The Common Home Plan: A Green New Deal for Scotland
Reflections on the plan dubbed ‘This is how we save the world’.
Common Weal’s Green New Deal for Scotland was launched in November 2109. A costed plan for a transition to a zero carbon economy, it is an important contribution to the debate about just transition. Previously we’ve published a summary review of the plan by Pete Roche from Nuclear Free Local Authorities and a video of Tiffany Kane from Common Weal https://wp.me/p8FiJr-cE. In this post Annie Morgan takes a critical look at the plan from an internationalist perspective. Annie writes:
There is much that is commendable and doable in the Common Home Plan. However, there is a lack of an international perspective.
‘No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main‘
(John Donne. Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624))
Donne’s writings from 400 years ago have a prescience similar to John McGrath’s play ‘The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil’, in our theatres again this year. Donne compares people to countries and his writing is a plea for recognition of our inter connectedness. The poem is an argument against isolationism and has resonance today in terms of climate change (or as some would say, climate chaos, since change may not describe the devastation already occurring). McGrath’s play is testimony to the centuries old exploitation of people, landscape, land and resources that has blighted Scotland. Therefore the Common Weal collective are quite right to assert that our land isn’t ‘natural’ nor is it ‘well stewarded’ (Page 57). The proposals for land reform, national planning approach, reforestation regenerative/agroecological methods are excellent. Careful planning is demonstrated.
However, there are considerations in the global context that impact on the implementation of the plan. I explore these below.
In Common Dreams Brian Tokar summarises the problems inherent in the global capitalist economy. I have added to the list.
- Metals, mineral extraction and exploitation of mining workers and communities
- Oil, gas, coal burning is still dominant and in the control of multi national corporations.
- Food insecurity exacerbated by climate change
- Neo-liberal doctrine dominance, read privatisation, deregulation and ‘free’ markets.
- International Monetary Fund/World Bank/World Trade Organisation stranglehold with continued imposition of structural adjustment programmes (now referred to as Extended Credit Facility)
- Rise of right wing /fascist governments and influence aided even encouraged by global powers
These all demonstrate that the Common Weal assertion that ‘negotiations at an international level’ are unrealistic, sits alongside, but at odds with Asbjørn Wahl’s perspective on a clear policy on energy (the main source of emissions and global warming). He argues for a move from market oriented ‘green growth’ towards a position ‘anchored in the need to reclaim energy in public ownership and democratic control’. The Common Weal report, while consistently and rightly calling for Public Ownership, does not consider the required programmatic shift at a global level. Asbjørn calls for the work of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy and the Global Climate Jobs Network and allied networks to be recognised. Allied groups could include environmental agencies, Climate Activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Friends of the Earth and others, ScotE3, the Scottish Trade Union Congress and Trade Unions, Common Weal, students and workers. An international solidarity ethos as described by War on Want would recognise the consequences of climate damage particularly for vulnerable groups and working people and that climate chaos is impacting both here in Scotland/UK and worldwide.
Another impact of IMF imposed programmes is that impoverished countries have to compete with each other, leading to massive over production and lowering prices. Thus cheap imports in the Global North clog Landfills after short-term use. Examples include the clothing industry (Fast Fashion -the Global Rag Trade), plastic toys, household items and trainers. This inhibits the progress to the circular economy, rightly called for by the Common Weal team. A walk round any shopping centre/recycle centre/landfill will highlight the slow progress towards halting the throw away mindset. Communities in the Global South must be supported in their human rights to sustainability.
That business as usual is the predominant response by both governments is the concern. This is illustrated below in consideration of current energy policy. Peter Roche does a good job of reviewing favourably, the Common Weal Plan for a Green New Deal. However, I will highlight, some of what may be considered ‘ omissions’. I have conflated the categories of Buildings, Energy and Electricity into one section on energy. I further highlight the international context. I will pay particular attention to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Carbon Usage and Storage with reference to the Common Weal comment that CCS is unproven at scale, risks leakage and prolongs unnecessary use of hydrocarbons. This is totally correct but Energy Voice in 27/11/2019 announced ‘Ground Breaking New CCS charter agreed by the Scottish Government and the Oil sector.’ No progress to public ownership there and the oil giants are calling the shots. We will have to work hard and quickly if we have any chance of reversing this strategy, which lies at the heart of energy policy in Scotland. More below.
