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North Sea Oil and Gas and the Cost of Living

Report of a public meeting called by ScotE3 on 12th September

The conversation at this meeting between about 40 people from widely differing backgrounds was both extremely valuable and extremely lively. It’s clear that a lot of people have got their blood up.

The meeting was kicked off by contributions from Neil Rothnie, who has spent much of his life as a North Sea offshore worker, and from Pete Cannell, a founder member of ScotE3. You can watch the video of their talks on YouTube

Three climate activists – Quan Nguyen (Climate Camp), Zareen Islam (Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh), and Phoebe Hayman (Just Stop Oil) – were then asked to react to Neil and Pete’s contributions. You can watch the video of their reactions here

Here are some of the points that Neil and Pete made in their introduction

  • The meeting has been called ostensibly about the cost-of-living crisis and North Sea oil and gas, but if we’re not talking about climate change, we’re not really talking about the real world.
  • The oil companies operating on the North Sea have a plan to explore for, and produce, every single barrel of oil and gas that exists there.  It’s called Maximising Economic Recovery. It’s written into law and has been since way before COP26.  And if it’s the oil industry plan for the North Sea, it’s the oil industry plan everywhere.   The deal to expedite Maximum Economic Recovery – called the ‘North Sea Transition Deal’ is signed up to by Scottish and UK governments and unions.
  • Almost all the gas used for heating in the UK comes from the British and Norwegian sectors of the North Sea and comes ashore via pipelines.
  • Only a very small amount of gas used in the UK ever came from Russia – it came by tanker – and was primarily used for plastic and other industrial processes not for heating.
  • The huge hike in gas prices came before the war in Ukraine.  Gas and oil prices have been highly volatile for many decades.  Not long ago the price dipped below zero for a short period.  
  • Liz Truss has confirmed the enormity of the cost-of-living crisis, driven largely by North Sea gas here in the UK, in spectacular fashion by throwing £130 billion at it. Money she’s going to borrow in our name and make us pay back. 
  • The fantasy is she’s going to grow the economy to pay for this.  The madness is she thinks she’s going to do it by being cheerleader for the oil and gas industry on the North Sea and by fracking for shale gas in England. 
  • The reality either way is that is she is going to try and make the people pay.
  • Truss treats the global market price for gas as if it is God given.  The price bears no relation to how much gas costs to produce.  It’s set by speculation (by hedge funds) betting on what the price might be at some point in the future.
  • There’s been no significant increase in the cost of gas production on the North Sea.
  • The finances of the poorest, the most vulnerable, those with special needs, are stretched to the limit by the price hikes that are already in place and would have been wrecked immediately by the October rise had it gone ahead as planned.  The Truss decision to freeze energy bills for the next two years is not some sort of act of charity or generosity, but an admission that to proceed with the planned rises in retail energy prices till they met the wholesale energy price levels that profiteering by the gas producers and electricity generators and the market speculators have engineered, is just not acceptable.  The people after years of austerity and real wages reductions, just could not, and would not, shoulder this burden.  
  • The £130 billion package, even if the plan is that we eventually pay for it somehow in energy bills over the next 10 years, is a kind of a victory.  At the very least it gives us the breathing space to begin to build a response in the communities.  But that is still urgent.
  • Had the October cap rise gone ahead it is likely that catastrophic levels of poverty would have been the result and that local communities would have been faced with a couple of immediate challenges. How the most vulnerable were to keep warm? How they were to stay fed?  These challenges have been at best delayed for many people but are still present for many already on prepayment meters and are likely to be unable to heat homes effectively or afford inflated food prices this winter.  
  • The people of Pakistani heritage living in Govanhill and Pollokshields have watched as their families, friends and erstwhile neighbours in about a third of the districts and 12% of the land surface of Pakistan are devastated by floods which even the Government of Pakistan, recognises are a direct result of global warming driven by fossil fuel burning.  Fossil fuel burning specifically not by most of the victims.
  • While trying to raise aid for the victims in Pakistan, this part of our community is facing their own fossil fuel induced crisis, a cost-of-living crisis that threatens to drive them into cold and hunger and which is driven by profiteering on North Sea gas. 
  • The extraction of megaprofits from the North Sea is driving the current cost of living crisis.  Longer-term Truss’s ‘payback plan’ and the government’s plans for Nuclear, Hydrogen for heat and fracking will ensure a high-cost energy future and continue to trash the environment.
  • A sustainable future requires breaking the power of the big energy companies on the North Sea, and through democratic public control phasing down production, ending the subsidies and shifting all that investment into renewables.
  • When they shout – It’s the war in Ukraine.  We’ve got to shout it’s profiteering on North Sea gas.

You can watch a full video of the introductory talks here

And here is an attempt at summarising the general discussion which followed:

Actions we can take immediately

  • Most people don’t understand what’s happening. We need to get out into the streets with leaflets and speak to people – which is the key strategy of Just Stop Oil.
  • We should speak more about our ideas, and less about ‘theirs’.
  • A good talking point is the recent worst flooding ever in Pakistan. At the same moment when Pakistani families living in Scotland were watching their relatives dying on the news, many of these families, for example on the south side in Glasgow, are facing the impossibility this winter of both keeping warm and having enough to eat. Both these disasters are a direct result of the world continuing to burn fossil fuels as its main source of energy.
  • We need to keep expressing our solidarity with the people of the global south who are enduring the worst effects of global heating.
  • The power of the big North Sea oil and gas companies, through lobbying, bribery and their control of the media, is huge. This is a war we’re fighting, not a battle.
  • Beware these companies as they begin to invest in renewables. If we allow ourselves to be fooled by this they will make sure that renewables are developed in a way which is most profitable for them instead of prioritising public benefit.
  • We need to fight for state ownership of not only distribution of energy but also its production. 
  • The processing plant at Mossmorran must be shut down.
  • One participant suggested that we should get into the Labour and LibDem parties and make the politicians listen to what we have to say.
  • We should organise for COP27 (to be held in November at Sharm El Sheik, Egypt).
  • At the same time as addressing the big political picture, we need to provide support for the many people in our communities who will be in desperate need this winter – for example by setting up ‘Warm Banks’, as communities in North Edinburgh are planning towards.

