The economies of Norway and Scotland have both been shaped by 50 years of exploitation of North Sea oil and gas. Both countries have governments that talk about tackling the climate crisis while remaining wedded to the further extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea basin. There is however, a sharp divide between the two countries. After 50 years Norway has the biggest Sovereign wealth fund in the world. Scotland in contrast has no such fund and UK governments since the 70’s have pursued taxation policies that have resulted in massive net subsidies to the oil industry. Right now job losses are taking place in the Scottish sector as companies respond to the overproduction of oil and the drop in price – in the worst-case scenario this could mean (including the multiplier effect) up to a quarter of a million jobs lost in Scotland out of a total workforce of 2.6m.
On the 24th May we were fortunate to hear from Andreas Ytterstad who is part of the Norwegian Climate Jobs Campaign – Bridge to the Future. You can watch a video of Andreas’ introduction below. This was followed by a very lively discussion in the course of which participants shared questions, ideas and links to resources. It’s hard to do justice to such a rich discussion but in the rest of this post we have sketched a summary of the issues raised and included links to further reading and useful resources.
Summary of the discussion
Andreas and others argued that state intervention and public control is essential for just transition. The door we’ve been pushing against is now slightly open – for example the growing scepticism in the Finance Department of even the right-wing Norwegian Government about further investment in oil extraction. All governments are now under huge financial pressure from increased expenditure and reduced receipts in the Covid-19 pandemic. This is an entirely new situation – we can push for things we couldn’t realistically push for before. Oil companies have no interest in funding transition, especially as they are led by men coming to the end of their working lives, not up for taking risks.
There was a lot of discussion about Climate Jobs, what they are and their relative importance in the overall economy. Speakers noted the importance of studies by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign and the Green European Foundation in establishing a rigorous case for climate jobs. Andreas noted that even if the current target number is too small it could act as the battering ram to break through to State acceptance of Climate Jobs and Just Transition. He argued the need to win acceptance of the idea but that by itself it was insufficient. The campaign also requires the agency of workers as active participants to ensure that ideas become implemented. Offshore workers’ skills will be important in new housing, energy efficiency retrofit of buildings and public transport. We are going to need huge numbers of Climate Jobs across all sectors, not just the energy sector. An aerospace worker added that there is also huge need for Climate Jobs arising from redundancies in the Aerospace industry.
Andreas noted that regional variation is important in planning and achieving Just transition. It will be most difficult in communities, which have grown and are now entirely dependent on oil. Aberdeen is similar to Norwegian examples, but less remote and therefore more easily incorporated into a national plan. In the meantime we should support even defensive actions by these communities. One speaker noted that in England, Sheffield and County Durham for example, are both developing their own Climate Jobs / Just Transition plans. In both Norway and Scotland (and England) there’s potential for local and regional state authorities to join the Climate Jobs movement. There were questions and contributions on the role of local authorities from contributors in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
Other questions raised in discussion included:
How to fund the transition? Without a national investment bank how can manufacturing of renewables and other socially useful products for climate jobs be financed?
What are these green jobs?
Who will create them?
Who will fund these new jobs/businesses?
What is the response from Norwegian oil workers to transition jobs?
Will the jobs be from the private sector, or subsidised by national/regional governments, or state/regional publicly owned and financed? Responses to this included ‘That’s fundamental – I think the devil is not just in the detail of when or how much but also who will own it! In Aberdeen the oil and local political establishment have ignored and then when they had to, slowly started to talk about transition but mainly to manage it and make sure they were still in control of transition! What about pushing for transition without them in control? Where all could the money be taken from.’
What does anyone think of case of Uruguay?
More links and further reading
Andreas Ytterstad writing on climate jobs for the Open Democracy website
Scottish Government Energy Strategy
Aberdeen City Council consultation and net zero vision
Sea Change Report – the case for transition from North Sea Oil and Gas
In Scotland the Common Weal “Our Common Home Plan” outlines a way in which a six of passive measures to REDUCE energy requirements in buildings AND improve well-being.
Call to Action
Read the call to action on global climate jobs