is more about a transition away from coal, whereas in others it is more about a transition away from oil and gas. In some areas, there is no energy associated with the transition process—it is a just transition to a low-carbon society. Therefore, it is acceptable that we will not always be able to learn lessons from regions that have challenges that are different from ours.

Colin Beattie

There are differing regions in Scotland—the north-east and elsewhere—so it is clear that, because there are so many different sectors, their just transitions will be slightly different, depending on their focus at the time.

However, I do not like to think that Scotland is working in isolation. There must be some good practices in other countries that we can take on board. Equally, we should be able to share what we are doing with other countries. There does not seem to be a mechanism to do that.

Dr Shapovalova

There is definitely scope for more co-operation on the just transition. For the first time, the just transition has been included under the Paris agreement agenda. I imagine that there will be quite a lot of discussions on the just transition at the 28th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP28—which started today. Dialogues are definitely taking place, but there are also, in other countries, a lot of developments that are important for a just transition, but are not under the “just transition” banner.

In Norway, there is no just transition commission like Scotland’s, but there is a sovereign wealth fund that has been preparing the society for the transition for many decades.

I will pass to my colleague Tavis Potts.

Professor Potts

I will be brief. The focus work that we did looked at the north-east of Scotland, in particular, so although we explored what was happening in other areas, we really homed in on the issues that are being faced in the north-east.

In parallel work that we have been doing, we have found that there are very similar characteristics and processes around what we call energy cities and regions. For example, what happens in Aberdeen could have more in common with what happens in Stavanger in Norway, in Houston in Texas, or in Perth or Newcastle in Australia than with what happens Edinburgh or London. That relates to whether the energy economy is a dominant player in providing employment, to how communities are engaged with the process and to what people’s perspectives are on the shifts and challenges related to jobs and skills.

Where I am from—Newcastle, near Sydney in New South Wales—the New South Wales Government has just established a jobs transition strategy, and it also has a net zero strategy. However, the Government there is referring to what is happening in Scotland, through our commission.

There are there are similar issues with coal workers. I know that because my old man is a former coal-industry worker who just attended the closure of his major power station. After 45 years of operation, it is being converted to a battery-storage network hub for power plants. There are parallels with what is happening on economic policy, industrial strategy and just transition processes. We think that the north-east has more in common with other energy cities and energy regions, so we are collecting those stories and working with other players around the world.

Kevin Stewart

I want to ask about a number of issues that are related to data and measurements, but also to outcomes and experience. I have never come across an academic who has said that we do not need any more data. I recognise that there are data gaps—witnesses might want to highlight where they think some of those gaps are, but first I want to tease out areas that you have already mentioned where there could be difficulties in relation to data, and where sometimes we tie ourselves in knots.

Let me give you an example of when we sometimes tie ourselves in knots. Witnesses have said that we need to create a standardised classification of green jobs because the current industry and occupational classifications are not detailed enough. I will use an example from a conversation that I had the other week about how we are not producing enough software engineers and how we need to boost the educational prospects of folk who want to enter software engineering. How could we classify whether a software engineer is working in a green capacity or in a green job?

Could witnesses cover some of those gaps and foibles in data gathering?

Dr Shapovalova

We have been fortunate in that we have encountered a lot of helpful people along the way as we have collected the data. When we first started working on it, we saw that there was very little data in the public domain, apart from the national statistics. We have a lot of data from Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council—which were very helpful—and we have got data from the North East of Scotland Transport Partnership and the Energy Savings Trust, and from local third sector organisations such as NESCAN, Community Food Initiatives North East and more. We have taken all that data and tried to present it in a comprehensive way, but it took quite a lot more digging than it should have done.

We are aware that a climate intelligence service is currently being developed by the Government to aid local authorities in data collection and presentation. That is a very positive development; perhaps the just transition could be included in that data collection and presentation. There should also be more sharing of data between industry and Government and that data should be made more public.

We recognise the challenge of classifying jobs, which is something that we highlight in our report. I wish that we had Professor Keith Bender with us, because he is an economist and would probably be able to give you a more eloquent answer, but that comment stemmed mostly from the fact that it is quite difficult to tease out from the data available the growth rate in the green jobs sector, as it is currently defined.

Where are the other data gaps? You may wish to bring in your colleagues to answer that.

Dr Shapovalova

I will begin before passing over to my colleagues.