Workers and Unions

  • The unions need to come together with the workers, demanding with a single voice no more fossil fuel extraction and just transition for the workers.
  • There will be no pay and no jobs on a dead planet
  • We should go to picket lines to express solidarity and not be afraid to speak about the big picture, whatever immediate demands the strikers are making. For example whatever RMT workers immediate demands, they are the people who will be running the electric trains to get people out of their cars.
  • On October 1st we should be on the streets to support the BT group workers and their Communication Workers Union
  • We should particularly express solidarity with the current wave of wild-cat strikes by the North Sea offshore workers, especially in view of their Unions’ criticisms of their strike action. The work conditions of these workers are appalling,

Our rulers

  • Do not care about us
  • Are under the control of the big oil and gas companies
  • Deserve our anger

Hopeful considerations

  • Working together: one participant talked about ‘joining the dots’ – another suggested a good way of doing this is by supporting RMT pickets and making sure that climate and supporting public transport is part of the agenda; critical to make the links between organised workers and communities – the Edinburgh Trade Unions in Communities initiative is a good example.  It was noted that the anti-fracking campaign went well because of solidarity across Scotland and England. So, the theme across these is about connecting, working together for greater impact.
  • There are now the beginnings of widespread collective action
  • The North Sea is at an end-game stage, with reducing quantities of oil and gas to extract, and the prospect of rising costs of extraction.
  • Two years ago, Platform ran a questionnaire for offshore workers which showed many hadn’t even heard about just transition, but that most would gladly move to jobs in renewables if they were given the opportunity.
  • One participant pointed out that when fundamental daily needs like warmth and food are being denied to large numbers of people, history tells us that revolution is likely. Other civilisations have fallen in similar circumstances.

Upcoming meetings

A number of events were mentioned during the discussion go to our Events page for details.

Glasgow’s retrofit programme: rival agendas 

We’re very pleased to publish this post by Les Levidow, Open University, les.levidow@open.ac.uk

With the slogan, ‘Our Climate:Our Homes’, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) led a multi-stakeholder proposal for a ‘whole house retrofit’ approach for decarbonising heat in homes.  It included civil society groups such as the Poverty Alliance, Living Rent tenants’ organizations and Friends of the Earth.  They jointly demanded substantial funds and new state structures, especially a National Infrastructure Company and municipal energy companies.  This plan would provide numerous unionised, green jobs for high-quality retrofits.  These measures would be necessary to avoid the limitations and failures of the UK government’s retrofit initiative (STUC, 2021).  

This extended a previous proposal, coordinated by Common Weal (2019 et al.). It contributed to a broader plan: a ‘Green New Deal for Scotland’.   As regards the institutional means, ‘genuine public-good private-public partnerships should be developed, but government should also intervene directly where it needs to’ (Common Weal, 2019: 104).   This section draws on an interview with two authors of those reports (Stuart Graham of the Glasgow TUC and Craig Dalzell of Common Weal, 10.03.2022). 

For an adequate retrofit programme, a major obstacle has been Glasgow’s neoliberal policy framework, dating from at least the 1980s. It has structured public expenditure as new markets aiming to incentivise entrepreneurialism and to attract business investment.  This framework had generally diminished decision-making capacity of the public sector (Boyle et al., 2008).  Given that neoliberal framework of the local authority, its retrofitting plan soon conflicted with the labour movement agenda prioritising the public good. 

Glasgow. Arden. Housing estate. Kyleakin Road. 10 January 2016. CC BY-SA 4.0

In 2021 the Scottish government funded  the Glasgow City Region to retrofit homes and substitute renewable energy systems for natural gas. Sufficient for a half-million houses, the funds were meant for jointly addressing fuel poverty, heat efficiency and decarbonisation (Sandlands, 2021).   Glasgow City Region announced an ambitious plan to retrofit the housing stock by 2032 (Glasgow City Region, 2021a).  This was part of the Glasgow Green Deal, which promised many benefits such as ‘ensuring a fairer and more equal economy’ (Glasgow City Council, 2021).  

Glasgow City Council organised a 3-day event raising several challenges of a retrofit programme.  According to the Council, suitable technology was already available to scale up retrofit. But the programme would need ‘collaboration between government, industry and training providers to realise Glasgow’s aspiration of carbon neutrality by 2030’.  An initial pilot was to retrofit the city’s iconic tenement blocks. For the Low Carbon Homes agenda, the Council’s experts mentioned issues such as social justice and fuel poverty (LCH, 2021).  The plans for Glasgow to host CoP26 in November 2021 intensified debate on decarbonisation, strengthening the impetus for the government’s plans and promises. 

Neoliberal obstacles

Their institutional framework posed several obstacles to a worthwhile, credible retrofit programme.  A full retrofit programme may need until at least 2040. Yet the Scottish government made a firm financial commitment only for the 2021-2026 Parliamentary term.  

This short timescale provided a weak incentive for business investment in the necessary skills and local manufacturing capacity, whose gaps were well known (CXC, 2022).  According to a retrofit programme manager, ‘The existing short-term funding streams do not give businesses the long-term confidence of a multi-year pipeline of work that will encourage the acceleration and expansion of business investment in the skills of their staff and manufacturing capability (Glasgow City Region, 2021b: 2).   Under those inadequate arrangements, a retrofit programme would depend on the current long supply chains, especially imported expertise, equipment and materials.  Alternatively, the government could make a commitment to create local manufacturing capability, as a crucial basis to realise the local economic and environmental benefits (Common Weal, 2019a).

Energy performance standards were also weak or doubtful.   Initial negotiations with contractors agreed pilot projects at a high standard of energy efficiency, such as Passivhaus in some cases (Paciaroni, 2021; Wilson, 2021).  By contrast, the overall programme set a minimal standard, Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) level C.  This would mean upgrading approximately a half-million units that were at a lower standard.  

However, this basis would not guarantee any specific standard in practice.  According to some experts, the EPC is simply an administrative compliance method,  not an energy efficiency measure or predictor, partly because the outcome depends on each householder’s behaviour (quoted in LGHPC, 2021: 6).  Whatever the modest gain, it may be superseded later by a higher standard, thus requiring an extra upgrade at a greater overall cost. 

