Climate justice, climate jobs and the military industrial complex

This is the slightly expanded text of a contribution that Pete Cannell (speaking for Scot.E3) made to a meeting organised by the global climate jobs network at the COP26 people’s summit.

Scotland is well placed to make a rapid transition to a zero-carbon economy.  It is well endowed with natural resources for wind, wave, tidal and hydro power generation.  Hydro power was developed in the 1950’s and sixties, more recently there has been some further development of local, small-scale hydro.  Offshore and onshore wind power has developed rapidly, wave and tidal has seen very little investment.  But Scotland also has a relatively strong representation of engineering skills among its workforces.  These workers have skills in electrical, marine engineering, fabrication and so on – skills that are needed for the transition to a zero-carbon economy that needs to begin right now.

Most of these workers are currently employed in either the Oil and Gas sector or ‘Defence’.  Sectors which are significantly larger as a proportion of the Scottish economy than they are of the UK as a whole. 

The current state of play with climate jobs is disastrous.  The policy of leaving transition to the market has resulted in declining numbers of jobs in renewables.  We’ve written about the closure of facilities at BiFab and Machrihanish elsewhere on this site.  At the same time there have been massive job losses in the North Sea and a long-term decline in engineering jobs in the defence sector.  While there has been a massive increase in offshore wind generation the private sector has driven down wages and conditions, used low paid workers from around the world, shifted production to sites thousands of miles away and focused on profit maximisation rather than just transition.

There’s a lot more we could say about oil and gas but in the context of the other talks at this meeting we want to focus now on the arms trade.  Britain is one of the biggest arms manufacturers in the world and Scotland has a disproportionately large share of this activity.  It has been excellent that during this mobilisation around COP26 there has been a lot of discussion of the huge carbon emissions of the military.  

Defence Imagery CC BY-NC 2.0

In Scot.E3 we’ve argued for the need to go further – the military industrial complex in Scotland (and globally) acts as a barrier to transition.  It thrives on public subsidy – far more than that provided for renewables.  This is a characteristic it shares with the oil and gas sector. It distorts the economy, it’s secretive and hugely corrupt, dominates research agendas and monopolises skills and resources that should be directed to saving the planet.

We look forward to a day when the commitment and imagination of young people currently in school can be deployed to develop the kind of sustainable and socially just society that we are fighting for.  But time is short, and we need to start the transition now with the skills and knowledge that are already available. To achieve climate justice and win the climate jobs we need it’s going to be necessary to force a radical shift of resources away from the defence sector as well as from oil and gas.