It would be useful to have more data to aid community empowerment and revitalisation. The data about community ownership is currently presented for only two years and anecdotal experience suggests that the data underrepresents the actual situation, so there is a need to better develop and maintain that dataset.

The Energy Saving Trust is doing a lot of good work on community and local ownership, but we feel that the data about that is also a bit under-representative.

There are challenges in collecting data about democratic participation, and I will hand over to my colleagues to discuss those.

Kevin Stewart

I have a question before we move on. You have hit upon a couple of points. You talked about Government and industry sharing data, but we have heard that there is lack of communication with communities, and the data and knowledge that we have is often not passed on to communities. Would it be fair to say that we need to do more in that regard?

Dr Shapovalova

Absolutely. Data needs to be shared in a way that is comprehensive and can be understood. In the report, we attempted not only to present the data but to provide a narrative with possible explanations for that data. Just presenting charts without those explanations is not sufficient for dialogue with communities.

Kevin Stewart

You also spoke about community ownership, which brings me to a point about experiences and outcomes. In your initial comments, you or one of your colleagues mentioned Aberdeen Community Energy’s Donside community hydro project, which is community owned and took place long before we even thought of a just transition. How do we capture the knowledge and data that has been gathered by that community and its leaders Sinclair Laing and Jane Fullerton? How do we capture those experiences to allow other communities to achieve their potential and reach their goals, as Donside village has done?

Dr Shapovalova

There is some good practice and some very useful resources are available from Local Energy Scotland and CARES—the community and renewable energy scheme—but more could definitely be done to share experience, particularly in the urban context. Aberdeenshire is doing fantastic work on locally owned energy, although that is mostly on farms and estates. It is the region with the biggest capacity for locally owned rather than community-owned energy. In urban settings, including in Aberdeen, community-owned energy is in dire need of development. There is definitely space, perhaps in a project funded by the just transition fund or by other means, to have more sharing of data and experience, which would build up community capacity to develop projects like the one you mention.

Something that we plan to do if we get the resources, which would definitely be valuable, is to develop a data dashboard for a just transition for the region. It could give comprehensive information.

Do any of your colleagues want to comment on some of those questions about data gaps and experiences?

Professor Potts

I am going to say something that Kevin Stewart may never have heard before. We have enough data—what we need is action on a just transition. I am a social scientist, however, so I probably would say that. We need action and capacity building, and data will come along as we develop that.


Nonetheless, if I was to pick one data source that we are missing from the empowerment side, it would involve bringing together and capturing all the outcomes of the community deliberations in all their guises, and looking at how they are being implemented in policy and investment decisions, and in partnership formation, because there is a huge gap there. We have community assemblies and some interest from policy makers, but we have nothing to link the two. That is a data gap, and we are actively discussing with NESCAN just now how we capture that data so that NESCAN can provide a menu to enable organisations to engage in the process.

With regard to how we capture the good stories and the capacity from initiatives such as the hydro project—which is just behind my window here—we must recognise that there is a capacity issue for community groups that want to go into that space and build infrastructure, buy out land or local buildings and go through the many hoops, loops and hurdles that they are faced with. Communities are built on volunteerism, which is important, but there is a capacity issue.

I would like there to be much stronger links in that regard. As a university, we produce hundreds of graduates in the sustainability and engineering spaces. I would like to see, for example, a Government-sponsored internship scheme through which we match graduates who need to develop their expertise and gain experience in employment not just with partnership and community groups, but with local businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises. We currently have that resource coming out of our universities, but a lot of our graduates will graduate then leave the region. We should be looking at ways in which we can keep them in the region and link their academic skills with the capacity needs of local council and community partnerships, as we do not currently do that.

I would also like to see an emphasis not only on the critical skills that are needed for oil and gas workers moving into areas such as carbon capture and offshore wind, although that aspect is fundamental, but on the job-rich areas that we in the north-east are not currently focusing on. One example is retrofit. It is probably the biggest green employer in the country—in the UK statistics, it is the one area that has actually grown over the past five years, whereas all the others have stayed the same—and yet in Aberdeen, we do not currently have a formal strategy for how we train people up in those skills.

The other statistic comes from the most recent Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce “Energy Transition” report. It highlighted something really concerning, which is that 30 per cent of businesses in the region—SMEs and large businesses—do not have a net zero strategy, while another 30 per cent have a net zero strategy with no targets or dates. Two thirds of businesses in the region, therefore, do not have a formal approach to net zero or just transition, and yet Aberdeen is supposed to be the energy capital of the UK, Europe and the world.