A comprehensive programme would need householders’ enthusiasm, based on seeing initial retrofits visibly saving heat costs  in other households.  This has been one reason for a ‘fabric first’ approach, i.e. installing effective insulation before alternative heat sources in order to maximise  their benefit from the start.  This is necessary but insufficient because a ‘fabric first’ approach prioritises technical considerations.  By contrast, ‘an occupant-centred “folk first” approach may justify overcoming financial and related barriers which themselves do far more to restrict the choice of options for improving energy efficiency’ (CommonWeal et al., 2019: 3).

Such barriers feature the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) level C.  Why did Glasgow’s programme adopt this?   As one driver,  a minimal standard simplifies competitive tendering, the wider neoliberal regime which has driven the overall retrofit programme. This creates competition among organizations that instead could cooperatively raise standards on a case-by-case basis.  According to a housing association, ‘The funding is not being allocated strategically. Funding is still allocated through a bid process, which means that we are competing against other organisations’ (quoted in LGHPC, 2021: 19).  According to the relevant Minister, ‘innovative collective models of transition may play an important role in increasing the pace of retrofit’ (Harvie, 2022). Yet any such model has been constrained by the regime of competitive tendering, which can be understood as a techno-market fix. 

As a related obstacle, a competitive call  favours large foreign companies with administrative capacity for the necessary documentation but perhaps minimal standards for energy efficiency.  Price competition can drive down quality in practice.  Competitive tendering excludes and/or fragments small local suppliers which have skills for higher standards. This arrangement deters the large-scale cooperative programme that would be necessary for the greater skills investment, mutual learning and differentiated approach to the diverse building types (Glasgow TUC-Common Weal interview, 10.03.2022).  In those ways the programme’s public-good benefits have been limited by Glasgow’s decades-old neoliberal regime (Boyle et al., 2008; Webb,  2019). 

Like many cities, Glasgow has lacked the skills for normal repair and maintenance of the housing stock, much less for new skills.  So a strong incentive would be necessary for workers to learn retrofitting skills.  As the labour movement proposal had said, ‘Scaling up delivery poses a huge skills challenge, particularly given the large number of self-employed contractors understandably reluctant to take time out of being paid to learn new skills’ (STUC, 2021: 3).  

In 2021 Glasgow initiated such a training programme, but it had little take-up, for several reasons.  The Scottish government’s low, short-term financial commitment has provided a weak incentive for building-trades workers  to take up the opportunity. As a plausible disadvantageous scenario, some workers who already have building skills (such as electricians or plumbers) could obtain retrofit training, find that the programme is short-lived and then have difficulties returning to their original trade.  Such doubts have been voiced as reasons for little interest in the training opportunity (Glasgow TUC-Common Weal interview, 10.03.2022).

Public-good alternative

In 2019 Common Weal, a Scottish ‘think and do tank’, had anticipated such obstacles and so proposed a comprehensive decarbonisation plan.  It lay within a broader Common Home Plan, also called a Green New Deal for Scotland.  This would provide a comprehensive alternative to Glasgow’s techno-market fix.

As a key message of the Common Home Plan,  

You’re not powerless…..  We’re going to show how a Green New Deal for Scotland will not just save the world but will benefit our country, our communities and you individually. Better food, better homes, better jobs, cleaner air, less waster and pollution and an economy based on repairing the things that we need rather than throwing away things that we don’t need….   By leading as an example, by coming up with the solutions and then exporting our skills and our innovations to others we can bring the word with us rather than sitting back or asking the world to stop so that we can catch up (Source News, 2019).

Rather than try to drive GDP growth, this plan promotes an economy of sufficiency.  It invites people to help create the necessary innovation, which prioritises repair, refurbishment, digital services and better resource use (Common Weal, 2019).  

For decarbonising heat in houses, the plan identified many ways to replace natural gas, reduce GHG emissions and address fuel poverty.  Ideally, district heating systems would distribute surplus heat at low cost.  Heat pumps would have a stronger rationale in rural areas, though also a wider relevance.  By contrast, the gas industry agenda for CCS-hydrogen ‘poses serious risks to the decarbonisation of Scottish energy supplies’ (Common Weal et al., 2019: 8). 

Image by Pete Cannell – Air Source Heat Pump on Shetland CC0

This had significant differences from prevalent decarbonisation agendas.  While they depend on  future techno-solutions, this one is ‘based almost entirely on current or old technology’.  The dominant ‘market-pricing-and-subsidy regime’ would increase inequality, so this plan emphasises public-sector responsibility (ibid: 11).  This change would be necessary so that state procurement becomes a true public service,  beyond the transactional-based profit-oriented economy.

Its plan outlined many inherent complexities of decarbonising heat in houses, as stronger grounds for state-led institutional change, in particular: ‘Set up a National Housing Company to retrofit all existing houses to achieve 70-90 per cent thermal efficiency. Change building regulations and invest in domestic supply chains to make almost all new construction materials in Scotland either organic or recycled’ (Common Weal, 2019: 39).  

It also made specific proposals for low-carbon heat sources.   Given several disadvantages of electricity-based heat, the report promoted district heating systems as cheap, viable means to deliver renewable heat to homes (Common Weal, 2020b). For both those aspects, public-sector responsibility would be necessary to implement effective solutions and overcome potential obstacles, as the reports emphasised. 

Those proposals had anticipated limitations that later arose in the Scottish government’s 2021 retrofit programme and Glasgow City Region’s role.  In response, the labour movement network tried to persuade the Scottish government to establish the necessary long-term commitment, higher standards and institutional framework, including a National Infrastructure body for overall decarbonisation. Likewise they tried to persuade the City Council to replace the competitive tendering regime with  a more flexible basis that would facilitate more diverse bids and raise quality standards. 

Although technical studies per se cannot overcome the problem, they can help identify institutional weaknesses and policy obstacles.  Solutions need political changes which can drive economic change towards shorter, high-quality supply chains supporting long-term skilled livelihoods.  The necessary political changes would depend on a high-profile campaign that links issues such as labour standards, housing quality, environmental protection, fuel poverty, etc.  

