This post by Ian Campbell was first published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in response to a joint editorial published by the BMJ and other journals on the climate emergency. There was no coverage of carbon budgets (to show the urgency) or of the problem of widespread self-censoring that has been identified by Scientists for Global Responsibility.We repost it here with permission from Ian and from the BMJ.
The UK’s share of the Paris-compliant global carbon budget will be used up in 3.3 years
How urgent is an “emergency”? The word usually implies that immediate action is needed, but in the two years since the declarations of a climate emergency by many national and local administrations following the 2019 street protests, there has been little effective action. In some countries, e.g. the UK, fossil fuel use has even been encouraged by measures such as further road building. It is all a long way from the “rapid and far-reaching transitions”, taking just a few years, that was envisaged by the IPCC SR15 report of 2018, which sparked the street protests.
We can quantify the urgency of the climate emergency in terms of the residual carbon budget – i.e. how much more CO2 can be dumped into the atmosphere without a major risk of exceeding 1.5°C global warming – and how soon this budget will be used up at current emission rates. It turns out that the UK’s fair share of the global carbon budget will be used up in 3.3 years. The maths are simple, but this timescale of 3.3 years is so far from what is being discussed, even in your editorial, that it is worth explaining the calculations in detail, as follows, so that readers can check for themselves.
The 2021 IPCC AR6 report (Table SPM.2 p38) gives 400 billion tonnes CO2 as the global carbon budget to keep global warming to less than 1.5°C with 67% confidence. This is from the start of 2020. With a world population close to 8 billion, and using an assumption of global equity, this is 50 tonnes per person on the planet as a lifetime limit. The UK’s current CO2emissions are around 10 tonnes per person per year, according to a WWF report (Figure 21, p46). So the UK’s 50 tonnes per person will be used up in 5 years from January 2020, i.e. in December 2024, which is 3.3 years from now.
This should not come as a surprise to people in the UK since similar calculations were done by the Tyndall Centre after the 2018 SR15 report, and are readily available for each UK local authority. These typically give a fair share of the global carbon budget as running out in 7 years from 2020 at current emission rates – the period is 7 rather than 5 years since the local authority data provided by BEIS is incomplete in not including emissions that are embedded in imports. Despite being so readily available, these reports have been almost completely ignored.
Why is the need for radical change (emission cuts of double digit percentages per year) not common knowledge? Firstly, the UK Government promotes its Net Zero 2050 plan as a satisfactory solution, but the Government is not being sufficiently transparent that emissions from aviation, shipping and imports are excluded, or about the implications of the commitment to global equity, or about the feasibility of the implied technological solutions. Many commentators repeat the Government’s claims without challenge, but youth climate activists see through them and are speaking up about the deceits. Secondly, for various reasons, many climate scientists and many NGOs are self-censoring about the size and urgency of the changes needed – it is easier to campaign against the expansion of a particular airport than to explain the blunt truth that any leisure flying using fossil fuels is incompatible with a lifetime personal carbon budget of 50 tonnes CO2, since a reliable food supply and keeping warm are much higher priorities.
Yet another COP may help, but what is really needed is for everyone to tell the truth about the climate emergency so that it is treated as an emergency, and to call out misinformation and deceits whoever makes them (however uncomfortable that is), as is advocated by Scientists for Global Responsibility in their Science Oath. It is clear that we cannot rely on governments to take the right decisions by themselves, however much they are urged to. It is up to citizens to be much more involved in policy making, and health professionals with their independence and their experience in making and explaining tough choices are well placed to make a major contribution to this.
The report argues that decarbonisation can be achieved by:
Decarbonisation of the steel sector could be achieved through:
increased use of electric arc furnaces and recycled scrap— already happening in the UK.
using direct reduced iron production with green hydrogen in place of coke (which is produced from metallurgical coal). The HYBRIT project aims to do this at a commercial scale in Sweden by 2026, having made their first delivery of fossil free steel in August 2021.3
reducing steel consumption through more efficient design of buildings, cars, energy infrastructure, and consumer products. Promoted by The Use Less Group at Cambridge University.
Climate jobs and green new deal movements are springing up around the world. This is a call for papers for an international conference on the technical aspects of the jobs that will be necessary, in 10th, 11th and 12th March 2022.
