Co-operatives key to climate justice in Scotland

Co-operatives must play a central role in ensuring the transition to a low-carbon economy is a just one.

Claudia Beamish

Member of the Scottish Parliament on the South of Scotland list and Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change

Sarah Boyack


The World’s leaders signed up to a low carbon future at the Paris Climate talks. The challenge is now to focus on how we deliver environmental justice in Scotland so that we make the transformation in our economy and our daily lives to bring about that fundamental change. We need both to seize the new economic opportunities that will come from new investment but to make sure that social justice principles underpin that shift. That means investing in skills, in our buildings, in green infrastructure and in our environment so that the transition is a Just Transition. Co-operative models will play an essential part in the transition.

We need to learn the lessons of the 20th century where whole communities were left behind by the pace of change and job opportunities decimated. That means we need to make sure that local communities are involved and empowered in the process of change. That’s where the cooperative movement can play a vital role so that the economic benefits of new businesses and services are reinvested in local communities.

At COP 21, The International Co-operative and Mutuals Insurance Federation met with various financial partners to identify how the sector is undertaking their green shift towards a low carbon economy. Their representative Shaun Tarbuck, said: “Co-operative and mutual insurers are hallmarked by values that reflect sustainability objectives: protection of individuals, support of the communities in which they live, and development of an environment in which they can thrive.”

There are already strong co-operatives across Scotland but much more needs to be done to build on this to create a new generation of co-operatives. We need the political leadership the Scottish Labour agenda would bring to ensure that the Scottish Cooperative Development Agency – Co-operative Development Scotland, which we created when we were in power, brings the co-operative vision to life across the whole of Scotland.

Worker owned co-operatives and companies must be part of our vision. Our trade unions can also make a significant contribution to develop the strategies needed to boost workers’ skills and opportunities. We need to enable workers to transition swiftly into employment in the low carbon economy. But a Just Transition also means ensuring that workers get to share the rewards achieved through their labour and give them the chance to being involved in directing their company.

There is much we could build on with strong evidence of the determination of many communities across South Scotland, the Lothians and throughout Scotland to work together for a more sustainable future. There are many initiatives which are aiming at tackling climate change and fuel poverty at the same time. That’s a win win where social and environmental justice can go hand in hand and new green jobs are created.

There are also community and co-operative food growing projects bringing multiple health and well being benefits, while also addressing climate change challenges. These are examples to be proud of as living and effective contributions to the shift to a low carbon economy.

Across Scotland there are new community co-operative energy schemes which are now up and running. In our own regions we have supported schemes which will not just generate sustainable energy, but will see investment in local community projects too.

In South Scotland, the development of Spirit of Lanarkshire’s successful share option has enabled locals and those interested from further afield to have a stake in a renewables company. This has brought both dividend opportunities and the chance to make decisions to support community projects for sustainable living.

In the Lothians, the Harlaw Hydro community scheme, established as an Industrial and Provident Society is now up and running, generating electricity. More recently the Edinburgh Solar Co-op was successfully launched and met its target for issuing shares. This project will see large solar panels on public buildings generate electricity and over time will see investment in local schools and environmental projects.

There are so many more areas in our day to day lives where co-operative models could deliver new opportunities in transport, social care and housing. We will support a People’s Railway for Scotland and campaign for a People’s Bus. These will both mean that passengers and workers come first and not shareholders. It will also enable there to be the opportunity to tackle emissions more robustly as part of the way forward. Particularly in relation to bus services, this will help to ensure that air pollution is reduced.

But that needs a new Scottish Labour Government working alongside and in partnership our local councils and local communities. Political leadership and a long term vision are needed if we are to deliver a low carbon world – but environmental justice and co-operative principles need to be the values that leadership is based on.