As a potential means to link such groups and issues, the campaign ScotE3 (employment, energy and environment) was already advocating climate jobs within a Just Transition framework.  It was initiated by trade unionists  and climate activists, ‘keen to find a way of taking climate action into workplaces and working class communities’.  Alongside its positive proposals are attacks on false solutions, especially a CCS-hydrogen technofix for decarbonising fossil fuels.  The latter has been a basis for the North Sea Transition Deal,  endorsed by the Scottish government (Scot.E3, 2021).   

Scotland has a special opportunity for a socially just, environmentally sustainable decarbonisation agenda. This is partly due to its devolution arrangements, with a larger budget and greater legal powers than the UK’s regional authorities.   Yet the Scottish government has made false promises, such as through its neoliberal retrofit framework or hypothetical technofixes, thereby avoiding responsibility for decarbonisation.  By default, these promises may be accepted by a passive public – unless opposed by a strong alliance for climate justice.

As the Glasgow case shows, a Green (New) Deal has become a widespread banner, attracting divergent agendas for a retrofit programme.  These promote divergent sociotechnical forms, linking technical standards with different social orders, especially a rivalry between market-competition versus community-worker cooperation.  To realise the potential benefits, a public-good agenda would need to undermine and displace the dominant policy framework.  

Author’s note

This blog piece comes from my book chapter on Green New Deal agendas.  It starts by comparing US and UK nation-wide agendas, especially trade-union pressures to endorse false solutions (also in Levidow, 2022).  Then it analyses GND local agendas to decarbonise heat by retrofitting houses, e,.g. from Leeds Trades Council (2020), followed by the Glasgow case – as below. 

Book details: Les Levidow, Beyond Climate Fixes: From Public Controversy to System Change, forthcoming from Bristol University Press, 2023, 
https://bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/beyond-climate-fixes

References

Boyle, M., McWilliams, C. and Rice, G. 2008.  The spatialities of actually existing neoliberalism in Glasgow, 1977 to present, Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography 90(4) 313-325. 

Common Weal. 2019.  Our Common Home: A Green New Deal for Scotland
https://commonweal.scot/index.php/building-green-new-deal-scotland

Common Weal et al. 2019.   The Future of Low Carbon Heat for Off-Gas Buildings: a call for evidence.  Glasgow:  Common Weal, Glasgow Caledonian University, and the Energy Poverty Research Initiative, https://commonweal.scot/index.php/policy-library/future-low-carbon-heat-gas-buildings

Common Weal. 2020a. The Common Home Plan: Homes and buildingshttps://commonweal.scot/our-common-home/homes-buildings

Common Weal. 2020b. The Common Home Plan: Heating,   https://commonweal.scot/our-common-home/heating

CXC. 2022. Clean Heat and Energy Efficiency Workforce Assessment.  Edinburgh: ClimateExchange, Clean Heat and Energy Efficiency Workforce Assessment (climatexchange.org.uk)

Glasgow City Council. 2021.  Glasgow Green Deal: Our roadmap and call for ideas

Glasgow City Region. 2021a.  Home Energy Retrofit Programme, 
https://invest-glasgow.foleon.com/igpubs/glasgow-greenprint-for-investment/glasgow-city-region-home-energy-retrofit-programme/      (Note: webpage indicates no date, so guessing that it is 2021).

Glasgow City Region. 2021b.  Home Energy Retrofit Final Report: Next Steps, Home Energy Retrofit Programme, https://invest-glasgow.foleon.com/igpubs/glasgow-greenprint-for-investment/glasgow-city-region-home-energy-retrofit-programme/

Harvie, P. 2022.  Letter from the Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights to the Convener , 11 January, Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee,  Scottish Parliament, https://www.parliament.scot/chamber-and-committees/committees/current-and-previous-committees/session-6-local-government-housing-and-planning/correspondence/2022/retrofitting-housing-for-net-zero-january-2022  

LCH. 2021. Pre-COP26, we revisit Glasgow’s retrofit scene, Low Carbon Homes, 24 May,  https://www.lowcarbonhomes.uk/news/retrofit-revisited-glasgow/

Leeds Trades Council. 2020.   Retrofit Leeds homes with high-quality insulation and heat pumps:  a plan and call to  action!, Leeds Trades Council, https://leedstuc.files.wordpress.com/2020/09/draft-document-decarbonising-leeds-homes-with-a-huge-programme-of-deep-retrofitting-and-installation-of-heat-pumps..pdf

Levidow, L.  2022.  Green New Deals: what shapes Green and Deal?,  Capitalism Nature Socialism (CNS), https://doi.org/10.1080/10455752.2022.2062675  (free download).

LGHPC.  2021. Retrofitting Housing For Net Zero.   Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee, 30 November 2021.  Edinburgh: Scottish Parliament. 

PAC. 2021.   Green Homes Grant Voucher Scheme.  London: UK Parliament: Public Accounts Committee, https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/127/public-accounts-committee/news/159264/pac-report-green-homes-grant-scheme-underperformed-badly/

Paciaroni, S. 2021.  Springfield Cross: Low carbon social housing project takes shape Glasgow’s East End, Glasgow Times, 8 November, https://www.glasgowtimes.co.uk/news/19701701.springfield-cross-low-carbon-social-housing-project-takes-shape-glasgows-east-end/

Sandlands, D. 2021. Massive’ energy retrofit programme could target over 420,000 homes across Glasgow, Glasgow Live, 11 April,  https://www.glasgowlive.co.uk/news/glasgow-news/glasgow-energy-refit-housing-programme-20360138

Scot.E3.  2021.   Briefing #13: The Use & Abuse of Hydrogenhttps://scote3.files.wordpress.com/2021/12/briefing-13.pdf

Source News. 2019.  A Green New Deal for Scotland,  https://sourcenews.scot/a-green-new-deal-for-scotland/

STUC. 2021.  Our Climate: Our Homes.  Scottish Trades Union Congress, https://stuc.org.uk/files/campaigns/Homes/Our-Homes_briefing.pdf

Webb,  J. 2019.  New lamps for old: financialised governance of cities and clean energy, Journal of Cultural Economy 12(4):  286-298.   