How do we grow the capacity for SMEs to develop their training and investment structures around net zero? Part of that is about linking up with the capacity provided by graduates and students and bringing them into that space.

Kevin Stewart

An internship scheme would certainly be worth looking at, without a doubt.

One of the things that has been great about Aberdeen and the north-east is that when we have attracted folk, and students in particular, to come to Aberdeen, many of them stay. I saw that just the other day with regard to the work that X-Academy is doing in matching folk with green jobs, which involves a number of those on the accelerator programme who came here to study and never left.

An internship is a good idea, as you said, but how do we retain and export community knowledge that is accrued from successful projects in order to help other projects become a success? Could we have a scheme to allow folk the freedom to work in that sphere?

Professor Potts

Yes, absolutely—we are trying to put in place some of the architecture for that with groups such as NESCAN. There is also a role for Community Energy Scotland in that space, and a role for a formal regional assembly on net zero in the north-east so that those lessons can be shared.

There are huge differences between the city and the shire in that space. We often look slightly north-west to places such as Huntley, which has been incredibly successful in attracting inward investment into its community and in creating a really strong business case around local energy, transport and energy production. It is a case of sharing that information and the stories; using some of the existing institutions such as CARES; identifying where capacity needs to be built, what skills communities need and how can we provide them; and having a much more diverse approach to what transition looks like for the north-east.

There is huge job growth and there are huge job opportunities in this sphere. It is not just about community initiatives; it is about social innovation and employment growth. It is difficult to find someone to do retrofitting or to fit solar panels in the north-east. There is huge opportunity. We need to look across the economy and take a much more diverse approach.

Can I ask just one final question, convener?

Yes—if it is a brief question.

It is very brief.

I ask for a brief answer as well.

How do we get communities to help you to build that place-based just transition data dashboard?

Professor Potts

That is a good question. We need to help them to design what the data is and to train people in how to use it. That alone is not the solution; we need to ensure that the data drives awareness and activities. We need to get the data and embed some of it, potentially in climate assemblies and local discourses.

Gordon MacDonald

Good morning. You might be pleased to know that I will not ask you about data. I want to ask about some of the points that were made in the report “Just Transition for Workers and Communities in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire: Rapid Evidence Review”. Section 4.6 is titled “Lack of local control”. It says:

“during the key early years of North Sea development ‘the goal of local capability-building was a secondary consideration’.”

Later in that section, it says:

“In its early phase ... oil development was dominated by externally owned companies.”

What lessons should we learn from the early days of the oil industry to ensure that we achieve a just transition? Why is local control important?

Dr Shapovalova

That shows why we thought it important to look to the past in order to learn about the present and the future. Of course, when the oil was discovered, a lot of national considerations were in play and local capacity building came later. Many stakeholders, including the trade unions, are expressing the same sentiment—that is, that we are repeating the same mistake today by not building enough manufacturing capacity in the north-east and Scotland in general.

If we look at the requirements for local content, for many years, while we were a part of the European Union, regulators hid behind EU law and said that we cannot have any local content requirements. We are out of the EU now, but the local content requirements are not materialising yet. We have some provisions for that in the ScotWind leasing process, in the contracts for difference subsidy scheme allocation. However, as we discussed in the report, those provisions are quite vague. They often do not require a minimum threshold and the penalties that are associated with not meeting the local content requirements do not incentivise compliance. There is definitely scope for strengthening those to develop more capacity for manufacturing and job building around the low-carbon energy sector in the north-east.

Gordon MacDonald

We are often told that Scotland has two Governments. Whose responsibility would it be to encourage that manufacturing? Who has the levers that would encourage the manufacturing of offshore wind turbines and so on?

Dr Shapovalova

There has to be a collaborative approach between the Scottish and UK Governments and with public-private partnerships and industry. There is definitely scope for stronger regulations at UK level and at Scotland level, but there needs to be a collaborative approach with the industry, including consultations, to make sure that the regulations are achievable.

Gordon MacDonald

I want to ask you about a couple of comments in section 5.1 of your report, which is entitled

“Path dependency: what are we transitioning to?”

In that section, you refer to

“an academic/third sector consortium”

that said that there was a difficulty in breaking

“the path dependency between economic development and oil and gas related industries”,


“considerable resistance to doing so from companies, governments and communities, largely due to concerns and uncertainties over costs and impacts.”