The conference will be on zoom, over three days, and contributors will be able to participate from all continents. We want papers from engineers, scientists, system modellers, designers, architects, planners, educators and trainers, foresters, soil scientists, trade union researchers, NGO researchers and other specialists.
The Climate Jobs Approach
We want contributors to think about the technical and technological implications of a “climate jobs” approach. This approach involves several features:
Massive government spending on public sector, direct employment to make possible reductions of 95% in CO2 emissions, and deep reductions in other emissions, within 20 years. In South Africa or Britain, this would be something like one million jobs a year, or in the United States 8 million jobs.
People who lose their jobs in old, high carbon industries would be guaranteed training and well paid, permanent work in climate jobs.
The work would begin from year one, starting with training a new workforce and shovel ready projects. Over twenty years many new technologies would become possible.
Public sector bodies would share intellectual property across borders.
Profits would be less important. Technologies that are necessary but currently “unrealistic”, could be developed rapidly at scale even if the cost was very high for many years. For example, alternative methods of making steel, substitutes for cement, or expensive forms of renewable energy like marine power and concentrated solar could enter mass production.
We could also move beyond the market, with regulations of many sorts. So we could think about the sort of rail, bus and electric system needed if all flights of 5,000 kilometres or less were banned. Or what could be done if we banned the manufacture of concrete, or F-gases?
Or contributors to think about the details, and the implications, of a building code that required new buildings to have greatly reduced energy use, and to burn no fossil fuels for heating or cooking. In this, we would like not only papers that argue this would be a good idea but think about how that code would be worded in different places, and what technologies and materials would be required, and what research would be required.
For more information about the conference, possible topics, how to participate and the deadline for submitting abstracts please download the full call for papers.
On the 20th September 2021 we cohosted with Lighthouse Books a discussion on the recently published book ‘Crude Britannia – how oil shaped a nation’. The discussion was introduced by Terry Macalister one of the books authors. This is the video of Terry’s introduction.
For anyone after a copy of the book, you can order Crude Britannia from the Lighthouse website & get 15% off using the code SCOT-E-THREE
Since declaring a climate emergency in 2019, the UK’s developed oil and gas reserves have increased by 800 million barrels of oil and gas, bringing UK developed reserves to 6.55 billion barrels.
UK law and Scottish Government policy of Maximising Economic Recovery, which requires every last drop to be drilled from the North Sea, would triple UK emissions from oil and gas.
To limit warming to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5ºC no new oil & gas fields, including Cambo, can be licensed or developed and North Sea production must be wound down in the next decade.
In line with equity, the UK – as a wealthy nation with high historic emissions and low economic dependence on oil revenues – should phase out of oil and gas faster than countries for which it would be much harder. Not all of the 6.55 billion barrels in currently producing or under developed reserves can be extracted – some will have to close early, before fully extracting their reserves.
Every delay damages the prospects of a well-planned and just transition for workers and communities currently reliant on the industry.
We plan to publish a more detailed review of the report and if you would like to contribute your thoughts on the issues that it raises please do get in touch.
Neil Rothnie – ex oil worker and one time editor of the OILC newsletter Blowout spoke to a conference of people involved in the creative industries in Aberdeen on Saturday 4th September. He talked about the North Sea, climate jobs and just transition. We publish his contribution in full here.
I’ve been asked to speak because a large part of my life has revolved around struggle in the oil and gas industry. I spent my working life offshore, mostly on the North Sea, latterly in the Norwegian sector. On the whole I enjoyed my working life. I miss it a bit. But mainly the Norwegian bit.
In my early days in the industry, I was active in the Aberdeen Branch of the National Union of Seamen. And during the strikes and occupations led by the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, in the wake of the Piper Alpha disaster, I founded and produced Blowout. At that time a “nasty scurrilous” tabloid that aspired to giving oil workers a voice.
I became the Secretary of the OILC branch of RMT after OILC “merged with” the Rail Maritime and Transport union, and I briefly represented RMT’s oil worker members on the executive of that union. I remain a member of the Norwegian union, Industri Energi.
I was inspired to join the struggle against climate change by Extinction Rebellion. I’m also active with ScotE3, campaigning for jobs and a just transition (the three Es in ScotE3 are employment, energy and environment). I’m speaking for neither of these organisations. I’m sure a lot of what I say here would get agreement from many, but not all, of the supporters of these two organisations.
