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.
Thanks to Friends of the Earth Scotland for sharing this call to action from a working class community in Aberdeen. Residents in Torry, just south of Aberdeen, are having their only green space threatened by an oil industry land grab in the name of ‘energy transition’. The group has been campaigning to protect their local park and for a just transition that meaningfully includes local communities.
The oil industry and Aberdeen City Council are planning to destroy a much-loved greenspace called St Fitticks Park, which lies in the heart of Torry, a community in the south of Aberdeen. The council, together with a consortium of oil companies and Aberdeen Harbour want to dig up the park and build an ‘Energy Transition Zone’. This project now also has funding from the Scottish Government.
St Fitticks Park is the main greenspace in Torry and is enjoyed by generations of Torry residents, as well as attracting people from outside the community due to its thriving wetland, which is a home to a variety wildlife.
A community group has formed to resist the proposals (The Friends of St Fitticks) and they have various plans to safeguard the future of the park. They support the idea of an energy transition zone in response to the climate emergency, but argue this should be located on vacant industrial land to the south and west of Torry, not on their beloved greenspace.
Unwanted industrial development has been imposed on the people of Torry down the years. In the 1970’s homes were demolished to make way for a harbour expansion to accommodate the new oil industry, but many people living in Torry have seen little economic benefit from an industry that dominates the city. So once again they are fighting one of the most powerful industries in the world.
On Saturday 28th August, local people will gather in the park for St Fitticks day. We need to show that the community has wider support and help them to get their message heard. Please show your solidarity with the people of Torry, by either:
A) Taking a photo with ’Save Saint Fitticks Park’ placards (on your own or with your group) in your local green space and posting on social media with #HandsOffStFitticks
B) Share the graphic on social media with #HandsOffStFitticks
An opinion piece by Mike Downham that looks at the twin challenges of Covid and Climate and the role of the big corporations. A version of this article is also published in the the Scottish Socialist Voice newspaper.
It’s been said before but let me say it again: COVID IS NOT OVER!
This bears repeating because we’ve fallen into a deep pit of thinking that there’s no viable alternative – that our daily lives have to be like this – and taking at face value what those in power tell us. We keep falling back on trying to persuade and negotiate with them. This is a trap deliberately set for us by those who have the power at this point in history – the big corporations, served by their political lackeys in governments across the world, particularly in the Global North.
The corporations are a consequence and integral part of the capitalist economy, which is, as encapsulated by Asbjorn Wahl:
A system which is geared towards making profits rather than producing use value; dependent on economic growth; a system exploiting workers and over-exploiting natural resources – one that is also about to destroy planet earth as a place to live for future generations.
This week’s IPCC report says that the impacts of this destruction – floods, fires, droughts, heat which humans can’t survive – are now being experienced in every region of the world. Glasgow experienced unprecedented flooding on the same day the report was published.
The report concludes that we are set to overshoot the critical 1.5 degree rise around 2030 – a decade earlier than their previous prediction. Only a huge reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years can save us.
In relation to the pandemic, the pharmaceutical companies want us to rely solely on their vaccines to stop the pandemic. No pandemic in human history has been stopped by vaccines alone – simple public health measures to cut down the spread of infection have always been necessary. But social distancing isn’t a source of profit, and ventilating buildings doesn’t need new technology.
In relation to global warming, which is now set to kill 100s of millions of us (the global death count for the virus is ‘only’ 4+ million so far), the Oil and Gas companies want us to go on burning fossil fuels down to the last drop, while they prepare to replace or compensate for these fuels with energy sources and technologies which will be equally profitable and every bit as exploitative
Trapped as we’ve been, we keep trying to negotiate with these companies and with the governments who serve them. Given the huge current imbalance of power between them and us, this amounts to inaudible whispering down the barrel of a gun.
The Zero Covid Scotland campaign has drawn a line under its attempts to negotiate with the Scottish Government. Just as the only way to avoid catastrophic climate change is to slash emissions, the only way to prevent more deaths and more suffering from Covid is to eliminate the virus. Slashing emissions and eliminating the virus are both entirely possible.
Jonathan Neale (his book Fight the Fire published in February can be downloaded free from TheEcologist website) said at an event in Scotland last week that when you are faced with catastrophe the only way out is to build a mass movement of those most threatened by that catastrophe – a movement which starts by focussing on keeping each other alive.
The Zero Covid Scotland Campaign is planning to contribute in a small way to a movement to keep each other alive from Covid infection by inviting a range of people who have been most impacted by Covid to give evidence at a Public Hearing on Saturday 4th September, staring at 11.00am. You can register in advance for this event here.
