Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power to change the system

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by superalbs CC BY-SA 4.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edinburgh COP 26 Demo

As the climate talks were starting in Glasgow, the Edinburgh COP26 Coalition and Edinburgh XR held a march of around 400 people from the Meadows to the Scottish Parliament – ending with a rally at the parliament. Speakers included a young activist from Kenya, Friends of the Earth, the Edinburgh Muslim Women’s Association and many more. Ex oil worker Neil Rothnie spoke for Scot.E3.

Neil Rothnie speaking at the rally

No Climate Justice Without Climate Jobs

Scot.E3 is collaborating with other climate jobs campaigns to organise this event at 415pm on November 9th at COP26

There are currently over a dozen national climate jobs campaigns around the world, as well as further green new deal proposals. The articulation between the climate justice movement and the labour movement is, at this moment, still in its early steps and the pandemic has not promoted any sort of coalescence. The Corona Crisis is not an external event, but part of capitalist over-consumption of nature. Climate jobs are therefore one of the key components of any programatic and political alliance between climate and workers movements. Capitalism has no plan but collapse, so we need a plan from below. To overcome the climate crisis we need a political program for society, and workers in all sectors need to be involved in shaping a livable future for humanity, which will take a lot of work!

November 9

4:15 pm UTC+0

Albany Centre. 44 Ashley Street, Glasgow, G3 6DS United Kingdom

Contributors:

Emma Cockburn (Scot3E – Scotland),

Nuria Blázquez (Ecologistas en Acción – Spain),

Jonathan Neale (One Million Climate Jobs – UK),

João Camargo (Global Climate Jobs / Empregos para o Clima – Portugal)

Online:

Josua Mata (Sentro – Philippines)

Julia Kaiser (Students for Future, TV N 2020 – Germany)

Jean-Claude Simon (Transform Europe! – Denmark)

Ditthi Bhattacharya (New Trade Union Initiative – India)

5th International Ecosocialist Encounters

Alongside our friends from the Portuguese Climate Jobs campaign Climaximo , and a host of other organisations, Scot.E3 is supporting the Fifth International Ecosocialist Encounters conference which takes place in Lisbon from 21st to 23rd January 2022.

Find out more on the conference website – but here’s the brief description.

The climate crisis is worsening before our eyes at an accelerating pace.

While the flames of overwhelming fires consume our earth, more and more people are getting expelled from their lands so that extractive and emissions increasing projects can take place, pushing us towards the abyss of climate chaos. As heat waves are getting more intense all around the world, increasingly more people are left in unemployment and precariousness due to the escalating economic and social crisis that the capitalist management of the pandemic worsened. As the seas rise and climate catastrophes such as violent storms, droughts and hurricanes threaten even more populations, the violence towards the already marginalized bodies of our societies increases and access to essential services, such as housing, energy, food, health and water keeps being denied, giving place to the accumulation of profit instead of securing life.

The newest IPCC report confirms what we already knew: in less than two decades we will reach the 1.5ºC temperature limit of global warming whereupon the worst climate phenomena become even more uncontrollable, unless we take urgent and drastic action now.

Capitalist elites keep applying the same profit accumulation mechanisms that have led us here in the first place, creating the illusion that something is being done to fight the climate crisis while taking advantage of all these crisis as new opportunities to amplify profit, militarize and privatize essential life services.

We did not create this scenario nor did we choose to be living in the major civilizational crisis of our times, but we do have the responsibility to stop the climate crisis, leaving no one behind. 

If decades of worsening climate, economic and social crisis created by capitalist business as usual have taught us anything, it is that we ourselves have to assume the political and social mission of reaching climate and social justice on the deadline defined by the climate science.

Since 2014, ecosocialists, ecofeminists, peasants, trade unionists, several social movements and political organizations have been gathering on the international ecosocialist encounters to collectively imagine and set in motion an ecosocialist alternative to the abyss towards which the capitalism and climate collapse push us. In 2018, we started from the understanding of ecosocialism as a critical political theory and practice, which sets itself the joint task of dismantling capitalism, productivism and inequality, and constructing the alternative that can produce ecosocial justice. It does so by addressing at the same time the crucial issues of the purpose of economy and work, of production and social reproduction, the ownership of the means of production, the sharing of essential commons and solidar democratic decision-making. At the same time, it bears in mind the restoration of our wounded ecosystems.

In 2022, on the 5th International Ecosocialist Encounters, we start from all this understandings to seek more answers and collectively built a stronger international articulation, capable of fighting the major crisis of our times. 

Together we will envision the ecosocialist world we need, starting to shape with which tools and strategies we can achieve it.

Global Climate Jobs Network – Technical Conference

ScotE3 has been working with other organisations in the Global Climate Jobs Network, the Alternative Information and Development Centre (South Africa) and Climaximo and Empregos para o Clima (Portugal), on a proposal for a technical conference to be held in March 2022.

Call for Papers

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.

Facing Catastrophe

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. 

