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Don’t let CCS dominate the climate action agenda in Scotland

Part of the coalition deal between the Scottish Greens and the SNP was the allocation of £500 million to support the creation of new sustainable jobs. There are indications that all of this funding may now go to CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage projects). One time chair of the Wood Group, Sir Ian Wood is a strong advocate of CCS and has been vocal in his criticism of the Westminster government’s failure to fund the Acorn CCS project in Scotland. The Wood Group lobbies and argues for CCS. Their website asserts that ‘If we are to achieve a net-zero world, carbon capture and storage infrastructure is a necessity and needs to scale up rapidly.’ Scot.E3 believes that CCS is a central plank of Oil and Gas UK’s strategy to continue the policy of maximum economic extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea. Choosing to spend the £500 million on CCS would constitute big step down a road that the Oil Industry wishes to travel and a setback for the campaign for a rapid just transition away from fossil fuels. There are many other projects that could be funded.

We are pleased to publish this post that has been submitted to the site. The author has asked to remain anonymous.

One of the SNP’s proposed solutions to climate change is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). This is very dangerous in our mission to decarbonise Scotland’s economy and provide other countries with the tools to do the same. On the face of it CCS may seem like another tool in the box to reduce carbon emissions, and that might be right if it weren’t for the very strong vested interests. 

There are very strong arguments that CCS can’t work for technical reasons – such as the inability to actually avoid the carbon being stored leaking. There are also strong economic reasons it can’t work – wind and solar are already cheaper than fossil fuels in most markets, with plenty of scope for further reduction. Adding an additional cost to the production of fossil fuel energy makes it even less competitive. 

Image Pete Cannell – View from Cromarty – CCO

So why are fossil fuel interests so keen on CCS?

There are two reasons why CCS is favoured by fossil fuel executives who want to portray themselves as concerned about climate change. The first is that it allows them to continue extraction of the oil and gas that their company’s valuations are based on. The second is that it distracts from other clean technologies that will actually decarbonise energy, such as renewables and storage. It does this by ‘crowding out’ renewables investment.

So CCS will do two things, even if it isn’t viable. It will allow more drilling for fossil fuels and it will divert investment from renewables and storage.  

The argument put forward by Oil and Gas UK is that CCS means we can continue to drill in Scottish waters and that those resources can be made ‘carbon neutral’ through CCS. 

The danger particularly comes because the UK Government has chosen not to support the Scottish CCS project. This has created an opportunity for the vested fossil fuel interests in Scotland to argue that the Scottish Government should use the money set aside for a worker-led just transition from oil and gas jobs should be diverted to supporting CCS. The £500m negotiated by the Greens as part of the coalition deal for clean jobs to replace oil and gas is now at risk from a dead-end technology that exists mainly to prevent the end of fossil fuel drilling. 

This illustrates exactly how CCS will crowd out renewables investment, but worse it will rob workers of the jobs that they need in truly clean industries. 

The fossil fuel industry tried the same approach with fracking in the last decade. We urgently need a campaign to persuade politicians who have fallen for the CCS lies and greenwash that this is another wrong turn. At the moment, that means SNP ministers and backbenchers.

END

There are other posts relevant to CCS on this site:

Video on carbon capture

Briefing on BECCS

Articles here and here

Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency

A new pamphlet, and accompanying technical resources, from the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group is indispensable reading for every trade unionist and climate activist.  

It’s now 13 years since the One Million Climate Jobs pamphlet was published.  The pamphlet’s proposition is a simple one – solving the climate crisis requires a rapid transition to a zero-carbon economy – transition involves ending economic activity in areas that create greenhouse gas emissions and hugely expanding the number of new jobs that are essential to a decarbonised economy – these jobs are what the pamphlet describes as ‘climate jobs’.   