As I understand climate science, it is fossil fuels that are very largely the source of the greenhouse gasses that are heating the environment and causing climate change and threatening the existence of much of life on the planet. For fossil fuel read oil & gas, at least for the purposes of this meeting.
So, I find myself back in a fight with the oil industry. In the wake of the Piper Alpha disaster, I struggled alongside the very best, and most conscious of the offshore workforce, many of whom were lifelong trade union members. Today I struggle alongside the very best, and most conscious of the youth, organised in Extinction Rebellion and in other civil society organisations, and with other old guys in ScotE3.
It’s a lifetime of work in the industry, and recent activity as a climate activist that informs my understanding of a “just transition”. Global heating and climate change is not the fault of oil and gas workers, and it isn’t/wasn’t the fault of the coal miners either.
That’s the good news.
This thought consoles me just before I try and get to sleep while trying to imagine my grandchildren having long, happy and fulfilled lives, sharing a planet teeming with life.
The bad news is that blameworthy or not, oil and gas workers are going to have to stop being oil and gas workers. Sooner rather than later if they share my concern for their own grandchildren. The solution it would seem is a “just transition”. I think we should have a look at the two parts of this “just transition” construct.
The transition! It’s already underway. And insofar as I understand the science, there’s no going back.
One possible outcome is that we’re going to complete that transition to a sustainable habitable world powered by renewable energy and a planet where we’ve stopped the practice of dumping greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere.
The alternative is that we’re going to transition to a largely uninhabitable world where the earth’s delicate ecological balance is disrupted, and enormous forces of nature are released, eventually taking humanity and the rest of life on the planet into a premature and manmade fifth mass extinction.
Transition, it seems to me, is not a choice. It’s begun. We’re in the process. We WILL transition to a planet beyond fossil fuel burning.
Mind you there’s a possibility that there just might not be people there to see it. But if we and lot of the rest of life on this planet are going to survive oil and gas is going to have to go and soon.
But what about the “just” bit of a “just transition”? Does “just” mean “fair”? I only ask because it renders my next question into English.
Fair to whom? Do we mean fair to our grandchildren and to their grandchildren? Those who are going to inherit the planet in whatever state we’re going to leave it? Do we mean fair to those who have spent their lives with little access to the fossil fuel energy that’s destabilising the planet? The very same people who are often at the sharp end of climate change? Do we mean fair to all other life forms on the planet? Or, as it’s usually understood in our corner of the globe, do we mean fair to the workers who currently produce and process the fossil fuels that have kept the lights on in the Global North? In the sense that oil and gas workers, and the communities in which they live, should not be dumped, as were the miners before them, when the UK transitioned from coal to gas in the 1980s and 90s?
Surely, we mean “fair” in all of the above senses of the word. But with, I think, an important qualification. “The transition” is primary.
Whether it is to be just or not, is entirely subordinate. No transition to renewables and the fairness or otherwise, really won’t matter a shit.
None of this means that I don’t think it matters what happens to oil and gas workers and the communities in which they live. But I think we should be clear that oil and gas workers and their families are not some sort of special case. The future for their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren will ultimately be bound up with the future of ALL of our grandchildren.
There’s no special case, no “business as usual” scenario for the North Sea, where the transition doesn’t happen, and where oil and gas workers just keep on keeping on, producing fossil fuels. And the fairness or otherwise of the “transition” for oil and gas workers is going to be determined in some part by the stand taken by the workforce and their families and communities.
From the standpoint of a roughneck, or a scaffolder, or a caterer on an oil rig on the North Sea, this “business as usual” might well look, pretty damned attractive if you’re hanging on to even a precarious “ad hoc” job, and the alternative is a wage thousands of pounds a year less, and that’s if you could actually get a job ashore or in offshore renewables. In the same circumstances what would your initial reaction be? You’d have a bit more of the “business as usual” too, at least till you could plan your exit.
But what has “business as usual” really meant for offshore workers in the UK sector. Relatively good money! That’s true. But it’s been falling real wages and diminishing job security and major layoffs after successive oil price shocks going right back to 1986. You can have spent your whole working life on the North Sea and still be liable to arbitrary dismissal (I can explain the NRB later if anyone here is not familiar with it). And for many, work schedules in the UK sector are as ball bustlingly bad as ever. The boom days were pretty much over by the time Occidental killed 167 workers when they allowed Piper Alpha to blow up.