New models of public ownership are required to combat the corrupting influence of the extremely powerful extractive industries. The Scottish Trade Unions Congress (STUC) will debate Public Ownership at a Conference this May . The Common Home Plan steers clear of prescriptive political solutions. In doing so there are two problems; firstly, the reality of the political context in Scotland, UK and secondly, the power of multi-national corporations. Brexit compounds this. In addition, the lack of detail in the ‘how to’ increase the role of the public sector is problematic. The plan rightly advises and gives practical means of public sector borrowing, ‘quantitative easing’, or new money with progressive taxation to repay but does not expand on how to reverse the current ownership arrangement. Energy policy itself remains largely reserved to Westminster. Increased self determination and progress to Independence will be necessary to realise a Scottish Green New Deal, a sentiment that is expressed in the Commonweal plan.
The current political reality is found in the on going influence of a neo- liberal outlook (Growth Commission), the limited commitment to public ownership at state/nationalisation level for energy and the lack of a municipalisation strategy for heating /transport. Thus great ideas around district heating and integrated, connected public transport may be neglected. The Common Weal plan alongside the ‘Sea Change’ report demonstrates the increased number of climate jobs, which can be created in the transition to a low carbon economy. The time is now to push for strategies to implement a Just Transition.
The current lack of commitment to public ownership, not least in the refusal to take the Caley rail depot in North Glasgow into public ownership, the refusal to support the Bi-fab workers and the chaotic ownerships of energy provision and renewables in Scotland points to a near future lack in public investment. Pat Rafferty of Unite outlines the ‘ smorgasbord’ of foreign ownership in the energy sector – ironically sometimes European state owned. The Bi-Fab story highlights the need for government action-EDF (French) awarded the contract to Siapem (Italian) who subcontracted the manufacture of wind farm jackets to Indonesia to be shipped back to Scotland with a small number of jackets to be made in the Methil yard. This type of globalisation with companies chasing cheap ‘Global South’ labour must end; decommissioning, arduous work on rigs in the North Sea, is undertaken by migrant workers, paid a pittance.
Furthermore the lack of progress to ‘ Green Jobs’ is undermining union confidence and support in a Just transition with unfortunate calls for retention of Hunterston Nuclear facility, continued Oil and Gas extraction, continued subsidies to ‘Defence ‘ (the Arms Trade) and the biggie – Trident.
The Common Weal plan does an excellent job of costing the transition in a supplementary booklet. However, I would argue that current subsidies to the Oil and Gas industries, to the Arms Traders, to the Trident obscenity both in financial and moral terms, and in the deployment of blue hydrogen with Carbon Capture Usage and Storage which is underway will continue to seriously damage the public purse. Alongside divestment, a challenge to the Oil industry’s dominance in Carbon Capture Usage and Storage is an urgent priority.
Patrick Harvie (Scottish Greens) noted that
‘Entrusting Climate Change Policy to the Oil and Gas industry is comparable to entrusting Public Health to the Tobacco Industry‘ (paraphrasing exchange during FM question time (September 2019)).
The Royal Society of Edinburgh (hardly a left wing think tank) predicts £20-£30 billion costs for the scaling up of the new technologies. Bio energy with CCS is also of concern with Drax in England in the forefront; expensive and likely to drain money from other ecological restoration projects. The Common Weal plan conflates the Hydrogen economy into the most environmentally responsible type – Green Hydrogen. Oilrigs could be used in the manufacturing of green hydrogen by electrolysis using seawater and wind energy. However grey hydrogen and blue hydrogen; the grey reforming from ‘natural’ gas (methane), and the blue meaning storing the resulting CO2 beneath the North Sea, is the favoured option at Government and Scottish Investment Bank level. Common Weal note that Scotland is in the forefront of the hydrogen transformation and the Levenmouth project and Orkney green hydrogen developments are welcome. Fuel cells for transport could play an important role in decarbonisation (Aberdeen buses already using them). However, the reality is that the St.Fergus operation (Blue Hydrogen/ CCS) is well underway and scheduled to come online in 2024. Shell, Total, SSE and Chrysoar have signed up to the ‘agreement’ with the Scottish Government. Pale blue dot, the Oil and Gas Technology Centre and Peterhead Port Authority are the partners in North East CCUS Enterprise (NECCUS). The £275 million CCS project underway by Acorn will be scaled up. Note the cynical use of greenwashing titles and images – Acorn and Pale blue dot; a tree, the Earth from the Voyager photograph. Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish Government Energy Minister declared his delight at the Alliance, adding that CCS was essential for Scotland to reach net zero emissions by 2045.