A focus on climate jobs is practical and political.  It’s practical because an energy transition is simply impossible unless the jobs are created.  So, the extent to which jobs are being created is a measure of progress.  If there’s no evidence of jobs, then all the rhetoric about a climate emergency from politicians is just hot air and greenwashing.  Scotland is a good example of this – we’re told that the Scottish Government has world leading policies – but there is no evidence of a growth in climate jobs, or of the planning and infrastructure required to support growth in climate of numbers.  And while there is no evidence, it’s very hard to convince working class people that plans for dealing with the climate crisis will not have the same impact as past transitions.  Many parts of Scotland are still deeply scarred by the transition from coal in the 1980s.   So, to build the kind of powerful mass movement we need to drive an effective and socially just transition a sharp focus on climate jobs and the positive effects that transition would have on employment and quality of life is essential.  It’s important to stress, however, that a socially just transition – system change in short – should also mean a re-evaluation of employment across the board.  Social justice requires climate jobs, but it also requires that there are more jobs in health, care and education and these jobs that support social reproduction are valued much more highly.  

Since the publication of ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ other studies have taken a similar approach to analysing what needs to be done to reach Zero Carbon. It’s striking that although methodologies have varied estimates of the number of climate jobs required for the UK and for regions of the UK are remarkably similar.  The Green European Foundation’s regional focus is very helpful at understanding more localised impact.  It provides data that enables estimates of the numbers of jobs in different sectors in Scotland to be made.  Sea Changedemonstrates that phasing out North Sea oil could result in significantly more skilled jobs in renewables.  

Nevertheless, ‘Climate Jobs – Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency’ is a hugely valuable addition to the evidence base for organising and campaigning.  It looks though a UK wide lens – and of course there will be regional variations – but the data and analysis on Energy Production, Housing, Transport and Decarbonising industrial processes provides a clear and accessible guide to what can be done using existing technology.  The pamphlet also demolished the most common ‘false solutions’ (or greenwashing) that characterise so much of current government and industry priorities.  

This pamphlet deserves to be used and shared widely.  We will have copies on ScotE3 stalls,  and you can order hard copies, download a PDF and access the back-up technical resources from the CACC TU website. 

The power to change the system

Another contribution to our ongoing thread of debate about ‘what next after COP26’.  This post from Sara Bennet, Raymond Morrell and Pete Cannell, based on a revised and updated version of an article originally published on the rs21 and Conter websites, is intended as a contribution to that debate.  It looks the rising level of industrial militancy in the UK and discusses the importance of this for developing a movement that has the power to force the kind of system change that we need to avert climate catastrophe.

The imperative for the COP 26 conference was to agree actions that ensure that greenhouse gas emissions (mainly CO2 and methane) are cut rapidly to restrict average global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade.  It failed to do that.  This is the latest in a long line of failures.  Carbon emissions have increased almost every year that COP talks have taken place since the first conference in Berlin in 1995.   In 2020, despite reduced economic activity because of lockdown, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose faster than the average for the previous decade.  2021 is set to see the second biggest ever increase in CO2 emissions.    The aggregate increase in parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere since 1995 exceeds the total increase over the previous 200 years.  A staggering lack of impact that is pushing humanity close to the edge of runaway global heating.

Nevertheless, despite the failure of the COP, there are reasons to be hopeful.  Glasgow was the focus for a diverse and dynamic series of protests that took place in more than 300 locations around the world.  There has been a convergence in understanding of the science and economics of the crisis between climate activists and scientists and researchers.  So for example, the IPCC reports are produced by consensus among scientists from around the world. The physical science section of the latest report was published in August 2021.  It highlights the chasm between the reductions in greenhouse gases that need to happen and the reality of continuing increases.  Increases that reflect the fact that while investments in renewables have grown, that growth is outstripped by new investments in fossil fuels.  The second and third sections of the report were not due for release until 2022 but, in an unprecedented move, scientists have leaked drafts of the texts. Essentially the message is that restricting the average rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century is only possible if there are fundamental changes to the way economic and social activity is organised around the world.  Quite simply the message is that business as usual, based on the assumption that the market will drive a transition to a low carbon economy, is just not an option.  

But in essence COP26 stuck with business as usual.  So how do we build a movement that is powerful enough to drive through system change in the face of opposition from the rich and powerful?

