Following actions in Dundee (see video) and at First Ministers Questions Glasgow XR held a well attended meeting on the 25th January. The meeting began with contributions from XR activists, Friends of the Earth Scotland and ScotE3, before breaking into discussion groups. The remainder of the post reproduces the text of the ScotE3 contribution in which we shared some thoughts on strategies for achieving a just transition to a zero carbon economy.
ScotE3 campaigns for the importance of climate jobs. Jobs that are critical to the economic transformation that is needed to prevent a climate catastrophe. In Scotland 100,000 of these jobs are needed . However, to date we are not doing well. According to the Office of National Statistics the UK’s green economy has shrunk since 2014. The number of people employed has declined as has the number of green businesses. This is true UK wide and in Scotland. It’s no wonder that some representatives of unions that organise workers in the hydrocarbon sector pour scorn on talk of a just transition.
The Sea Change report makes it clear that unless we phase out North Sea Oil and Gas the UK will produce far more green house gas emissions than is compatible with restricting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. But we have a huge challenge; the big energy companies are still committed to maximising extraction of oil and gas and so are the Holyrood and Westminster governments. Just a year ago when the discovery of new oil and gas reserves east of Aberdeen was announced energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse highlighted,
the significant potential for oil and gas which still exists beneath Scotland’s waters.
Scotland’s offshore oil and gas industry has an important role to play with up to 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent remaining under the North Sea and in the wider basin and discoveries such as this help to support security of supply as we make the transition to a low carbon energy system.
Just this week the Africa summit in London ended with the Westminster Government pledging £2 billion to projects concerned with fossil fuel extraction.
From the outset North Sea has been a bonanza for the oil companies. Nigel Lawson, now a prominent climate change denier, was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1986 and said then
the whole outstanding success of the North Sea is based on the fact that it is the freest petroleum province in the world
He meant of course almost complete freedom for the oil companies – few if any benefits accrued to society as a whole and even centres of the industry like Aberdeen were then, and remain, centres of acute inequality.
So we need a rapid phasing out of North sea Oil and Gas. How can we overcome the powerful vested interests that oppose this and at the same time protect the lives and livelihoods of the workers in the industry. Theer is no evidence that the private sector can lead such a transition. The public sector has to take the initiative – and in Scotland that means a much more ambitious role for a state energy company and the new national investment bank. However, for this to happen we need a powerful movement of movements that has deep roots throughout Scotland.
To grow the movement and force the pace of change clarity of ideas is essential. We don’t have all the answers but the core issues around climate jobs and just transition are clear. So we need to patiently and persistently explain why hydrocarbons need to stay in the ground, why we need zero carbon, why the counter proposals from the industry are a dangerous diversion and how a just transition would have a positive impact on working people.
Reaching the audience we need goes hand in hand with maximising pressure on the energy corporations and local and national government. Much of this will be through all kinds of direct action. There have been some brilliant examples already but we need much more.
Direct action is necessary but not enough. The power to force a transition can only come from a mass movement and to build the movement we need to win hearts and minds. This means reaching out into unions, communities and community organisations with a vision of just transition that goes beyond simply defending existing jobs and embraces practical steps that have direct and understandable benefits for working class people across Scotland and beyond. We need win people to a positive vision of transition, but more than that we need to win them to be active agents in the transition: part of a movement of rebels, not just on the streets, but in workplaces and communities. So as we plan actions we always need to think about how to reach new audiences – through stalls, street leafleting, public and workplace meetings and patient door to door leafleting debate and discussion. It may be that some of those who work in the industry will be the last to be convinced (although that’s not inevitable – our opponents are the same corporations that drive down their wages and conditions and play fast and loose with health and safety). But if they are unconvinced we need to aim for a situation where climate justice is common sense to millions and where the people that oil workers meet in the pub, out shopping, their kids and relatives, are all won to the need for transition.
With the COP being held in Glasgow this year we have a huge opportunity to build outwards and take a massive step forward in creating a campaign for transition that is unstoppable.
North Sea Oil Rig by Gary Bembridge, CC BY SA 2.0