There are a lot of very good reasons for workers to get off the North Sea and into an industry with a future. The problem is how,and where, because the Government and the industry, are hanging on, as if to dear life, to a hydrocarbon future. Where is the clear plan to run down the industry and retrain and redeploy the workers in renewables, using the skills that they already have? And where is the plan for learning to live with the amount of renewable energy that we can reasonably expect to produce in the crucial near future? Which is what a Government and an industry would be doing if they gave a fuck for the workers, or the planet for that matter. .
And then there’s the offshore wind industry, driven by profit. They’ll have studied carefully how the oil companies have tackled decommissioning. They too would rather pay wage rates that might well allow a decent standard of living in Manilla, but certainly doesn’t cut it in Aberdeen or Middlesbrough or Burntisland. The workers who used to produce wind towers in Campeltown could tell you all about this. What we have instead of a plan for a just transition, is a deal between the Government and the industry to further support hydrocarbon production, to continue with “business as usual” on the North Sea, subsidised to the hilt by taxpayers’ money.
The end of oil and gas globally must look like the end of the world to the fossil fuel industry, the bankers who finance it, the traders who parasitise it and the politicians. Hopefully it’ll only be the end of a rotten and corrupt system.
The Government parrots the industry formula about oil and gas production being necessary “for decades to come”. They call their plan for the North Sea “maximising economic recovery”. Producing every barrel that they can turn a profit on. This perverse version of “business as usual” has been written into the UK’s statute books.
And it begs the question of whether our Government, hosts of COP26, self-anointed global leaders in the fight against climate change,are giving the nod here to maximising economic recovery of ALL oil and gas?
I shouldn’t think Vlad the poisoner or the Crown Prince murderer need much encouragement to follow suite.
Central to the UK plan is one mitigation measure. It’s an expensive, energy guzzling technology that has been stalling for the last three decades, and which would require a 1000 fold increase in capacity worldwide to begin to address the situation. It’s called carbon capture and storage (CCS) and it’s linked to so called “blue” hydrogen production. CCS at scale is not even up and running in one single location in UK. It’s pretty much only commercially viable as a tool for producing even more oil and gas mainly in the States, and only then when oil and gas prices are high. CCS is beloved of the oil industry and the Government, but is “disappeared” by the media in much the same way as the North Sea itself is largely disappeared in public debate about global heating.
And the questions that never get asked?
Who’s going to pick up the bill for producing the hydrogen from natural gas and then capture and store this polluting waste product. The oil and gas industry itself? Not very likely! They don’t even pay for the oil. And they’re not going to pay to clean up much of their old hardware on the North Sea when its useful life is over.
The taxpayer is going to have the privilege of paying for a vast amount of the decommissioning of redundant platforms.
The polluter pays? Huh!
Putting the cost of hydrogen and carbon capture on top of the cost of production of oil and gas sounds very much like the kind of squeeze on profits that periodic oil price collapses have repeatedly given us. And the oil and gas workers know what happens every time the oil price falls and profits are squeezed. Investment dries up and the workers get dumped, and if they’re lucky, rehired at lower rates down the line.
If hydrogen and carbon capture and storage is a serious solution to global heating, then we need to know how much more fossil fuels will have to be produced to fuel this energy hungry process and how much carbon will be captured and stored and by whom on what timescale and at what cost, to whom. We need urgently to open a conversation with those, and I’m thinking here of the hugely respected climate scientist Myles Allen, who sees the transition led by the oil industry. Which sounds a lot to me like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.
Although it’s not the oil workers’ responsibility alone to change this situation, they are first in the firing line, and what they do is going to be decisive in deciding whether the transition is going to be fair or “just” from their point of view. They can swallow the plan of Government and industry for continued exploration and development of new oil and gas fields. They might gamble that the industry will see them out and fuck the consequences for their grandchildren and the planet. They might opt for the “business as usual” option that gives them periodic job crashes and diminishing wages and conditions, and very likely future disasters and loss of life, and leaves them negotiating their escape from the industry alone as individuals. Certainly, the last time any significant section of oil and gas workers took up a struggle was over three decades ago after Occidental dispatched 167 workers on Piper Alpha.
Back then the official trade union movement completely failed to step up to the challenge. They were utterly useless, and it took the rank-and-file Offshore Industry Liaison Committee to try and ensure that Piper Alpha would never be repeated. But a quarter of a century later, French oil giant Total did exactly that. They presided over a complete breakdown of safety offshore, endangering the lives of the 267 men on Elgin and the Rowan Viking in 2012. Only luck stopped Total blowing up the Elgin complex with all hands onboard.