Over 100,000 marched in Vancouver in solidarity with the youth of the world in the September 27 Climate Strike. Image by Chris Yakimov CC BY-NC 2.0

Part of the story of the Glasgow COP is the strikes and threats of strikes by Scottish workers.  The industrial action by ScotRail workers that would have paralysed Scotland’s rail network while the COP took place was called off after the RMT union reached a settlement over a one-year agreement.  But in a separate dispute strikes by workers on the night sleeper trains from Scotland to England went ahead as did action by Glasgow refuse workers, members of the GMB union.  It was important that the COP coalition that brought together activists to protest and demonstrate at the COP provided open and consistent support for the strikers.

Image by superalbs CC BY-SA 4.0

For too long the demand for a worker-led just transition has been abstract and disconnected from any sense of working-class agency.  While climate activists have promoted the idea, concrete examples of class action have been lacking.  So, whilst climate change has moved up the agenda of most trade unions in Britain, the disconnect between economics and broader politics continues to exert an influence over trade union engagement in the climate question.  For example, the GMB has turned its back on meaningful action with its support for fracking.  It also supports an approach to mixed-energy provision which may appear like a step in the right direction but allows the status quo to continue under the guise of sounding more balanced.  Meanwhile Unite, which represents members working in some of the key ecologically damaging sectors, opposes fracking.  However, it has often passed sensible-sounding policies around supporting climate jobs while simultaneously limiting their effectiveness by being unable to think beyond the immediacy of job provision, such as its position in favour of Gatwick airport expansion position.

Trade unions’ main role, of course, is to defend workers, their jobs and working conditions. However, this has too often led to a narrow focus, and a determination to defend the climate-damaging jobs that in time will simply undermine the very existence of such jobs in the future. Jobs in these polluting sectors have often also tended to be more highly skilled with a history of organisation. They also wield some power within the union structure. Due to their importance in terms of UK manufacturing and output, they have also been some of the worst affected by partnership arrangements, which basically attempt to convince workers that their interests align with their bosses. 

When climate activists see unions acting in this way, it can breed a sense of cynicism, and to regarding the those working in these sectors as part of the problem, rather than as key to the solution. However, workers are right to insist that there will be meaningful and sustainable jobs for them and future generations. What’s more, increasing numbers of workers within and outside these sectors realise that time is up. These are workers that could and should be at the heart of planning what a real just transition would look like: which skills it could retain and build on, how to transfer them to building a viable future. 

Things are changing.  Four decades of neo-liberalism have resulted in grotesque levels of inequality.  So, for example lorry drivers pay has remained stagnant while working conditions declined, and workloads grew.  This is mirrored across society.  The accumulated impact of these trends, compounded by the pandemic, is reflected in staff shortages in key sectors from transport to care.  In this context workers are starting to organise, take action and win.  

Whether or not the anger that these actions represent, and the confidence they engender, can generalise beyond immediate economic demands to grapple with the need for system change depends on the way in which political ideas develop in both the trade union and climate movements.  Not least, a worker-led transition requires new forms of organisation at the base and a rejection of employer partnership.  

Objectively the conditions are favourable for this to develop.  Marxist Ecologist John Bellamy Foster argues that the existential threat posed by the climate crisis can create a revolutionary situation in which the struggle for freedom (from oppression, poverty and more) and the struggle for necessity (survival in the face of climate chaos) coincide.   Such a formulation may seem like an impossible step from the action of rail workers and council workers in Scotland – yet building a movement that can achieve system change (necessity) will be one of many steps and reversals – sometimes slow – sometimes rapid.   

For many, perhaps most climate activists, the IPCC’s conclusions are old news.  It is precisely because of the way in which, year on year, world leaders have jetted into the latest COP and made decisions predicated on the assumption that the market is sacrosanct that so many have concluded that system change is the only answer.  The slogan ‘System Change Not Climate Change’ is ever present on climate protests worldwide.  But what the slogan means and how the change is achieved is less clear.  Will capitalist enterprises respond to ethical imperatives or is state regulation required to force changed behaviour?  Can a system driven by profit and capital accumulation ever coexist with a sustainable zero carbon economy?  Or do we need a much more fundamental reorganisation of society? And at the same time, given the strength of fossil capital – structured through a century of exploitation of coal and oil and resting on vast resources of wealth and power – where is the power to make this happen?

