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For Good

UK Trade Unions engagement with climate change and the need for a ‘just transition’

Student: Paul Drury
Status: Completed
Dissertation: UK Trade Unions engagement with climate change and the need for a ‘just transition’
Dissertation category: Sustainability
Dissertation theme: Energy and sustainable development
Short summary:

This dissertation examined the role that UK trade unions will play in the fight against climate change. The main research question asks, “How are UK trade unions engaging with climate change and the need for a ‘just transition’?

There is an urgent need to transition to a low carbon economy to mitigate climate change. The necessary changes to industries will impact on workers through the loss of jobs, modifying of existing jobs and the potential for new ‘green’ jobs. Trade unions, as representatives of worker’s interests, have an important role to play.

Trade unions at an international and national level are engaging with climate change and developing policies. An overriding response has become the ‘just transition’ framework. The just transition framework grew out of the need to consider the impact on jobs due to climate change policies. It has since widened out to encompass the socioeconomic transition to a green economy. Literature on the subject is limited, but where it does exist it shows that trade union understanding and use of the just transition framework is diverse and related, in part, to the specifics of the sector.

A major objective of the research was to evaluate awareness and understanding of ‘just transition’ in a UK context. To this end, semi-structured interviews were carried out with four trade union officials from different sectors.

Responses from the interviews showed that there was engagement with ‘just transition’ amongst the trade unions involved. However, the unions had different approaches specific to their sector interests and experiences. There was a desire to create consensus on what ‘just transition’ means for trade unions and a need to engage the wider membership by ‘making it real’.

On the basis of the research, recommendations for further action on ‘just transition’ are presented, these include: provide education and skills training, convene a community of practice and provide visible leadership.

Detailed summary: The Dissertations for Good (DfG) scheme was introduced in one of our research methods lectures by Dr Andrew Reeves from the Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD) at De Montfort University. I was instantly attracted by the potential of working with a partner organisation on a sustainability project. Signing up to the scheme online, I could see that there were many interesting projects that would make for good dissertation topics. The process was very straightforward and after expressing an interest in a project the DfG team linked me up with the partner organisation. The project I chose was with the Greener Jobs Alliance (GJA) who are an organisation campaigning for the jobs and skills required to transition to a low-carbon economy.

The highlight of the research was attending a two-day conference of UK, International Trade Union and environmental groups discussing the future energy system for the UK. I gained so many new perspectives on the challenges the UK faces in transitioning to a low carbon economy during this event. It also gave me networking opportunity and access to people that I could interview for the planned research. All this would have been impossible without the support and ‘gatekeeper’ role of the partner organisation.

The challenging part of the project was in the initial stages when you are trying to decide what the research aim or question is going to be. It was important, due to the short-time scale of the dissertation, to clarify these aims early on, both with university supervisor and partner organisation. The people at the GJA were great in this respect. An early meeting gave a context for the research and some early objectives of the sort of things they were interested in finding out.

I come from an engineering back-ground so this project challenged me in new ways. It involved learning new qualitative research methods and semi-structured interview techniques. Also, I had to learn to use Nvivo software to analyse the qualitative data from the interviews I carried out. All these new skills will stand me in good stead as I am now carrying out further research studies into energy demand at Loughborough University. I am still in contact with the Greener Jobs Alliance and hope to be involved with them on projects in the future. In summary, considering my experience I would recommend the DfG scheme to other students. It will add a valuable experience to your studies. It can give impetus to your dissertation and helps on those days when you might feel less motivated that you are also doing it for someone else. I would suggest choosing a topic that you are interested in and don’t be afraid to do something that challenges you personally and technically. If you are interested in sustainability, go for it! The climate and planet needs all the help it can get.
University: De Montfort University
Course: Energy and Sustainable Development
Partnered with: Greener Jobs Alliance