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Lessons from Hackney

It’s almost 9pm on a beautiful summer day and I have just returned home from a flagship event during London Climate Action Week 2023. At the event, the London Sustainable Development Commission (which advises the Mayor of London) finally released its embargoed report: ‘London’s Just Transition’. As I sit at my desk to write this blogpost, deep reflections are running through my head: Is fairness and justice truly possible as we rethink our economies in the 21st Century? Is it too naive to think so? Too cynical not to?

The ‘Just Transition to Net Zero’ was the topic of a project that I had the honour to pursue thanks to the Institute for Global Prosperity’s (IGP) long standing partnership with the London Borough of Hackney - one of the UK government’s local authorities in London.

As it turned out, there are several lessons to draw from Hackney as we explore a pathway to a just transition. Here, I share my top 4 takeaways in line with policy and business.

Policy

1. Social justice must be part and parcel of climate action.

Hackney’s Climate Action Plan explicitly integrates social justice in its roadmap to 2030. It defines it as “the fair distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society”, and it equates it with the just transition in the context of the climate emergency and decarbonisation.

2. Change is possible and fairness must be at the heart.

These are two of the four principles that guide Hackney’s approach to its climate action. In light of this, one of my key recommendations in the policy report (see below) is to adopt a Systems Change approach as outlined by the Framework for Just Transitions.


Business

3. “A business is a tool for campaigning”.

These were the words of one of the respondents during my 10 interviews with SMEs in Hackney. Aside from this articulate respondent, I was struck by how the vast majority of new green and circular businesses seem to be unaware of the opportunity they have to tap into their transformative power and shape a fairer society. To their defence, however, 90% of businesses in Hackney are micro enterprises (counting 9 employees or less).

What this means is captured in the words of another respondent: “As a small business, you don’t have much time to think.”

4. The 4-day work week could support a just transition to net zero.

My interviews also revealed a seeming shift among green and circular businesses in Hackney to a 4-day work week as a decent work condition for employees. In fact, one way to look at the just transition is as a labour-oriented concept, often defined as “good, green jobs with decent wages and conditions”.

Alongside these lessons, I walked away from this project with stirring questions as well. Chief among these questions is the role of finance in social justice.

For now, though, as the world grapples with the grand challenge of climate change, one thing remains clear: a just transition to net zero means that justice must be an integral part of the process. Not a nice to have. Not an afterthought. A must. A sine qua non.

 


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