The beginnings of the answer to that question of the power to change the system are evident in the rise of the school student strike movement around the world, the mass demonstrations that preceded the global pandemic and on the streets in Glasgow this month.  But, apart from a moment two decades ago when the turtles and the teamsters marched together, organised workers have largely been absent from the stage.  This why the industrial action around the Glasgow COP is so important.  

In the aftermath of the COP a priority for climate activists must be to actively lend their support to striking workers, whether it be the refuse collectors in Glasgow and Brighton, the HGV drivers nationally or bus and rail workers. Supporting road haulage might on the surface seem contradictory to the fight against climate change but ultimately the change we need will come from below, with unity across the struggles being of paramount importance. Likewise, we need to see trade unionists march with their banners alongside climate activists at COP26 and beyond. The fights for decent jobs and a decent environment are not in opposition: they are one and the same. 

Writing about how neo-liberalism and its consequences can be overturned, Panagiotis Sotiris talks about “productive reconstruction”.  

We must think of “productive reconstruction” not as “a return to growth” but as a process of transformation and intense confrontation with capital, based upon public ownership, self-management, and forms of workers’ control. It has to be a process of experimentation and learning.

This seems like a pretty good agenda for both the climate and workers’ movements.

Offshore – film trailer

Platform has released the trailer for Offshore, an independent documentary about working in offshore oil and gas and renewable energy. The film explores what the coming energy transition means for workers and communities around the UK North Sea. 

Offshore looks at how communities and regions have been impacted by past industrial decline, the risks workers face in an increasingly precarious industry, and how they can organise for the future. 


The climate crisis means we must rethink our energy systems: where we get energy from, how it’s produced and who benefits from it. We must answer the questions of what to do next – and how to organise for a just transition – together. 

You can check out the website, sign up for a community screening and download the trailer via this link.


Flooding in British Columbia

The major disaster in British Columbia a week ago has been conspicuously under-reported in the UK, whether in the interests of those who want to minimise concerns about climate change, or as part of the British exceptionalism which increasingly dominates our mainline media.

A key feature of the disaster is that much of its devastation has impacted on already impoverished First Nations communities, many of whom are without power, short of food and shelter, and cut off by roads made impassable by huge landslides.

It’s also clear that increased run-off following the forest fire-storms in a uniquely hot summer has contributed to the flooding and landslides.

Large numbers of dairy cows have been swept away, to the extent that there’s a widespread shortage of milk in western Canada.

Here’s a link to some reporting and video footage from CTV News. 

Meritt BC Flooding, Image by Stepan CC BY 3.0

COP26 outcomes – short summary

Thanks to Gus Woody for permission to adapt and share this brief summary of outcomes from the Glasgow COP

The COP26 Globe at the Hydro. Photograph: Karwai Tang/ UK Government CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The run up – C19 and access

  • Delegate passes – limited, for the rich
  • Covid Red list restricted access from global south – borders and racism made this the least accessible COP for a long time
  • The ‘Leaders Summit’ at the start is new at COP – performance art rather than substance
  • There had only been one formal ‘Leaders’ meeting since Madrid 2019, all others informal

The run up – NDCs and the framework

  • Ratchet mechanism – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)
  • Most nations submitted new NDCs in advance of COP26.
  • Around 40 nations did not submit. 
  • Next round of NDCs covers the 2030s so this was effectively the last chance for setting policy on emissions reductions prior to 2030M

Major Policy Outcomes

  • Glasgow Climate Pact – this was a new development
    • Requests review by end of 2022. Australia has already announced that it won’t do this.
    • Requests greater adaptation, climate, and loss and damage finance. 
    • Requests coal phasedown. 
    • Various other features.
  • Article 6 finally agreed – system of carbon markets and other forms of cooperation (6 years late). Major issues remain on how emissions are counted and attributed. 
  • Similarly, finally agreed transparency rules.