Wilson, C. 2021.  COP26: ‘Green’ tenement plan could cut fuel bills by 80%, Herald Scotland, 10 November, https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/19705494.cop26-green-tenement-plan-cut-fuel-bills-80/

Stop Jackdaw – week of action

From 20-27 August, Stop Cambo are hosting a UK-wide week of action to #StopJackdaw. To make this work, we need many groups and individuals taking action with a range of tactics. There are many ways to support this amazing campaign – from hosting a local action to helping push the word out about the week.

Find out more and get involved here: https://bit.ly/jackdawweek

  • The UK government recently approved Shell’s Jackdaw gas field, even though scientists have said time and time again that we can’t have any  more new oil and gas if we want to stay within safe climate limits.
  • Jackdaw’s gas won’t lower energy bills, but will make millions for Shell while wrecking the climate.
  • Jackdaw is just the tip of the iceberg. The UK government wants to approve dozens of new fossil fuel projects by the year 2025 including the giant Rosebank oil field, and is due to launch yet another licensing round for new oil and gas exploration this autumn.
  • We’re going to challenge the Government and Shell from every side to delay and eventually stop this field.


Only have a minute? you can support the campaign by sharing these videos:

Appeal from Biofuelwatch

Biofuelwatch is asking UK climate and social justice groups urgently to consider signing this open letter to support frontline communities in North Carolina who are facing the expansion of a huge pellet mill in Ahoskie which supplies wood pellets to burn at UK power stations like Drax and Lynemouth:  

Drax Power Station: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic .
Image by Paul Glazzard

The mill is owned by the world’s biggest wood pellet producer, Enviva. If this pellet mill expansion goes ahead, it will increase dangerous air pollution for local communities, lead to the destruction of around 24,000 acres of forest, harm wildlife and make the climate crisis worse. 
The pellet mill expansion will also lead to even more wood being burned at UK power stations like Drax, Lynemouth and the new Tees Renewable Energy Plant near Middlesbrough, with very harmful impacts on the health of UK communities and on the climate. 
The letter is calling on the Governor of North Carolina to say no to the expansion of the wood pellet industry in the Southern US and we’re hoping as many UK groups as possible will sign it ahead of a public hearing in North Carolina on Tuesday 16th August
Frontline community activists would like to read out the letter at the hearing to show Enviva and the Governor of North Carolina that they are being supported by groups in the UK. Biofuelwatch would be very grateful if your climate or social justice group would like to sign.

Here’s the text of the letter

Dear Governor Cooper,

We, the undersigned environmental and climate justice groups in the UK, are writing to urge you to say no to Enviva’s plans to expand the wood pellet industry in North Carolina. We firmly stand in support of frontline groups’ complaints about Enviva and share their disappointment as to the lack of action to address the rapidly expanding wood pellet production market in North Carolina. 

If you are to be the climate champion that you claim, the climate, forest, biodiversity and environmental justice impacts of the wood pellet industry must be addressed.

As UK groups, we have a focus on North Carolina because many of your forests that are turned into pellets end up being burned in our power stations: Drax and Lynemouth. If the Enviva Ahoskie facility is permitted to expand, the equivalent of over 24,000 hectares of forest will be cut to meet its new capacity. We understand that North Carolina justice groups warn that this will lead to more logging trucks and more pollution. 

In the UK, the same is true. The wood pellets that Enviva supplies to burn at Drax and Lynemouth Power Stations are producing harmful air pollution and Drax is facing prosecution from the Health and Safety Executive in the UK for risking the health of their workers through exposure to harmful wood dust from pellets. 

Burning wood for energy in UK power stations is also making the climate crisis worse and Drax Power Station alone emitted over 13 million tonnes of CO2 from burning wood in 2021. Any expansion of the Ahoskie pellet mill in the United States will also have consequences for us here and would further exacerbate these health and climate impacts as Enviva is expected to supply pellets to burn at the Tees Renewable Energy Plant near Middlesbrough.

In 2021, 500 scientists from around the world signed an open letter about the impacts of wood bioenergy sourced from forests, warning: “regrowth takes time the world does not have to solve climate change. As numerous studies have shown, this burning of wood will increase warming for decades to centuries. That is true even when the wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas.” 

Although climate scientists agree that the world must significantly increase its ability to retain carbon in forests, American forests are sequestering considerably less carbon today than they did just 30 years ago. Forests are a vital natural carbon sink, and burning them for fuel is a dangerous policy that will exacerbate climate change, particularly since burning biomass is not carbon neutral and in fact produces more pollution and more carbon emissions than the coal it is intended to replace.

It is time to stop this dirty and destructive industry that is harming people, wildlife and the planet. We need standing, natural forests. Forests absorb carbon, filter our water and our air, protect us from dangerous storms and floods, and provide vital green spaces for nature and people. 

For the sake of forests, wildlife, communities and the climate, we urge you to refuse this application for Enviva’s Ahoskie mill expansion and to place a moratorium on any expansion of the wood pellet industry. 

Global Climate Jobs Conference 2022

ScotE3 is part of the Global Climate Jobs network and we hope you’ll be able to attend all or some of the 2022 conference.

Register through the link here: https://forms.gle/i3W1ycKEz74TSMME7

We know that the points of convergence between the labor and the climate movements are immense, but that several challenges lie ahead of us. It is nevertheless of extreme importance and urgency to cut emissions and do so by drawing on plans that are created by the workers and communities and in regard to their interests and needs.

Often, we do know what work needs to be carried out in order to cut emissions, but workers are being left out of the discussion and climate science is being disregarded. We need to build a movement that not only is capable of setting its own program, but that has the power to implement it.

As so, we are bringing together people from all around the world, and bringing together the labor and climate movements to discuss how we win a program that can allow us to stop climate collapse. Join us for two days of thematic sessions about the strategies, technical and social perspectives, and challenges we face in building Climate Jobs Campaigns.

Invited speakers:

  • Negrai Adve; 
  • Max Ajl;
  • Chris Baugh; 
  • Jeremy Brecher; 
  • Leonor Canadas; 
  • Claire Cohen;
  • Rehad Desai; 
  • Patricia De Marco; 
  • Suzanne Jeffries; 
  • Paul Le Blanc; 
  • Josua Mata; 
  • Suda Sim Meriç; 
  • Jonathan Neale; 
  • Andreas Yetterstad 

Schedule

All the sessions will be recorded and available online. Sessions will be 1 hour and 30 minutes and will be composed of a introduction by the invited speakers and a workshop space between the participants.

