Green Jobs in Scotland – a review

In April the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) published a new report ‘Green Jobs in Scotland’. written by Transition Economics.  The headline finding is that the decarbonisation of the Scottish economy could lead to 367,000 new jobs.  That’s about 16% of the number of workers employed currently in Scotland.  

The jobs message is powerful but it’s not new.  More than a decade ago the ‘Million Climate Jobs’ pamphlet looked at how large numbers of new jobs are essential to the transition to a zero-carbon economy. It estimated that a million new jobs are needed across the UK; scaled by population size this means around 100,000 jobs for Scotland.  This prediction was confirmed by a December 2018 report by the Green European foundation, which provides regional estimates for job creation in Scotland.  Six months later the Sea Change report showed how a planned run down of North Sea Oil and Gas could mean many more, new, skilled jobs in renewables.  The STUC report adds to this body of evidence. However, the challenge remains for trade unionists and climate campaigners alike to take the evidence, make it widely known and build a mass movement to make it happen.  

Green Jobs in Scotland comprises 103 pages of densely packed analysis covering six broad sectors of the Scottish economy.  It’s important to note that it is not a critique of either the Scottish or UK’s policies on climate.  It takes as given, for example, the fact that both governments’ have strategies based on large scale use of carbon capture and storage.  What it does do, sector by sector, is take current targets and policy recommendations and analyse in detail what needs to change for decarbonisation targets to be achieved.  The graphic illustrates how, in the best case scenario, 367,000 new jobs would be distributed across six major industry sectors.  

The report repays careful reading, not just because it provides solid evidence to back up the case for climate jobs, but also because, working within mainstream assumptions about the economy it shines a light on significant dangers along the road to transition.  

The Transition Economics team highlight the inadequacy of current climate action plans and argue that for targets to be achieved the Scottish Government’s timeline to meet its 2045 targets needs to be revised

Scotland’s net zero emissions by 2045 target, decarbonisation has to accelerate.

They also make it clear that, to date, the promise of jobs has been illusory. Indeed, job numbers in the renewable sector have been in decline.  This is a direct result of policies that have relied on the market.  And the report makes it clear, that while with the right policies and funding in place, 367,000 new jobs in the Scottish economy is a possible outcome, without such policies the number of new jobs might be as low as 156,000.  It concludes that 

… it is also possible for Scotland to decarbonise without significant domestic job creation – and that those jobs created could be primarily precarious and under-paid. 

The report gives examples of the consequences of giving free rein to the private sector. For example, in offshore wind and solar 

… employment in renewable energy …has been below standard. Jobs tend not to be unionised, and there have been reports of large multinational energy utilities like EDF trying to avoid unionisation of their (new) renewables divisions, despite union recognition across the rest of the company. The wind power Sector Deal created by the UK Government excludes any provision for trade unions. This adds to significant Health & Safety concerns with wind power, repeated violations, and recent deaths amongst onshore wind workers.

An investigation revealed that migrant workers hired to work on crane ships and guard vessels for offshore windfarm construction and offshore cable-laying sites were paid a fraction of the minimum wage and made to work more than 12 hours a day – both at the Beatrice site and others.  Instead of ensuring acceptable labour standards, the UK government has now repeatedly extended a waiver work for permit requirements in the wind sector to facilitate the employment of foreign crews – raising concerns about poor safety and human rights conditions for migrant workers, as well as concerns about local jobs and training opportunities in the sector.

Throughout, the report assumes that climate projects will be undertaken by the private sector with public participation.  The role for participation is to set policy goals, make investments and provide some level of regulation – legislation on fair work practices for example.  One example that is given notes that there are serious skill shortages in some sectors and recommends a co-ordinated approach to skills provision for the climate transition through the creation of a new public body – Climate Skills Scotland.  The new organisation’s role would be


to play a co-ordinating and pro-active role to work with existing providers (e.g. FE colleges) to quickly roll out the new qualifications required. 

So essentially, public participation means supporting and facilitating the private sector.  But given the track record of the private sector there must be grounds for questioning whether this level of participation is adequate. It’s clearly right to suggest, as the report does, that there is no certainty that the headline figure of almost 400,000 jobs will be achieved, or that jobs will be unionised and provide good pay and conditions.  Even if both Holyrood and Westminster step up the pace and address investment in the projects outlined in the report, the private sector will still be driven by profit maximisation.  That’s why renewable job numbers in Scotland have declined, why renewable projects source production on the other side of the world resulting in massive carbon footprints, and why wage rates and working conditions are driven to the bottom.  Scot.E3 argues that public participation is not enough to ensure that we meet zero carbon targets or to ensure that the jobs that accrue from transition are good jobs.  We need public ownership and democratic control.   

Finally, the report touches upon three areas which, in our view, require urgent attention if Scotland’s roadmap for transition to zero carbon can have any credibility.  The first of these is North Sea Oil and Gas.  Most oil and gas production is not included in Scottish emissions figures or in targets for emissions reductions. The report notes that:

Scotland’s oil and gas output is equivalent to an additional 180.3 MtCO2e when used, more than four times greater than Scotland’s own greenhouse gas emissions [our emphasis].  

These uncounted emissions represent a whole herd of elephants in the room and must be addressed as part of a planned, coordinated and just transition.  This requires a sharp shift from the current policy, espoused by both Holyrood and Westminster, of maximum economic recovery of North Sea hydrocarbons.  It also requires a break with the long-term partnership with big oil which has been cemented over 50 years by massive subsidies from the public purse and is now driving the policy focus on hydrogen production in order to sustain the industries dominant economic position.  

The report is critical of a focus on hydrogen production from oil (blue hydrogen), arguing that it could delay progress with green hydrogen produced by electrolysing water. However, in line with its overall concentration on existing government policy it fails to look at the serious criticisms that have been made of zero carbon plans that foreground hydrogen.  

Finally, the report notes how the private companies contracted to build energy from waste plants have tried to drive through serious cuts in pay and working conditions.  However, it is uncritical of a strategy that requires a continual stream of waste for burning (and thus generating greenhouse gas emissions) for decades to come) and is incompatible with a zero-carbon transition and the Scottish Government’s aspirations for a circular economy.

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