In contrast, Equinor (Norway state) lobbying of the German Government has failed and green over blue has prevailed. These discussions are absent from the report, yet they are vital – the Commonweal plan aims to encourage responsible trade ( export) in renewable fuel. Further research on the role of hydrogen and potential for export is required.
Our Common Home suggests that Scotland could move towards self-sufficiency in food production needs qualification. Certainly localised and seasonal production in restored soils with good stewardship and land reform can be highly effective in climate mitigation. However, available arable land, renewable energy usage, peatlands, wetland, rewilding are all to be considered. Natural Carbon sinks/trees/hemp also require growing space.
Moreover the IMF/World Bank continues their imposition of structural adjustment/cash crops on the majority world, its practice for decades. If the ‘Global North’ quickly reduces imports without expanding fairer trade and enabling counties globally to be more self sufficient (as they were once and know how to be) there will be increased food insecurity. Insecurity made worse with crop failures, lower yields, petroleum based fertilisers, geo engineering and so on. Again this is a call for an interdependent, intersectional, Internationalist understanding.
The transport section of the Common Weal plan has proposals for decarbonisation, city and town planning, to have local facilities and encourage active travel /recharging infrastructure/discouraging air travel and so on. The call for a National Transport Company is welcome. However again there is little detail on moving towards public ownership for public transport. We require increased public transit – reliable, with greater frequency, convenient and integrated for workplace/hospital/education; these details are missing. Hopefully the proposed National Transport Company would look at details – for example, expanding underground for Glasgow and expanding rail for passenger and freight throughout Scotland. A move towards fare free transport to impact on individual car use will necessitate a reversal of private ownership. The recently announced free fares for under 18’s are welcome but will do little to decrease car use. Democratic ownership as described by Andrew Cumbers is also important. Lothian buses, although Council owned, has not considered drivers conditions sufficiently and Edinburgh remains at the top of congested cities in the UK. (TomTom traffic index January 2020). Improved communal transit is vital in reducing emissions and a National Transport Strategy vital to impact on car culture, that is, to reduce individual car use.
The other categories around resource use and producer responsibility could be enhanced by a consideration of the Lucas Plan and the democratisation of the economy with bus driver input to developing integrated routes, engineering workers in heating and so on. I had a very enlightening conversation with a heating engineer who was fixing my central heating, very knowledgeable on renewables, and I was thinking it would be excellent to have workers input in think tanks and climate activism. Communities also need to be actively engaged in a path towards greener energy. Common Weal is well placed alongside climate groups to be encouraging community involvement.
War on Want have good examples of communities fighting back against the ‘Free Trade’ doctrine and privatisation agenda. The current pandemic of the Covid virus may impact on the neo liberal trade agenda. It is important that changes in trade are explored from a Global Justice perspective. Examples are the Bolivian Alliance ALBA and La Via Campesina. It is hope that delegations from the majority world will be able to attend alternative conferences at Cop26 in Glasgow. We can learn and adapt strategies.
Finally, the above by no means seeks to undermine the good work and intentions of the Common Weal think and action tank and their supporters. I will finish on a further example of War on Want’s request to consider the ways in which we can lessen the impact on communities in our move towards sustainability in towns, cities and countryside. The Common Weal plan considers recycling in the sense of failure and rightly calls for a circular economy. This article asks for awareness on the obstacles to the realisation of this circular and sharing economy within a capitalist, always for profit, paradigm. Thus, yes, we have to have optimism that a different world is possible while recognising the long ecological revolution it will take (see John Bellamy Foster). This does not imply that we can procrastinate. The 2020’s is the Climate decade. Now or never! Therefore, one last example of the here and now , what we can do while building for the society outlined into Common Home Plan. Jake Molloy of the RMT Union calls for large recycling hubs for steel, glass, vehicle chassis, brick and concrete. War on Want call this Urban Mining. Landfill mining also: electronic waste is full of precious metals – Anthropogenic waste (all the pollution from human activity) can be recycled to reduce raw extraction. Now there is a transition idea – one that would be labour intensive (that’s a good thing -more jobs!).
Finishing with a quote from Arundhati Roy, Indian Activist and writer.
‘A new world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day , I can here her breathing’.