In the wake of COP26 in Glasgow, ScotE3 (employment, energy, and environment) have been reassessing our focus.
At the centre of our discussion has been North Sea oil and gas, UK’s major contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. and the imperative “that business as usual” must end and must end soon.
This conviction hasn’t been shifted by Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Possibly Putin sees the writing on the wall for oil and gas, the basis of his economic power. He has certainly gone for the breadbasket of Europe, and a country with rich reserves of mineral resources, and in doing so reminded the world that nuclear power is not an alternative to oil and gas.
If we think we’ve identified what is to be done on our patch here in the UK, we’ve also been trying to identify the forces that can achieve it.
It’s not the Government. They are fully behind the oil and gas industry, and the North Sea Transition Deal struck with the industry and designed to perpetuate it. If they are to play a progressive role at all, they will have to be dragged on side screaming and kicking. They do know the transition is inevitable, but they can’t break habits of several lifetimes, and can only imagine doing what the North Sea oil and gas industry allows them to imagine, and that results in policies that protect the power of big oil, invests in false solutions and cuts to emissions are too little and too late.
Despite the increasing number of trade unionists who recognise the importance of climate action the major unions are still signed up to the partnership with the oil and gas industry through the North Sea Transition Deal.
The North Sea oil and gas workers are another story altogether. Dormant for 30 years since the Piper Alpha disaster where the North Sea oil and gas industry killed 167 men, they are between a rock and a hard place. They produce the gas that’s being used to loot as well as heat the homes of the poor, and that drives climate change. But they are also subject to the whims of an oil and gas market that periodically throws thousands of them out of work, dictates wage cuts, imposes punitive work schedules, and will dump them again as the transition takes place – just as the coal miners were dumped before them. If the transition is going to be “just” to North Sea oil and gas workers, they’re going to have to demand the training and jobs in a sustainable alternative. We think they need to be invited to the debate.
The climate movement, unique amongst the players here, is energetic and imaginative and has made massive inroads into popular consciousness. These predominantly young people have transformed the debate, and by direct action have laid out the shocking implications of climate change that the science has been exploring now for many years. It is getting progressively more impossible to say that you just didn’t know. Over the past few years, the focus of the climate movement has turned towards the North Sea oil and gas industry. Its current trajectory will take it into more and more direct conflict with that industry. The climate movement and the oil workers have a common enemy.
Now, as gas prices go sky high it looks very likely that masses of people are about to be drawn into open conflict with the oil and gas industry and the Government. Here in the UK it is widely predicted that hundreds of thousands of families will be driven into poverty for the first time. Leaving the vulnerable and poorest in the cold, or hungry, or both. There has been no increase in the cost of producing North Sea gas. There is no shortage of North Sea gas. The oil and gas producers are profiteering from the rise in prices as are the hedge funds and the super-rich who drive the crazy casino style operation of the spot market for hydrocarbons.
Many people will have no option but to not pay the increases. The rest of us will have to decide whether we sit in our expensively warmed homes and watch them freeze. Either that or we’ll have to be part of a struggle that the poor can’t avoid. Is this the moment the struggles of climate movement meet up with the struggle of masses of people?
Some things which we think are worth campaigning for are:
- establish a publicly funded and democratically accountable Scottish Climate Service to coordinate, fund and drive forward the transition
- cease exploration and development of new oil and gas fields in the North Sea
- initiate a phased close-down of oil and gas production, to be completed by 2032
- provide free training and retraining for workers displaced as oil and gas activity is run down
- guarantee employment in new climate jobs for oil and gas workers
- regulate the renewables industry on and around the North Sea to ensure that wages and conditions are protected
- North Sea oil and gas workers must face no more redundancies
- As the industry is wound down, workers must be furloughed until they are retrained and re-employed
We know this list is incomplete and we don’t have all the answers. We almost certainly haven’t even asked all the relevant questions. We believe that working out the demands that we fight for is a job for oil and gas workers and the climate movement together.
We’re inviting the climate movement to join us in this discussion. There needs to be the widest cooperation if we’re going to constantly update the strategy that’ll take this existential struggle forward. We do have ideas. We need them to be challenged, amended, scrapped – whatever.
We’d love it if your organisation could discuss this letter at whatever levels, local groups and/or national organisation that you think appropriate.
Whatever your response we’d like to publish your reactions to this letter on the Scot.E3 blog https://scote3.net
We plan to hold a conference in the autumn of 2022 on how we can play our part in the struggle to shut down the North Sea and replace it with zero carbon energy systems. We invite you to join the conference planning group.
We are holding a workshop on the North Sea at the Global Climate Jobs Network’s International conference taking place from 3-5th June and we invite you to join us in working out the plan for the workshop.
[The text above is version 1.1 (updated 6th April 2022, it’s work in progress – we expect to make changes in the light of feedback]