Image by Pierre Banoori CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

Image by Pete Linforth – Public Domain

Jonathan Neale (his book Fight the Fire published in February can be downloaded free from The Ecologist 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.

No new North Sea development

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.  

Trident and Jobs

We are currently updating all our briefings and working on some new ones. The original version of Trident and Jobs was published three years ago. The issue is as important now as it was then. You can download the PDF version here. Like all our briefings it is published under a Creative Commons License that means you can download, use and adapt provided you acknowledge the original was published on this site.

Briefing 4

The case for scrapping Trident

In 2015 the joint STUC /Scottish CND report ‘Trident and Jobs: the case for a Scottish defence Diversification Agency’ was launched at the STUC congress.  The report provides a powerful case for scrapping Trident and strong arguments that defence diversification would have a massively positive effect on jobs and employment.  However, six years on the Westminster government is pushing ahead with Trident replacement.  

According to CND UK this will be at a cost of at least £205 billion. This money should be spent on jobs, homes, education, and health, improving the lives of the British people without threatening the lives of others.

Nuclear weapons are a threat to us all

But the case against Trident isn’t just a case for better jobs.  A Unite Executive statement in 2010 summed up the wider case against Trident, saying:

The question of Britain’s nuclear weapons system is not about employment alone, however.  It is first of all a moral issue, and then a strategic one concerning Britain’s place in the world and the international development we wish to see.  Such weapons would, if used, constitute a mortal threat to humanity’s survival; they are massively expensive; senior military figures have described them as ‘militarily useless’ and said that they should be scrapped; and our possession of them encourages other countries to seek a similar arsenal.

No time for business as usual

Despite excellent policy positions, in practice, unions organising in the defence industry have continued to argue for the status quo on the grounds that Trident represents jobs.  We argue that when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are so high that immediate action is required to avoid catastrophic climate change and with high levels of unemployment business as usual is not an option.

A million climate jobs

It’s time to combine the powerful economic and moral cases against Trident with the case for the major reorientation in economic activity that makes a rapid transition to a low carbon economy possible.  This is not a fanciful notion.  The Campaign Against Climate Change has worked through in detail how a million climate jobs across the UK could be paid for and could make the transition in short order.  Defence diversification and a transition to a low carbon economy can work hand in hand. The workers and the skills that currently support Trident and other parts of the defence industries are an essential and necessary part of the transition.

Jobs under threat

Jobs in the defence sector in Scotland are under threat with reduced frigate orders and the end of the aircraft carrier contracts.  Arguing for the status quo to protect jobs has simply slowed a decline in employment.  The strategy has failed and will not work in the future.  Waiting for the private sector to intervene and invest in alternative construction jobs is also a strategy doomed to fail.  Industries that aim for short term profit will not take the long-term decisions required.  

Action for change

Change will have to be fought for.  However, the time is right and there are openings we can exploit.  In 2016 the Scottish Government nationalised the Ferguson shipyard on the Clyde.  In the same year it announced a proposal to consider a state-owned energy company.  But progress has been glacially slow.  A necessary sense of urgency could be injected with a campaign that unites trade unions, environmentalists, and peace campaigners.  A state energy company needs to be more than just a retailer of green energy.  It could coordinate investment into production and distribution and plan long term for retraining and training in the necessary skills for climate jobs.  And in protecting jobs and creating new jobs it could win the argument with those workers in defence, construction and oil and gas who feel vulnerable to change.

If not now when?

To get such a campaign moving and transform policy into action requires urgent and democratic debate among the workforces involved and serious and sustained support from their unions and from environmental campaigns.  The stakes are high, but we have the possibility of taking a real lead in Scotland.  In the words of Primo Levi – if not now when?

About Scot E3
Scot.E3 is a group of rank-and-file trade unionists, activists, and environmental campaigners. In 2017 we made a submission to the Scottish Government’s Consultation on a Scottish Energy Strategy. Since then, we have been busy producing and sharing leaflets and bulletins.

We believe there is a compelling case for a radical shift in energy policy. Large numbers of jobs have been lost in the Scottish oil and gas sector. Nearly a third of Scottish households suffer from fuel poverty with the elderly worst affected. In 1989 primary energy capacity in Scotland was 45% more than the level of demand, yet we’re heading for a serious shortfall in energy production by 2030. And looming over all this is the prospect of catastrophic climate change, which will wreck the future for our children and grandchildren. 

The stakes couldn’t be higher. However, we have the knowledge and the skills to make a difference to people’s lives in the here and now. Leaving things to ‘the market’ is clearly not working. A sustainable future requires a coherent strategy for employment, energy, and the environment. We need a sense of urgency. We need a coordinated strategy and massive public investment. 

In Scotland we have a unique set of circumstances: a strong skills base; abundant resources for sustainable energy production; and an opportunity to develop a strategy that puts jobs and environment at the heart of economic strategy. What we do locally could be an inspiration for action worldwide.