After registering, you’ll receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
In the same way that eliminating the virus is the way of keeping each other alive from Covid, the way of keeping each other alive from global warming is climate jobs. This isn’t a new idea – thanks mainly to Jonathan Neale through the Campaign Against Climate Change it’s been around for more than ten years. But it’s been considerably developed through research in terms of how it would work, what kinds of jobs we are talking about (above all good, secure jobs), how many jobs (latest calculations for Scotland come to more than 100,000), and what training would be necessary. Climate jobs are the solution because they are the only way we can simultaneously and quickly slash emissions and keep our economy going so that we don’t have to drop our standard of living.
There’s a third specific catastrophe facing many people in Scotland – the loss of huge numbers of jobs in the North Sea Oil and Gas industry. There’s a sort of “offshore-so-not-affecting-most-of-us’ blind eye being turned on this by people in Scotland, led astray by our governments. But it’s already a reality for around 30,000 redundant workers, their families, and their communities. Unless something is done quickly it will affect at least 100,000. If you add this number of redundant workers to a society the size of Scotland’s which already features inadequate services, inadequate housing, and inadequate income support, in the middle of a lethal pandemic, to speak of keeping each other alive isn’t an exaggeration. Moreover, at the end of September, on the verge of winter and with the Covid epidemic still raging, the UK Government is set to terminate furlough, reduce Universal Credit back to its insulting pre-pandemic level and increase the cap on energy prices to an unprecedented figure. This amounts to a perfect storm for less well-off people.
The solution to the catastrophe facing offshore workers also lies again in climate jobs, specifically in the sectors of renewable energy, public transport, and heating efficiency, where a majority of offshore workers already have the right skills and experience. We can’t achieve energy transition in the short time we have available without the skills and experience of offshore workers.
Unfortunately, there’s an elephant in the room in relation to climate jobs and a transition to them. Just as we need to go on (to every one we meet regardless of their politics) about Covid and elimination and about climate change and climate jobs, we also need to speak of this elephant, which is the trade unions.
As Wahl points out it’s entirely understandable how the trade unions have got into the fix that they now find themselves in. 70 or so years ago they had a place at the bargaining table with employers and governments because they had shown how they could disrupt the capitalist economy by withdrawing their labour. But the balance of power today is such that they don’t have a place at the table any longer. To win it back they need to demonstrate again that they are prepared to stop the train in its tracks. Unless the unions shift their perspective, the workers will leave them and set up their own collective arrangements
We mustn’t be fooled. The corporations which hold the power have no motivation to make concessions at this critical point in history. They are prepared to accept whatever number of deaths and however much suffering it takes to remain profitable. They are fatally hooked on the system they’ve created.
Speaking on behalf of the UK Government last week Alok Sharma said that the world is “dangerously close” to running out of time to stop a climate catastrophe. Sharma would have already seen the now published IPCC report which makes it abundantly clear that this is the case. Politicians use ‘we’ and ‘the world’ as if lack of action is a responsibility that we all share equally. He went on to state that “We can’t afford to wait two years, five years, 10 years – this is the moment …” But in March 2021 the UK government signed up to a North Sea Transition Deal, designed by the oil and gas sector that essentially puts off the action we need for another three decades. Opening a new oilfield is part of the plan and despite his rhetoric Sharma is right behind it. This is why the campaign to stop the Cambo field is so important. Pete Cannell explores the political importance of the campaign in this post. A version of the post was published previously on the rs21 website.
On Monday 19th July twelve climate activists blocked the entrance to the UK Government hub in Edinburgh, demanding that plans to give the green light for a new oilfield west of Shetland be scrapped. Later in the day they were joined by another 200 ‘Stop Cambo’ protestors.
Shell and Siccar Point Energy are asking the UK Government for permission to develop the Cambo oil field. Production is scheduled to start in 2025 and in phase 1 the two companies expect to extract 150 million barrels of oil – the emissions equivalent of 16 coal-fired power plants running for a year. In total the new field contains the equivalent 800 million barrels of oil.
With the United Nations Climate talks, COP 26, due to start in just over 3 months’ time the Stop Cambo campaign is shining a harsh light on what passes for UK climate policy. Throughout the year Westminster has been ramping up announcements on ‘Net Zero’ climate initiatives. We’ll see many more in the run up to the COP. You might think that developing a new, deep water, oil field would fit uncomfortably with all of this. And indeed, some critics are calling out Boris Johnson for hypocrisy. But the truth is that giving the green light for a new oil field is no aberration or hypocritical deviation from otherwise well-intentioned policies. On the contrary it’s a core part of UK and Scottish government policy that aims at maximum economic extraction of hydrocarbons from the North Sea. And as such it provides a critical lens through which all this year’s announcements should be viewed.
