Opinion: Universal Basic Income for a Just Transition to Net Zero

By: Jonathan Williams

See original post here.

It is impossible for anyone to predict the precise series of events that will follow such a rise in planetary temperatures. We know that large parts of coastal cities and towns will become uninhabitable, from Shanghai to Cardiff, California to Barry. We know that desertification from soaring temperatures in countries such as Pakistan and Kenya will leave those parts of the world uninhabitable.

Consequently, billions of people will be left displaced from their homes and be searching for pastures new. All through no fault of their own. Those to blame will mainly be Western countries. Over the past 200 years, they have polluted the planet seemingly beyond repair.

How quickly the aforementioned events will come to pass as temperatures begin to rise above catastrophic levels is anyone’s guess. But if it is sudden and uncontrollable, then it is not hyperbolic to suggest that civilisation as we know it could collapse shortly after the worst impacts of climate change appear.

That is why all of us must implore our elected politicians and those running organisations responsible for climate change to change their ways and transition to cleaner economies and societies.

Universal basic income and climate change

To its credit the Welsh Government has made some positive steps in this respect. Its decision following the recent road review, to shift away from new road-building schemes towards more sustainable policies, was a bold decision. And the right one, in my view. But it must be backed up by investments in alternatives so that the transition is fair and just for those who rely on road travel.

In the same vein, transitioning workers out of polluting heavy industries must be fair. The Welsh economy is still heavily reliant on these types of jobs. We cannot have a repeat of what happened 40 years ago, when Prime Minister Thatcher smashed the unions, closed our mines, and left communities across Wales destitute.

Those communities are still suffering today. For many, the only thing they will inherit is intergenerational poverty. But history doesn’t have to repeat itself. That’s why the UBI Lab Cymru and others have campaigned for the Welsh Government to include heavy industry workers in the ongoing care leavers basic income pilot in Wales.

A just Net Zero transition

For those who are new to the concept, a basic income is a regular, unconditional income paid directly to everyone regardless of their income, wealth, or employment status. How much is paid as an income is open to debate, and studies by think tanks such as Compass and Autonomy have considered this in detail.

We know from trials across the world that universal basic income significantly improves physical and mental well-being, educational attainment, productivity, entrepreneurship, and trust in government, among many other benefits. It saves money on the health system and invests in future generations, who may not have the opportunity to pursue higher education without basic income.

What we don’t know is whether universal basic income will assist with our transition towards a net zero economy. I’m betting it will.

The Welsh Government and a significant majority in the Senedd backed Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds’s motion calling for heavy industry workers to be included on the universal basic income trial. They now need to follow through.

In 2019, around 2,300 people were employed in the mining and quarrying industry in Wales. All of those workers will be worried about their future employment. They are told that we must stop extracting fossil fuels as soon as possible if we are to prevent the worst of climate change.

But we will not bring them onboard with the necessary changes unless we show them that they will not be left behind as we transition to a net zero economy. They have families to feed and bills to pay like the rest of us.

The Welsh Government is currently fighting a legal battle with Coal Action Network on the decision to extend a mining licence in Aberpergwm. If the Welsh Government succeeds, the mine will continue to operate until 2035. In that time, 100 tonnes of CO2 and 30 tonnes of methane will be released into the atmosphere.

A win-win-win scenario

Rather than fight this legal battle, the Welsh Government could refuse to extend the licence, close the mine, and add the approximately 130 workers onto the basic income trial. The move would be ground-breaking in that it would be the first time any government considered how a basic income could be used a tool for a just transition.

We could see these workers thrive, not just survive. They can set up businesses, become mature students, care for their loved ones, and take up volunteering opportunities in their local communities.

Of course, it is not just miners who face the prospect of losing their roles. A recent announcement by Liberty Steel will result in around 150 job losses at its Newport and Torfaen sites. The Welsh Government could step in and turn a bad news story into a good one by including these workers on the trial.

The Welsh Government has the support of a majority in the Senedd and the foundations of a trial already in place to make a significant contribution to the global fight against climate change. And it can show the world that universal basic income, UBI, is the ideal mechanism for ensuring workers can justly transition from heavy industry jobs.

It’s time they seized that opportunity.

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