Climate Colonialism continues

  • Refusal to agree a Loss and Damage Facility. Refusal to therefore plan for climate impacts on the Global South. 
  • Failure to even cough up $100bn promised to developing countries. (Serco Test and Trace £37bn ~ $50bn). African group suggest $1.3tr. 
  • Adaptation, similar failure, calls to double finance in Glasgow Pact, but from low base. ($40bn in 2025)Warming Amounts

Warming Amounts

‘Current policies in place today will lead to a best-estimate of around 2.6C to 2.7C warming by 2100 (with an uncertainty range of around 2C-3.6C).  If countries meet both conditional and unconditional nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for the near-term target of 2030, projected warming by 2100 falls to 2.4C (1.8C-3.3C).’ Carbon Brief

Key Takeaways

  • Not enough, money and fossil fuels absent. 
  • Climate colonialism and imperialism continues.
  • Too much faith in tech and markets. 
  • COP increasingly spectacular, inaccessible, and uneven. 

Signs of life

  • The COP26 Marches centred calls for reparations and involved trade unionists.
  • Life outside COP26 
    • Neurath Coal Plant – Blockaded 5th November
    • Lützerath Opencast Coal mine – Invaded by hundreds on 31st October/1st November

A reply to justice, jobs and the military industrial complex.

Ex oil worker Neil Rothnie reflects on the post we published three days ago Climate Justice, Climate Jobs and the Military Industrial Complex. We welcome further responses.

I suppose I just thought that campaigning amongst armament workers and on behalf of armament workers would be likely to be difficult in terms of how we might begin to “actually” impact global heating.  I know that if we weren’t building all this military shit and jetting it all over the world and destroying humans and other productive forces with it, then we would avoid putting a lot of carbon into the atmosphere.  It’s just that I’ve never considered that it was an issue that you might be able to intervene in quite the same way as I think we might be able to when it comes to oil and gas production.

The issue of oil and gas is looming ever larger in the consciousness of the climate movement.  It’s way, way higher than it was when I discovered XR in 2019. When I took part in the London Rebellion it was hard to get a sensible conversation about oil and gas and the North Sea was a very nebulous “concept” for many. Look at the movement today with Stop Cambo.   If reporting on mainstream media is anything to go by it’s beginning to exercise thoughts in layers way beyond just the activists and the scientists now.  Interestingly the only people who dare not mention oil & gas is the COP.  I don’t know if any of this is true about the military complex.

But I can see that from the perspective of jobs, and that’s how the discussion was framed, there’s pretty much no difference in making “demands” about just transitioning armaments workers and oil workers into renewables and other sustainable work. 

But I can’t see how it would ever be likely to be more than just a “demand” in the case of armaments workers.  In the case of oil workers I have, as you know, an idea that a mass intervention amongst oil workers is a crucial first step if we’re ever going to get to the point where we try to choke off oil and gas production – the absolute first and crucial necessity of a movement that has any hope of abating climate change in the face of this system.  There has to be a time and it has to come very soon when the licence society gives the industry to produce fossil fuels is withdrawn.  Who is going to force that issue?

I don’t know if a part of all this that as oil is is all I’ve ever known/done, oil is all I can ever really see.  The opposite was surely very widely the truth for the bulk of the population until very recently.  I think that’s changing.

But I’m beginning to realise that what I see as the impossibility of armaments workers turning their weapons into ploughshares, is what others see as impossible when the issue of confronting/challenging the oil and gas workers.   I can see why people think it’s a very long shot to imagine that they’ll either participate in the ending of oil and gas production.  But I think that least they can be neutralised, picketed at the heliports and stopped from producing the oil.  For how long?  And anyway!  They need to be informed of the science and we can’t rely on the media to do that.

These two issues, fossil fuel and the armaments/military complex, seem to be of different orders (qualitatively and quantitatively) in the context of tackling climate change.  Fossil fuel production seems to me to be primary.  Once the fossil fuels are out of the ground, they are pollution – they will be burned/processed.   Being used to build and deploy military hardware is just (just?) the path the pollution takes to get into the atmosphere. Or do we think that realistically we can take on the military complex and somehow stop it, and therefore stop the demand for fossil fuel?  