Saturday, September 17

12:00 GMT [5 pm ET] – General Session: Strategic Orientation

14:00 GMT [7 pm ET] – Special Sessions

1) Building Climate Jobs Movements

2) Food and Farming

16.00 GMT [11 pm ET] – Special Sessions

1) Ecofeminism

2) Racism and Refugees

Sunday, September 18

12.00 GMT [5 pm ET] – General Session: Workers in the Fossil Fuel industry

14.00 GMT [7 pm ET] – Special Sessions

1) Cutting Emissions

2) Resilience

16.00 GMT [11 pm ET] – General Session: Summing Up

Briefing 16: oil and gas are costing us the earth

Here’s the text of out latest briefing on climate, oil and gas and the cost of living. You can download it here.

Cost of Living

Everyone knows that we are in a cost-of-living crisis.  Most of us in Scotland rely on natural gas for cooking and heating and North Sea gas is a guided missile sent into every home in the country which will drive thousands of new people into poverty and will kill the most vulnerable.  Oil and gas producers are making mega profits and demanding money with menaces.  

Before this happened around a quarter of Scots lived in fuel poverty.  As a result of the price rises hundreds of thousands more will be forced to make impossible choices between food and heating.  The response from the Tories has been derisory. Their so-called Energy Security Plan does nothing to tackle immediate hardship and doubles down on the most expensive energy options for the longer term – nuclear, oil and gas, hydrogen for heating and carbon capture and storage.  

Business as usual – the North Sea Transition Deal

There is a simple reason why the Tories have made these choices.  In the face of the climate and cost of living crises they’ve chosen to protect the interests of big oil.  It’s not just that they won’t tax the enormous profits that are being made from North Sea Oil and Gas – it’s that they are following the logic of the oil industry’s ‘North Sea Transition Deal’.  

A phony deal

The ‘Deal’ is a partnership between the UK and Scottish governments and the unions.  It aims to continue the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas up to and beyond 2050.  It talks about a net-zero oil and gas basin where the greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas would be captured and stored.  This is not going to happen, certainly not in the next few decades, and the consequence will be that the UK will fail to meet its contribution to restricting global temperature rises.  

Maintaining profits – wasting resources

Moreover, the ‘Transition Deal’ drives high-cost energy options at every step and leaves working people to pay the price.   The latest UK government energy strategy aligns entirely with the ‘Deal’. Most of the electricity produced by new nuclear power stations will be required to produce the hydrogen for domestic heating.  Using electricity to produce hydrogen for domestic heating at large scale is hugely inefficient.  Moreover, nuclear produces much more carbon emissions over its lifecycle than wind or solar.

Torness CC-BY-SA-4.0 Image by NH2501

The alternative

There is an alternative.  Electricity produced by wind and solar is already much cheaper than that produced by nuclear, oil and gas and the costs of renewables continue to fall.  The money the Tories want to spend on new nuclear is enough to retrofit most homes across the UK – creating jobs, improving health and well-being and cutting energy demand.  

An economy based on renewables results in many more jobs than the fossil fuel and nuclear options.

A challenge for the trade union movement

It’s time for a decisive shift in policy and end to partnership with the oil industry.  Just transition, indeed arguably any transition that restricts temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, is incompatible with the ‘North Sea Transition Deal’.  Sticking with the ‘Deal’ is a disaster for the planet and undermines the ability of the workers movement and the climate movement to build the power we need to win over climate and the cost of living.

A new policy for the union movement

Tackling the cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis means breaking the partnership with big oil that is inherent in the Transition Deal and campaigning for an end to the development of new North Sea oil and gas and the rapid planned phase out of existing fields.  Large-scale investment in renewables and a massive programme of retrofitting would result in lower energy prices and reduced carbon emissions.   A serious plan would include support for the oil and gas work force while they transition to new jobs and ramping up options for reskilling, education and training in the new industries.

No more subsidies

The oil and gas industry has been subsidised heavily over the lifetime of the North Sea.  The subsidies must stop.  Working people are suffering because what they pay for energy fuels super profits for big oil and goes into the pockets of the richest in society whose wealth grows as hedge funds speculate on the oil market.  There’s plenty of money to pay for an energy transition.

Among the components of a new policy for the workers movement should be: 

Massive investment in wind, solar and tidal energy.

Large-scale expansion of energy storage options.

No more North Sea development. 

Taking the North Sea into public ownership and beginning a planned phased out of production.

Support for oil and gas workers to transition to new jobs.

Regulate energy prices to consumers and tax big oil and the rich to end the cost-of-living crisis.

COP26 gave us a glimpse of the potential power when the workers movement and the climate movement come together.  Together we can win.

COP27 ‘Don’t be fooled by Sisi’s climate lies’

A message from the Egypt Solidarity Campaign

Egyptian activists warn ahead of COP27 summit

As Egypt prepares to host the COP27 climate summit in November 2022, Egyptian activists have issued an urgent appeal to the global climate justice movement not to be taken in by the regime’s claims to speak on behalf of ordinary people in the Global South. In a statement published by Egypt Solidarity Initiative, the Egyptian Campaign for Climate and Democracy warns that the regime of Abdelfattah al-Sisi is planning to use the COP27 conference to burnish its reputation after presiding over a decade of brutal repression. 

“The aim of this greenwashing is twofold: first, to extract as much financial aid as possible from the rich industrialised countries. Most of this money will end up being syphoned out of the country into the bank accounts of Sisi and his generals in those same industrialised countries. Second, is to distract from his abysmal human rights record, and as usual, the leaders of the supposedly democratic Western governments will allow him to get away with it.” 

The Egyptian Campaign for Climate and Democracy

While the COP27 conference takes place, thousands of people have been jailed and abused for demanding basic democratic rights, including journalists, activists, academics and students. The response of the military regime to protests and campaigns related to environmental issues has been just as harsh, whether over plans to build coal-fired power stations, polluting industries or the destruction of green spaces. Climate justice movements attending the summit are likely to find themselves alongside ‘astroturf’ government-sponsored ‘climate campaigns.’ 

