A Rapid and Just Transition of Aviation

Shifting towards climate-just mobility

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Covid-19 has grounded air traffic. The aviation industry itself expects to be operating at a lower capacity over the next few years.

With the looming climate breakdown, automation, digitalisation and likely climate induced pandemics, we need to be realistic: aviation and tourism will change – and they will do so either by design or by disaster. They will transition either with or without taking into account workers’ interests.

This Paper discusses how long-term security for workers and affected communities can be guaranteed, without returning to business as before. This Discussion Paper, published by the Stay Grounded Network and the UK Trade Union PCS in February 2021, is a result of a collective writing process by people active in the climate justice movement, workers in the aviation sector, trade unionists, indigenous communities and academics from around the world. It aims to spark debates and encourage concrete transition plans by states, workers and companies.

You want to win a campaign to reduce aviation or counter airport expansion? Then you‘ll need to have a good plan to counter one of the main industry arguments: jobs. This guide will help you to connect better with aviation workers and the trade unions that represent them — to build mutual support and advance a just transition in the sector. The guide, published in January 2022, is a collaboration between Stay Grounded, the Green House think tank and the Green European Foundation, and was informed by a series of interviews with trade unionists.

The demand for a ‘just transition’:

… has been developed by trade unions and the climate justice movement. It aims to protect workers and communities currently dependent on fossil fuel industries but is also a broader process to help safeguard the future of workers, communities and the planet. It is not an argument for delaying the changes needed, rather for managing them effectively, fairly and democratically.

Principles for a just transition of aviation include:
  • Providing social protection 
  • Promoting the creation of alternative employment
  • Investing in skills development and re-training
  • Halt new training and employment in aviation
  • Global support for a just transition, especially from countries with high historic and current emissions
What needs to be done:
  • Stop propping up the aviation industry with taxpayer money. Linking bailouts with social and environmental conditions is not enough to solve the problems. Instead, recovery packages must be directly used to finance a just transition. 
  • Down-scale the industry in line with a 1.5 ºC trajectory, including an end to subsidies and tax breaks for aviation, introducing a frequent flyer levy, and reducing airports and slots.
  • Create local, national and trans-national Just Transition Funds which are grounded in a meaningful stakeholder engagement that include workers, trade unions, climate justice advocates and, where relevant, tourism-dependent communities. These funds: receive and manage aviation and other fossil fuel assets and tax incomes; coordinate and finance investment in public and community infrastructure for a new resilient economy; pay for training and skills programmes; and guarantee livelihoods for employees in the affected sectors. 
  • Re-purpose aircraft manufacturing plants for producing goods of high social value like life-saving ventilators, wind turbines or trains. Recycle infrastructure, similar to the former Berlin Tempelhof airport which is now a recreational park for citizens. Redeploy employees to railways and other decent climate jobs. 
  • Changes in aviation, however, must be part of an overall societal transformation involving new modes of travelling, working, producing and trading. It will only be possible to achieve a climate just mobility system by also overcoming the existing income disparities.
Five recommendations for your campaign
  • Understand unions and workers: Building trust will take time and energy. Engagement should be positive and creative, but at the right levels and with realistic objectives.
  • Lead on jobs: Unemployment is not an option. Campaigns should promote an alternative economic vision that prioritises job security and quality.
  • Focus on future threats: The pandemic revealed the stark vulnerability of the aviation sector and workers. Highlight the dual climate and ecological crisis as the next threat and the need to plan for a just transition. The longer that takes, the more unjust it will become.
  • Back workers’ demands: The industry’s decade-long race to the bottom has harmed both people and the planet; workers and trade unions have their own battles. Be allies!
  • Avoid generalisations: Circumstances vary across workers, unions, airlines, airports and countries. Tailor your engagement appropriately.

Engage in the discussion!

Social Media Package

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