They (?) take fossil fuels out of the ground and then make fortunes on it.  They need to keep taking it out of the ground to keep making fortunes – to keep feeding the beast.  So they are endlessly imaginative in finding new and more extravagant and destructive ways of using it.  It looks like a real madness. to me.  The thing is that they can’t turn this hellish roundabout off themselves.  But turned off it will have to be if life is to survive, inasmuch as I understand the science.

Capitalism is the problem.  But to a great extent isn’t the oil industry pretty much the same thing as capitalism (?) . . the same thing as climate change? The military complex surely is just (just again?) how they regulate capitalism – keep the imperialistic plunder going and ensure that the trade routes remain open to keep that wealth flowing north, and in the process provide an ever-renewing market for the oil.  I never did get my head round the concept of a permanent arms economy – it was an idea touted by a political tendency I was taught was beyond the pale.  But I guess I’m stumbling along in the same neck of the woods here.

Obviously, the military complex is a huge issue for humanity, but I just don’t see how you tackle it head on with any hope of affecting climate change.  On the other hand, if you end oil you end capitalism (don’t ask me to prove that – I was hoping someone else would though) and then you have at least a fighting chance (is that a pun) of ending the military complex. The other way round it’s even clearer.  You don’t stop oil and life on earth is in danger.  However, you frame it you need to stop oil.

A Farewell to Copitalism

Over the next few days we are keen to publish posts that reflect on COP 26. We’re particularly interested in articles that look at the challenge of movement building in the wake of COP. To kick things off we republish this article by Brendan Montague the editor of the Ecologist which was first published online under a CC BY 4.0 license in that magazine on 12th November. Send articles or ideas for articles to triple.e.scot@gmail.com

The COP26 conference has failed to usher in a new era where capital is constrained to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown.

The future was supposed to be copitalism: a new global economic paradigm where national governments work together through the United Nations (UN) Conference of the Parties (COP) process to limit emissions and prevent runaway climate breakdown – while leaving capitalism otherwise intact.

The climate conferences have taken place annually for a quarter of a century. The aim is to negotiate global emissions targets that will be translated into national policies. The high-water mark was the Paris Agreement of COP21 when the worlds’ leaders agreed to limit global heating to 1.5C. 

The mechanism agreed was “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). This means national governments are responsible for submitting commitments to cut emissions to the UN. The COP process is also supposed to include a “ratchet mechanism” where those government commitments are made increasingly ambitious. 

Credibility

In order to deliver on the NDCs each country would have to use a combination of carrot – investment, incentives, tax cuts – and stick – regulation and taxation – to move capital away from fossil fuels and towards “green” technology and infrastructure. The most obvious and effective means of reducing emissions is a limit or stop on the exploitation of coal, oil and gas. 

Thus, “copitalism” is designed to maintain the status quo except where specific economic activity drives us towards climate breakdown. Capital accumulation remains the logic of our economies. Economic growth is maintained, or profit is delivered by the distribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest. Corporations continue to deliver profits for shareholders. Social inequality deepens. Poverty grinds.

The Glasgow conference, COP26, was the first deadline for presidents and prime ministers to hand in their Paris Agreement homework. The problem is, reducing fossil fuel exploitation involves a confrontation with the wealthiest, most entrenched monopoly corporations in human history.

And even on its own terms, the outcomes from the COP process over the last two weeks are catastrophic. As Climate Action Tracker (CAT) reported during the conference: “The projected warming from current policies – not proposals, what countries are actually doing – is…at 2.7 ̊C with only a 0.2 ̊C improvement over the last year and nearly one degree above the net-zero announcements governments have made.”

The distressing truth is Copitalism should be a dystopian nightmare.

Bill Hare, the chief executive of Climate Analytics, a CAT partner organisation, has said: “It’s all very well for leaders to claim they have a net zero target, but if they have no plans as to how to get there, and their 2030 targets are as low as so many of them are, then frankly, these net zero targets are just lip service to real climate action. Glasgow has a serious credibility gap.”