“No real Egyptian opposition activists will be allowed near Sharm El-Sheikh during the conference. It would be a shame if genuine global grassroots movements are fooled into taking part in such a state-orchestrated charade” 

The Egyptian Campaign for Climate and Democracy

This appeal follows a similar warning by jailed activist Alaa Abdelfattah, a British citizen who was convicted of ‘terrorism’ for posts on social media and other trumped charges. Alaa has been on hunger strike since 2 April to protest at the abusive conditions in prison. He is also calling for a consular visit from the British embassy. “Of all the countries to host [the COP27] they chose the one banning protest and sending everyone to prison, which tells me how the world is handling this issue. They’re not interested in finding a joint solution for the climate,” he told his sister during a prison visit. 

Writer and activist Naomi Klein has also sounded the alarm. “The international climate movement must start paying attention to what is happening in Egypt’s prisons,” she told the Guardian. “We cannot sleepwalk to Cop27 as if these are not crimes against humanity.”

The TUC has also called on the British government to hold the Egyptian regime to account during COP27 for its attacks on workers’ rights to organise. In a statement published in June, ahead of preparatory talks in Bonn ahead of the COP27 conference, the TUC said: 

“The Egyptian trade union organisations affiliated to the ITUC – the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions and the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress – have faced repeated repression, with labour organisers forced to retire, limiting the unions’ ability to function. … Vital to tackling the climate emergency is the need for freedom of association and the rights of workers and communities to organise for change. Since seizing power, the Egyptian government has consistently demonstrated a disregard for human life and these fundamental freedoms. By hosting COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian government will have an unprecedented opportunity to greenwash its atrocious record in human rights”

TUC statement, 10 June 

What you can do: 

  • Read the full statement from Egyptian activists online here
  • Share with climate networks in your country and on social media 
  • Take action in solidarity with Egyptian political prisoners, write to your MP or government calling on them to demand the Egyptian regime releases political detainees and stops repressing protest.Go to FreeAlaa.net for more information on Alaa’s campaign. Find out more here about the cases of journalist and lawyer Hisham Fouad and Haitham Mohamedain.

The Transport Revolution

An international conference in Brussels organised by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation 27-28 June

Ellie Harrison (Get Glasgow Moving) and Mike Downham (ScotE3), representing their organisations in the Free Our City coalition which campaigns for free, publicly owned, democratically controlled buses across Greater Glasgow, were invited to speak at this conference as a result of contacts made during COP26. They also showed the Reel News film of the Free Our City protest during the COP as previously published on this Blog.

Here Mike Downham summarises his reactions to the conference:

It was a privilege and a pleasure to be invited to speak at this conference and to get to know in the evenings the other speakers from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Brazil.

The lid on the coffin of cars was firmly nailed down, whether powered by a combustion engine or by electricity. It was clearly demonstrated that if cars continue to be produced there is no way that carbon emissions can be reduced in time to avoid a more than 1.5 degree rise in global temperature  or that levels of poverty will fall in time to prevent societal chaos, despite the huge effort by car manufacturers to greenwash electric cars. We were able to point out that in any case only 49% of households in Glasgow have access to a car – that figure predating the price rise in cars and the cost of living crisis.

The EU’s carbon emissions discourse has been reduced to targets and choice of technology, with little reference to just transition for the millions of car manufacturing workers across Europe – 800,000 in Germany alone – nor to the transformation needed, especially in the way we move about our cities. Furthermore the emissions targets look less and less realistic.

Moving to mass transport is as urgent as stopping oil and gas extraction. Free public transport is also a more immediately attractive concept for large numbers of people than doing without oil and gas.

Three expert speakers (Ellie Harrison of Get Glasgow Moving, Alana Dave of the International Transport Workers Federation, and Mario Candeias of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation) told us exactly what needs to be done about public transport – above all that it needs to be publicly owned, democratically controlled, integrated in a way that gets people quickly to where they want to go, and free. 

Electric Bus pixabay.com CC0

Key to the transformation of transport are the highly developed skills, self-esteem and producer pride of car production workers. These skills are needed in the production of electric buses, trains, bicycles and ships. Some but not all workers will need new training, giving them the choice to remain within the transport sector or into other carbon negative sectors like renewable energy, or carbon neutral jobs in public services.

Transport needs to be seen as a common good and a right. Mobility poverty is as urgent an issue as fuel poverty and food poverty, though in Brazil, where there are 30 million hungry people, transformation of transport will inevitably take longer to achieve, even if Lula regains power.

Once again we know what to do – that’s not the issue – the issue is how to achieve the power to get it done. But transport workers have more power than most other workers, both because so many people rely on them in their day-to-day lives, and because many of their skills are hard to replace – witness the current RMT rail workers strikes, and the Rolls Royce workers in East Kilbride who grounded half the Chilean Air Force in 1974.

Mario Candeias speaks of a pathway to power: 

MOVEMENTS → STATE INTERVENTION → PUBLIC OWNERSHIP → INDUSTRIAL STRUCTURAL CHANGE OVERSEEN REGIONALLY BY WORKERS AND USERS

The question is what movements? He suggests partnerships between existing trade unions and civil society organisations. In my opinion movements which can reach sufficient scale fast enough are more likely to arise from new formations, especially those led by young people currently active for climate justice. These are currently targeting their civil disobedience on oil, gas and coal production sites, recognising that opposing forces largely reside in the fossil fuel industries. Will they also see the need to target car production sites to challenge the huge power of Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW? 

These discussions were taking place in Brussels, where it’s estimated that there are between 15,000 and 30,000 lobbyists – that’s between 20 and 40 per Member of the European Parliament. Of these 87.5% represent capital interests.

The most encouraging thing for me was to have two days in international company – the first non-remote opportunity for me since before the pandemic. I was left reflecting about the central importance of workers and communities united across borders in opposing the power of capital. The EU is perhaps an object lesson about how not to deal with borders – the old issue of merging economically, but retaining political independence. The speaker from Hungary described his country as in a “German trap”, German companies using cheaper Hungarian labour for their assembly lines for both cars and weapons.