The blueprint behind Tory plans is not hard to find. It was released earlier this year without a fanfare. On the 21st of March, Oil and Gas UK published the North Sea Transition Deal, a plan for continuing exploitation of North Sea Oil and Gas to 2050 and beyond. The deal is a tripartite arrangement between the big oil and gas companies and the UK and Scottish governments. It maps out a plan to continue extracting oil and gas from the North Sea. The idea is that at some point in the future carbon capture and carbon offsetting will allow the government to claim that they have achieved Net Zero. In this world Net Zero doesn’t mean the end of oil and gas production. The theory is that the carbon contained in the oil and gas extracted from the North Sea is either trapped in underground storage or compensated for by carbon retention measures elsewhere.
The whole concept of Net Zero as developed in the Transition Deal is deeply flawed. For a start, UK and Scottish emissions reduction targets don’t include the carbon extracted from the North Sea. These greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to users of the products that derive from the oil and gas. So, Oil and Gas UK can talk blithely about a zero carbon North Sea oil sector because it takes no responsibility for end use. But even if you accept the bizarre logic of extracting hydrocarbons while taking no responsibility for a large part of the emissions you produce, the core technology that underpins carbon capture is speculative and untested. Currently, there is nowhere in the world where carbon capture and storage operate at large scale. And even if it can be made to work at large scale there will be many more years of greenhouse gas emissions before it has a serious impact.
Alongside continuing use of fossil fuels and carbon capture the North Sea Transition Deal also reserves a key role for hydrogen in transport and in domestic heating. Some of the hydrogen will be ‘blue’ produced from hydrocarbons, some ‘green’ the result of electrolysis of water. Without carbon capture ‘blue’ hydrogen is a major source of carbon emissions. ‘Green’ hydrogen, produced using electricity generated from renewables, is carbon free but immensely inefficient, requiring a huge ramping up of electricity production from wind, tidal and solar power. There’s certainly a place for green hydrogen in a renewable energy mix but only where direct use of electricity is impractical. From any other perspective except that of an oil and gas company direct use of renewably generated electricity makes obvious sense.
The Sea Change report, published in May 2019, shows how continuing production of North Sea oil and gas is incompatible with meeting the UK’s climate targets, let alone meeting the UK’s historical responsibility to the global south as one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases over the last two centuries. The report also shows how a planned, and rapid, shut down of North Sea operations could maximise employment opportunities in renewable energy.
It was striking that all the speakers at the Stop Cambo rally highlighted the need for workers to be at the centre of the transition away from oil and gas. Just Transition has become the common sense of climate activists in Scotland. And climate is finally on the agenda of the trade union movement. At the Scottish Trades Union Congress in April three of the composited motions focused on the issue. But there is a real challenge here. The STUC motions proposed by Unite, GMB, Prospect and the RMT tail the business-as-usual agenda that is driven by Oil and Gas UK and supported by Westminster and Holyrood – support for continuing extraction of oil and gas, carbon capture and a hydrogen economy. There’s a need for a sharp debate. The politics and practice of transition can’t be ducked by either climate activists or workers.
Even if the untested technologies on which Oil and Gas UK’s strategy is based work, Net Zero will not mean no net emissions, but simply shift responsibility for emissions elsewhere, often to the global south. And business-as-usual also means a continuing drive for profit maximisation, low wages, and precarious employment. Just Transition is not possible on the back of the North Sea Transition deal.
For Just Transition to become more than a slogan, we need to win workers to the need for mass working class action over climate. At this moment in our history class and climate are deeply intermeshed. Fighting for a future for our children and grandchildren with a transition strategy that provides a real chance of avoiding a climate catastrophe goes hand in hand with winning decent jobs and conditions, fighting racism and gender oppression and building workers’ power. The need is obvious, but the politics of how to make it happen is critical and requires a break with the union/employer partnership approach which underlies existing trade union policy.
Cambo is just one more piece in the jigsaw of the fossil fuel economy that needs to be dismantled. However, the decision to go ahead or not is politically important. Boris Johnson wants to milk the UK’s hosting of COP26 for all its worth. It will be embarrassing if developing new oil and gas fields is foregrounded in news from the COP, and that may mean a decision is postponed until 2022. Not because the UK is out of line with the other industrialised nations participating in the COP. Relying on carbon capture and other techno fixes is in line with the thinking that has informed the COP process over the years. A public outcry over Cambo in the run up to COP26 can help blow away the mist of greenwashing that will be generated around the Glasgow talks and help to push the climate and union movements in the direction of a radical worker led strategy for system change not climate change.