The Blowout publication never reported on the Elgin Blowout. That edition coincided with the 25th anniversary of Piper and would have seriously challenged the “never again” and the “we’ve learned our lesson” mantras.
So, who can predict what lies ahead, and what the workforce might, or might not do? We’ll no doubt get the measure of the offshore unions’ commitment to fighting climate change when we hear what their response to the proposed new Cambo oilfield West of Shetland will be.
Yesterday’s Just Transition Coalition Conference featuring the trade unions gave us a bit of a clue. The unions kept quiet on the issue.
But not one section of society alone is going to turn the climate crisis around. And the offshore worker is no more to blame than anyone else for the crisis, and no more responsible for solving it.
But if the oil and gas workers are to play a part in securing a just transition for themselves and their communities, they’ll certainly need all the support they can get.
The environmental movement have the responsibility for making sure that oil and gas workers have access to the science and an understanding of the role that fossil fuels play in global heating.
Creatives also have a role, maybe even some sort of responsibility here. And indeed this exhibition and related events suggests that this community is awake to oil and gas and its colossal implications locally, and for the planet. Maybe here in Aberdeen we’ve seen an end to an era, when for almost two decades, BP could sponsor the Grays’ School of Art degree show, drink their champagne in their own cosy enclosure, and with their own invited guests.
While BP were basking in the glow of appreciation from academia and creating a warm and fuzzy image in Aberdeen, they were breaking all the rules on the Deepwater Horizon where they killed 11 men, and in the process trashed the Gulf of Mexico with the world’s worst oil spill? I’m guessing BP’s paltry sponsorship money didn’t stretch to getting that years photography class from Garthdee over to Louisiana’s beaches. Not that that would have appreciably added to their 65 billion dollar costs that included a 4 billion dollar criminal penalty.
Andy Kennedy, old friend and neighbour, and one time tutor at Gray’s and known to a few of you here today, told me
Artists are encouraged to practice thinking, questioning, observing and reacting. It’s what they do.
Artists are supposed to upset the apple cart, knock on doors and ask for change
He said a lot of nice things about artists but these are the only bits I understood.Ah! Some of you do know him I see.
Maybe from here on in we’re likely to see, reflected in the degree show, a much more critical appreciation of the industry that’s dominated Aberdeen for the last 5 decades. Maybe that’s not how it works.
But at least creatives should be checking what is being funded by Oil and Gas, what if any hidden strings are attached, and ask themselves just what are the BPs and Shells of this world getting out of sponsorship of the arts.
We all, including the workers, will have to work out where we stand in this existential crisis. Nobody on this side of the fence is forcing the workers into a corner. It’s the climate crisis itself that’s doing that to all of us.
So, who knows whether the transition is going to be just? The brightest light in this gloom are the youth inspired by Greta Thunberg. They include the sons and daughters of oil workers, and they now find themselves on the front line of struggle. It’s their future that’s at stake. They are more likely than anyone to speak truth to the workers and to the industry.
The climate movement, armed by climate science, has a responsibility not to shy away from the very difficult questions posed by the transition for the industry workforce. The workers need to know the facts about climate change and fossil fuels. The workers and their communities will themselves have to come to terms with what continued hydrocarbon production means.
Maybe climate activists in Aberdeen and the North East bolstered by the creatives might consider opening their doors for a couple of days during the COP to activists who will be in Scotland from all over the global south.
Maybe together we can challenge Shell, Siccar Point, and the Oil and Gas Authority in Aberdeen, and let them know what we think of their Cambo plans.
Maybe together we can get out to the heliports and into the city and open up a conversation with the oil workers about what would be a “just transition” for everyone, and how that might be achieved.
Maybe we can set the tone for a global conversation about the future of hydrocarbons.
1. Leafletting workplaces We want to use our general briefing on COP 26 to get back to proactive workplace leafletting. If you’d like hard copies of the briefing, you can download and print yourself or just email and say how many you need, and we can put them in the post. Use them in your workplace. Or if you’d like to help by leafletting outside a workplace near you, we can put you in touch with others local to you if you need help and we can provide posters with QR codes that some people going in to work may prefer to use rather than taking a physical copy.