The new promises emanating from Glasgow would reduce this warming by just 0.1C. As Climate Action Tracker has established, there is a “very big credibility gap” when it comes to net-zero policy. Life under such conditions will not be worth living for millions, if not billions, of people. 

Damage

The primary weakness of the COP process is that even the best outcomes are, by design, not action but words. The conferences are focused on national governments setting out new commitments, always framed by deadlines years into the future. The politicians and their parties may not even be in power when those chickens come home to roost.

Those members of civil society paying the most attention – concerned citizens, protesters, charities and NGOs and the thousands of journalists – feel duty bound to celebrate and amplify the smallest successes from the COP process. There is a deep concern that the general public will become disheartened, climate anxiety will intensify and campaigners will switch off.

And so one of the major successes being touted at the conference is an agreement signed by 40 countries to phase out coal power by the 2030s for the coloniser economies and 2040s for the colonised, and to end all investment in new coal power generation. China has not agreed to reduce coal production and burning at home.

There has also been much fanfare about the surprise agreement between the United States – historically the largest contributor to climate breakdown – and China – currently the largest national contributor. But even here the response of many at COP26 has been characterised thus: “This was a stage-managed nothingburger. There was nothing new bar words, nothing on coal, finance or loss and damage.” 

The problem is, climate breakdown is a physical reality. 

Share price

A total of 88m barrels of oil were produced globally in 2020. The historically unprecedented international shutdown of production as a result of the global pandemic did not come close to reducing our use of oil by the levels necessary to prevent climate breakdown. Indeed, production was at a historic high of 95m barrels in 2019. There is no reason to believe it will not return to these suicidal levels in the coming years. 

Further, a total of 159,610,000 tonnes of coal were produced globally in 2020. Again, the pandemic slowdown resulted in a dip in mining. But, even so, coal production globally is higher today than when the gavel was struck to mark the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2016. And bear in mind that there remains 1,074,108,000,000 tonnes of proven coal reserves around the world.

The actual introduction of a copitalist economy would inevitably result in coal, oil and gas becoming stranded assets. Those companies that hold these assets would not be able to exploit them, turning assets into sales into profits into dividends for shareholders. The share prices might not collapse, but they would certainly move. If capitalism works on any level, then it is that those with capital will only invest in companies that deliver a return on that investment.

CC0

The share prices of the major energy companies tell the same story. ExxonMobil currently has a market capitalisation of $281 billion. A share in the company today is worth $64 – indistinguishable from the price on the opening day of COP26 and well above the $35 price from this time last year. ExxonMobil shareholders do not fear copitalism. 

Likewise, the share price of the Peabody Energy Corporation – the world’s largest private coal company – remains steady at $11, almost three times its value last year. Closer to home, shares in BP have risen from £2.36 each to £3.41 in the course of the last year, as the company recovers from the pandemic. 

Campaigners

The justification for this political project is that the need to avert climate breakdown is so urgent and critical, and the likelihood of a wider and deeper political transformation of our societies and our economies is so remote, that the capitalists must be appeased while being persuaded that climate mitigation is in their interests as much as anyone else’s.

The problem with the capitalist project is that capitalists are not running the capitalist system, but perversely the capitalist system runs the capitalists. The corporate leadership of any country does not choose what or how it produces but instead is the flotsam of our societies willing to do anything to ride the wave of capitalist wealth-making at any cost.

Ben van Beurden, the chief executive of Shell, is a moral vacuum. But this is not a personal failing of a human being who just happens to have risen through the ranks of his corporation through hard work and diligence. 

A capitalist logic has promoted those executives who deliver results, deliver profits, precisely by grinding the most out of the human and natural resources they control. No amount of evidence or hectoring can change van Beurden’s mind. And if it does, he will be out of a job.