The latest of the ScotE3 briefings to be updated is Briefing 7 which looks at Fuel Poverty. A week ago the UK Energy Regulator ‘OFGEN’ raised the price cap which governs electricity and gas prices for consumers. There will be sharp increases in gas prices in particular. The raising of the cap is good news for the energy companies and very bad news for the poor. There is no doubt that in the context of rising unemployment there will be an increase in already unacceptably high levels of fuel poverty.
In Scotland, almost 25% of households live in fuel poverty and just over 12% are in extreme fuel poverty. Households in extreme fuel poverty are disproportionately represented in rural Scotland Older people living in rural Scotland are particularly hard hit. Every year thousands die because of fuel poverty – in 2018/19 excess winter mortality was 2060 – the death toll can be more than twice as high in cold winters. [Please note that at the time of writing all the data available predated Covid 19 – the pandemic is likely to have increased the figures we quote here.]
Rising fuel prices
From 2006 – 2016, Gas and Electricity prices rose by 71% and 62% respectively. Between 2017and 2020 electricity prices increased by a further 8% in real terms while gas prices fell by a similar amount. Gas prices are more volatile and steep price rises are taking place in 2021. Throughout Britain, it would cost £3billion – £8billion to end fuel poverty – a fraction of the cost of tax avoidance or defence.
A new policy
In June 2019 the Scottish Parliament passed a new act setting statutory targets for reducing fuel poverty. The bill is necessary and welcome but falls short of what is needed. Rightly it highlights the impact of fuel poverty on the most vulnerable in society. Low income, high-energy costs and
poorly insulated housing result in this appalling situation where families, young people, elderly, disabled and many working people, cannot afford adequate warmth. It also notes how measures to alleviate fuel poverty can have a positive impact on carbon emissions and create new jobs and links these measures to decarbonisation and the new Just Transitions Commission.
Lack of ambition
The new act sets interim targets for reducing fuel poverty to 15% of households by 2030 and final targets for 2040. In light of the climate threat we face this is way too slow. The act is sketchy on how targets will be achieved. Moreover, there is no recognition of the impending crisis of energy capacity in Scotland, which, if not addressed, will further impact heavily on the poorest, weakest and elderly in our communities. Some of these weaknesses could have been addressed in a Final Fuel Poverty Strategy that was due to be published u=in September 2020. However, this was put on hold because of Covid and is yet to be published.
There is no reason why Scotland could not produce an energy surplus. There is an abundance of renewable resources to hand. In light of the recent UN report, and the latest science, what’s needed is an integrated policy that aims for a zero carbon economy by 2030. Such a policy would eliminate fuel poverty and create many thousands of new jobs.
A mass insulation campaign
In its ‘One Million Climate Jobs Pamphlet’, the Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC) notes that
Three quarters of emissions from houses and flats … are caused by heating air and water. To reduce this we need to insulate and draught- proof the buildings, and replace inefficient boilers. This can cut the amount of energy used to heat the home and water by about 40% and delivers the double-whammy of reducing energy costs and helping mitigate the scourge of fuel poverty.
Based on these CACC estimates, which are for the whole of the UK, a campaign to properly insulate all homes in Scotland would employ around 20,000 construction workers for the next 20 years. This doesn’t account for additional jobs in education, training and manufacture that would spin off from such an endeavour. Through this carbon dioxide emissions from homes would be cut by 95%. We could ensure that all new houses are effectively carbon neutral. The technology exists – there are examples of ‘passive houses’ that use very little energy.
The current costs for fossil fuel power range from 4p -12p per kilowatt-hour. Inter renewable energy agency (IREA) state that renewable energy will cost 2p – 7p with the best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects expected to deliver electricity for 2p or less. Renewable energy is necessary for a sustainable future and it is cheaper than fossil fuels. Current Westminster Government policy – notably the subsidy ban for new onshore wind farms – is impeding the shift to renewables. The ban could add £1billion onto fuel bills.
For the moment fracking is off the agenda in Scotland. The result of a magnificent campaign of resistance. But INEOS continues to import fracked gas from the US. This has to stop.
No market solution
Fuel Poverty is a direct result of the ”wrecking ball” of market forces dominating our need for energy to give us warmth, light and sustenance. In the pursuit of profit, the use of fossil fuels adds to the catastrophe of climate change.
We have the technology and skills to stop this madness and misery through a radical shift in Energy policy that would combine sustainable and renewable resources dedicated to social need. Tackling climate change would go hand in hand with creating additional jobs, eliminating fuel poverty, and improving health and well-being. To make this happen we need the kind of focus and the level of investment that has only normally applied at times of war. Ending the use of fossil fuels over a short period is practically possible provided there is the political will.