You also quote the chief executive of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, who said:

“no one is going to come in and pick up things like floating offshore wind, hydrogen, carbon capture, etcetera, because right now it is not commercially viable.”

How do we ensure a just transition? How do we manage the move from oil and gas to renewables? What support is required from either the Scottish or UK Government?

Dr Shapovalova

Something that we often see, not just in Aberdeen but in other energy cities and regions, is this perception and narrative that we are moving on from oil and gas and that the only industries that we can focus on are carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and sometimes, as in our case, offshore wind. More can definitely be done to support the development of those industries. Over the past few years, funding for carbon capture and storage has been on and off the table; indeed, that has been the experience with the Acorn project. Moreover, we saw, with contracts for difference, a very good experience in the first few rounds, with a lot of uptake and a reduction in the strike price for offshore wind. However, the strike price is now so low that the latest round attracted no bids at all from offshore developers.

We need continuous monitoring and evaluation of policies to ensure that they are actually delivering the outcomes that we would like to see. Importantly, though, we need a cross-nation and cross-party coherent energy policy, because that is currently lacking. In the UK, the two major political parties have taken wildly different stances on the future of the energy sector, while in Scotland, the fact that the energy strategy has been delayed by two years does not instil confidence either in the oil and gas sector or in the renewable energy sector. There is therefore a need for a more unified, climate science-based and economy-based approach to energy strategy that is clear to the public and the industry.

Thanks very much.

The Convener

I have a final question that, unfortunately, brings us back to data. The Scottish Government has put in place, I think, a 10-year fund, so it is quite long term, and under the indicators that you have established, we might not see any progress until quite far down the line. Do those long timescales present any challenges with regard to holding Governments to account and ensuring that they show that progress is being made where it should be? Will there be any flexibility in that respect? Do you anticipate our needing to refresh indicators or to look at different ones as we move through the time period?

Dr Shapovalova

Absolutely. After all, the Government’s planning for just transition is built on constant monitoring and evaluation, and I would say that, in the past 18 months, we, too, have changed our approach and scope significantly. My answer, therefore, is yes, there will be a need to evaluate and update all this.

I will pass over to John Bone, because I see that his hand is up.

Dr Bone

On this question and, indeed, the previous question on gaps in data, a lot of the data on just transition relates to numbers and measurement. However, one of the things that we have been talking about is the need to bring in marginalised communities and so on, and there is a need for lived-experience data on what is happening to groups that are normally underrepresented, how they can be carried through the process and how it is affecting them. That sort of lived-experience data is going to be as important as quantitative data, and it should be collected on an on-going basis to find out what is happening to communities. As we discussed earlier, the question is whether people have trust in the process and whether they see the future that is being produced for them in a positive way.


Douglas Lumsden, did you want to come in?

Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

On the back of the previous question, I would just note what has been said about the just transition plan having not yet been published and the convener’s comment about money having already been committed. Indeed, quite a lot of money has already been spent. How can we get assurance that it is being spent effectively and that it is already feeding into the just transition?

Dr Shapovalova

Thank you for that very important question. It would be very useful to see some evaluation of how the first round of the Scottish Government just transition fund has performed. I am not sure that that has been done or published yet, but it would be very useful to see that continuous evaluation, which has supposedly been embedded in the process.

I think that my colleague Tavis Potts has some thoughts on this, too.

Professor Potts

It is a good question. First of all, it is really good that things such as participatory budgeting are being done. It is unleashing a whole range of local projects in the north-east, which is really positive.

There are concerns about how the just transition fund has been allocated, particularly, if you look at year 1 funding, the overall balance between commercial projects and community projects. We need some sort of formal public evaluation process of how things are going. That is why it is critically important to develop indicators; we need to be able to measure, for example, the investment from the fund over time and link that with how the indicators are picking up on the various aspects that we have been covering today across the north-east. Linking those two things is really important.

Fundamentally, though, we need to look at how quickly we are diversifying the economy and, indeed, how quick our planning responses are. At the moment, they are not quick enough for just transition funding. The delay in the draft energy strategy needs to be looked at and the strategy itself brought forward. We also need to look at how we are building capacities in communities, industries and partners for these things. All of these things are being picked up by the indicators, and it is really important that we are able to assess how we are going, make such assessments publicly available and share the knowledge of what is happening across the projects, too.

Thank you.

The Convener

That brings us to the end of our evidence-taking session. I thank the witnesses very much for their contributions this morning.

11:47 Meeting continued in private until 12:06.