Further reading – English copies of these three booklets, all published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, are available free in limited numbers. If you’re interested please contact me first at mandrdownham@phonecoop.coop

Switching Lanes by Mario Candeias, 2022

The European Car Lobby by Tobias Haas and Hendrick Sander, 2019

Industry 4.0 by Christopher Wimmer 2019

Solidarity with the railworkers

We are pleased to republish this statement from the Climate Justice Coalition – please follow up on the suggested actions and share widely

Solidarity with RMT members – no Climate Justice without workplace justice

The Climate Justice Coalition stands in solidarity with RMT members taking industrial action to protect their pay, jobs and working conditions, and the wider fight to protect a public transport system for people – social need – not private greed.  Billions are being cut from our transport system at a time when we should be increasing investment to ensure a fully public, affordable, integrated, and sustainable transport system. 

Our railways are already being impacted by the effects of climate change, putting additional demands on a stretched workforce providing an essential public service.  This action by the Government is symptomatic of their disregard for the concerns of climate, environment, and workers.

As a coalition representing groups within climate and environmental campaigns, faith, race and social justice groups, and trade unions, we call on you all to support this struggle.  This includes adding our voices to resist the anti-trade union and worker narrative being driven by the Government in the mainstream media and publicise that it is their inaction and behaviour that is detrimental to people, not workers seeking justice.

Inaction on climate change is harming innocent people across the globe. Protecting the rights of workers and living standards must be a priority for the climate justice movement in fighting for a Just Transition to a zero-carbon economy.

We stand with the RMT to fight for their aims, and to campaign for a better deal for workers and a fairer, climate just, society.

Support the Strike:

💌 Write a letter of solidarity to the striking workers from your organisation, union branch or group: info@RMT.org.uk 

📣 Join a picket line! https://strikemap.co.uk/

🚋 Discuss the strike in your workplaces, communities, and coalition hubs. 

 Write to your MP: actionnetwork.org

Why nuclear is not the answer to the climate crisis

Our new briefing – number 15 – looks at nuclear power.

New nuclear power stations are central to the UK government’s new energy strategy. Some influential environmentalists like George Monbiot support nuclear as part of tackling the climate crisis and the Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change (IPCC) argue that globally by 2050 energy production should 70% renewables and 30% nuclear.  So why do we say that there should be no role for nuclear?  In this briefing we explore the arguments around nuclear and demolish some of the myths about nuclear power.

A military technology

The raw material for nuclear weapons is produced in nuclear reactors.  In the US, the UK, Russia civil nuclear power was developed after the second world war to support nuclear weapons programmes.  Researchers at the University of Sussex Science Policy Research Unit have shown that to this day the main role of nuclear power in the UK main has  been to subsidise nuclear weapons.  Electricity consumers have paid the price through higher costs, providing a hidden subsidy for the nuclear weapons programme.

Chernobyl CC0 pixabay.com

High cost

Nuclear power costs two to three times as much per unit of electrical energy than offshore wind. Onshore wind and solar is even cheaper.  These comparisons don’t include the cost of decommissioning old nuclear power stations (which takes many decades) or the cost of safely storing the radioactive waste that they generate (which is necessary for thousands of years).  These additional costs are born by consumers and taxpayers.  

Long construction times

Since 2011 construction has started on 57 nuclear power plants around the world.  Ten years later only 15 are operational, with many incurring long delays and massive overruns on predicted costs.  Even advocates of nuclear power argue that it would take around 25 years for new nuclear to make a significant impact to global energy production.

Carbon free? Not at all!

To widespread consternation, the European Commission recently declared nuclear a green technology.  Clearly nuclear reactions don’t generate greenhouse gases.  However, it’s a myth that nuclear is a carbon free resource.  Uranium mining, plant construction, which requires large amounts of concrete, and decommissioning are all carbon intensive. A 2017 report by WISE International estimated nuclear lifecycle emissions at 88–146 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour. More than ten times higher than wind with lifecycle emissions power of about 5–12 grams. Uranium fuel is scarce and carbon emissions from mining will rise as the most easily recoverable ores are mined out.

Safety

The consequences of nuclear accidents are severe.  Proponents of nuclear power downplay the impact of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and argue that the number of deaths was small. In a scrupulous investigation, Kate Brown author of ‘Manual for Survival – A Chernobyl Guide to the Future’ has researched the decades long efforts by the old Soviet Union, and then the US, to cover up the impact of Chernobyl.  She estimates that the true figure for deaths is in the range 35 – 150,000.  Many nuclear plants (like Fukushima) are built close to the sea to provide water for cooling. increasingly these reactors will be at risk as sea levels rise.

CCO pixabay.com

Environmental impact

About 70% of uranium mining is carried out on the land of indigenous people. Mining and leaks of radiation have had a devastating effect on the environment in these areas. Building more nuclear power will result in more leakage of radioactive materials into the environment and more workers exposed to unsafe conditions and preventable deaths.  

Small modular reactors

Rolls Royce is pushing for the development of small modular nuclear reactors as a response to the climate crisis.  It’s argued that they could be built more quickly although this is unproven.  In addition to sharing all the negative features of larger reactors, new research at Stanford University suggests that smaller reactors are less efficient and produce up to 35 times the amount of low-level radioactive waste and 30 times the amount of long lived waste compared with larger reactors.

Scotland

While Westminster is planning huge investments, the Scottish Government is currently opposed to new nuclear generation.  Nevertheless, Scotland has more licensed nuclear installations per head of population than anywhere else in the world.  Only one of these, Torness, is currently generating electricity, and it is scheduled to shut down in 2028.  There will be strong pressure on the Scottish government to buy in to a new generation of reactors.

Alternatives

Advocates of nuclear power argue that nuclear is essential to the energy transition we need because, unlike wind and solar, it is not dependent on the weather or the time of day and so can provide a reliable base load.  There are alternatives – more investment in tidal generation could also support based load supply – and the development of a smart grid involving multiple types of storage – pumped hydro, local heat pumps and battery could ensure an energy supply system that is resilient.  Developing these systems alongside wind and solar would enable the energy system to be transformed much more rapidly than is possible with nuclear.  A nuclear strategy is just too slow to meet the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions over the next decade.  And the big sums of money being channelled in to nuclear divert investment from renewables and prevent that rapid and necessary transition.

Download this briefing.