Many people's jobs will be impacted by the need to meet the UK’s net zero target. These changes will be felt far beyond people directly employed in the extraction and refining of fossil fuels. Energy-intensive industries and sectors such as farming and transport will be particularly affected.

The challenge then is how to talk about these changes without it sounding like a threat to people who work in these industries.

The concept of a ‘just transition’ - where workers and communities affected by the move to a low-carbon economy are supported through a managed transition into different roles - has become an increasingly prominent way of addressing these concerns. But just transition is a phrase rarely used outside the political and technical literature, or by the people who are likely to be most closely involved and affected.

Communicating about just transition, for example, means accounting for the symbolic as well as the material necessities provided by work. Whilst anxieties about loss of income are of course high on the list of concerns, when it comes to communicating just transition it is important to recognise that work is also about identity. Effective communications means participating in a dialogue based on mutual respect and understanding of the needs of the audience, and what change will mean for people’s lives.

Climate Outreach’s new report provides guidance on how best to communicate just transition with people who work in energy-intensive industries and the communities they support.

It synthesises a rapid literature review, the results of interviews with union leaders - led by the New Economics Foundation - and existing Climate Outreach knowledge on climate communications and experience of engaging with different communities on this topic.

This report is exploratory, as to date no work has been done to test just transition narratives with different audiences. But its guidance offers important advice for anyone involved in communicating just transition.

It includes 10 points of communication guidance, including the three below:

  • The imagery and language used in just transition communication needs to draw on the identity of the audience.
  • Simplistic, utopian statements about a shift to a world of green jobs are unlikely to go down well with non-left audiences. In contrast, honesty about the nature of the challenge is likely to be far more effective.
  • It is important to recognise that workers in extractive industries often work under dirty and dangerous conditions, and have done so for all of our benefit. Messages should stress that the people of the UK are grateful for the benefits and prosperity created by their hard work.

While much more research is needed to develop a coherent and effective just transition communications strategy, the findings in this report provide a strong steer for everyone involved in building support for a just transition.

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