The assembled delegates, the surrounding banks of NGO campaigners and exhausted journalists try to understand the daily shocks and disappointments of the COP process. It is assumed that a failure of understanding on the part of a particular leader – usually someone else’s leader – is the cause of failure at the conference. We are wedded to the idea of human agency, of powerful saviours, of national leaders.

Billionaires

The delegates of COP26 negotiating our collective future are hidden away in a cordoned off zone within the Blue Zone. More than 500 of those delegates are either directly within the employ of fossil fuel companies or delegates for government departments working with Big Coal, Oil and Gas. The NGOs and the journalists accredited to the zone are locked out of the real discussions, relying on press conferences for any crumbs of information.

The Blue Zone itself feels like a military encampment on the banks of the River Clyde. The fences tower overhead with delegates rushing through turnstiles guarded by security. The Green Zone along the road is entirely separate, but here the pavilions are dominated by National Grid, Unilever, Sainsbury’s and Microsoft. The message – that corporations are the solution – is not subtle. The Green Zone is open to the public, and school children tour the science museum styled displays. 

Civil society is represented in Glasgow. But the COP26 Coalition is both physically and metaphorically cast into the hinterland in venues scattered across  the living centre of the city of Glasgow. Here the science of climate change is understood and accepted, and the reality of the actual change needed to prevent calamity is discussed. The attendees are actual people from Glasgow.

The discussions at the venue in Adelaide Place were wide ranging and meaningful, taking in the Green New Deal, degrowth, Indigenous traditions, the threat of green colonialism, food sovereignty, international trade, and more. But the event seemed only to coincide with the COP negotiations happening less than two miles away. There seemed no possibility of these debates influencing the proceedings. 

Copitalism should be a dystopian nightmare. The COP26 conferences are a political project aimed at maintaining as much as possible of our current global economic system. The billionaires will continue to make gargantuan profits, fuelling their intergalactic fantasies. At the same time, 15 million people have likely died from coronavirus and billions are denied a cheap vaccine to maintain the profits of the pharmaceutical industry.

Monsters

But the experience of COP26 during the last few days suggests that copitalism itself is an unachievable utopian dream, as vacuous as Charles Fourier’s vision of the oceans turning to lemonade. There is, alas, no real need for a neologism. Capitalism cannot allow copitalism to exist, such is its rapacious need for mountains and oceans of coal, oil and gas.

Barack Obama when president of the United States was instrumental in defusing the Paris Agreement and now calls on young people to protest for climate action. During his speech on Monday he made the following confession: “There are times where the future seems somewhat bleak. There are times where I am doubtful that humanity can get its act together before it’s too late, and images of dystopia start creeping into my dreams.”

The reality is that COP26 is failing because capitalism cannot allow copitalism to supersede. We cannot postpone the work of ending capitalism until after we have moved to avert climate breakdown. Because capitalism is climate breakdown. Ta’Kaiya Blaney of the Tla A’min Nation, the Indigenous activist told People’s Plenary meeting before a walkout today: “Cop26 is a performance. It is an illusion constructed to save the capitalist economy rooted in resource extraction and colonialism. I didn’t come here to fix the agenda – I came here to disrupt it.”

This argument does not have to be simplified for the public. We already know. As Cora, a 15-year-old member of Fridays For Future from Edinburgh said so eloquently this week: “Letting that kind of capitalist theatre run every COP? We are never going to see the change that we need now.”

But if copitalism is now an impossible utopia, is capitalism really the only game in town? Is it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of the billionaire? Or is now the time for the climate movement to merge fully into the environment movement, the social justice movement, the (dare I say it) anti-capitalist movement so that we can aggregate our traumas, our grievances, our hopes, into something with the force and multitude that can begin to challenge the capitalist machine at the core of our misfortunes?

The famous quote from the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci also seems apposite right now. “The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.”

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.

This article license CC By 4.0

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.

Marching for climate justice

Despite wind and heavy rain one hundred thousand people marched in Glasgow yesterday. They were joined by hundreds of thousands more at over 300 locations around the world. Here’s a visual record of the Glasgow march. Thanks to Graham Checkley for the pictures and video.

And here’s an overview of the whole march from our friends at REEL News