Conference of the Bureau of the Civil Society Organisations' Group of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and of Irish Rural Link
Tullamore, Ireland, 9 June 2022
Working towards a just transition in full respect and partnership
- The transition to net zero emissions in the Irish Midlands will necessitate profound changes in vision, attitudes and perceptions of the future, with the greatest challenge being how to deliver a just transition for the many and not only for the few;
- First and foremost, this just transition must be about people, place, respect and partnership, building on the deep historical connections of peatland communities with the bog and directly involving and empowering local communities in the long-term planning for the regeneration of the region;
- It is essential that all local stakeholders are directly involved in a bottom-up process, identifying challenges and opportunities, jointly developing creative and sustainable solutions and actively participating in the decision-making and implementation of these solutions;
- Civil society organisations are key to delivering the just transition, through their interactions with local government and by their capacity to bring the topic out of the policy arena and into communities. At the same time, local government has an essential responsibility to support the most vulnerable and those who are less able to adapt to change;
- Respect, partnership and honest communication with communities on possible future options, must underlie this joint approach, which should aim to reduce, share and manage the risks of the transition in a just and fair way.
Delivering a new social contract firmly rooted in the sustainable development goals (SDGs)
- If not well managed, the transition to carbon neutrality through the cessation of peat extraction in the Irish Midlands could lead to long-term and trans-generational disadvantage and marginalisation;
- In this context, the overriding objective of the just transition must be to not leave behind any individual, community, economic sector or region;
- Moreover, the environmental dimension of the just transition must be addressed in parallel to the social and economic dimensions, under the all-encompassing objective of the SDGs, of which poverty eradication is the principal objective;
- Ultimately, the closure of the peatlands requires a new social contract to protect the most vulnerable;
- This will necessitate specific and targeted actions, e.g. adapted life-long learning, re-training and upskilling opportunities, which should offer real economic opportunities and allow local communities to sustainably support their livelihoods;
- High level and long-term investment in the education sector and in economic diversification, e.g. in tourism (recreation, heritage and biodiversity), will also be crucial to effectively managing the just transition;
- The overall objective should be to create and attract a significant number of new jobs, as well as to successfully integrate into the labour market both young people and women, as well as vulnerable individuals, such as persons with disability and the long-term unemployed.
Taking ownership of the opportunities and challenges of the just transition
- Poverty is not only about income, it is also about access to affordable energy and quality services. In this context, and if the just transition in the Irish Midlands is to be successful, it will have to be enacted by citizens in their homes, schools and at the workplace;
- This will necessitate a holistic and integrated approach to rural and regional development across a number of key sectors, e.g. transport, digitalisation and energy, as well as equal treatment among the regions;
- Two sectors which are particularly effective in enhancing local supply chains and job creation, are the social economy and community led renewable energy projects;
- Such locally owned enterprises, with either social and/or carbon-free objectives, will directly contribute to sustainable wealth, social solidarity and more sustainable consumption levels;
- Crucially, they will encourage peer-to-peer learning, community empowerment and ownership of the just transition, all of which will be pivotal to the effective and long-term management of the just transition in the Irish Midlands.