How urgent is an “emergency”?

This post by Ian Campbell was first published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in response to a joint editorial published by the BMJ and other journals on the climate emergency.  There was no coverage of carbon budgets (to show the urgency) or of the problem of widespread self-censoring that has been identified by Scientists for Global Responsibility.  We repost it here with permission from Ian and from the BMJ.

The UK’s share of the Paris-compliant global carbon budget will be used up in 3.3 years

How urgent is an “emergency”? The word usually implies that immediate action is needed, but in the two years since the declarations of a climate emergency by many national and local administrations following the 2019 street protests, there has been little effective action. In some countries, e.g. the UK, fossil fuel use has even been encouraged by measures such as further road building. It is all a long way from the “rapid and far-reaching transitions”, taking just a few years, that was envisaged by the IPCC SR15 report of 2018, which sparked the street protests.

We can quantify the urgency of the climate emergency in terms of the residual carbon budget – i.e. how much more CO2 can be dumped into the atmosphere without a major risk of exceeding 1.5°C global warming – and how soon this budget will be used up at current emission rates. It turns out that the UK’s fair share of the global carbon budget will be used up in 3.3 years. The maths are simple, but this timescale of 3.3 years is so far from what is being discussed, even in your editorial, that it is worth explaining the calculations in detail, as follows, so that readers can check for themselves. 

The 2021 IPCC AR6 report (Table SPM.2 p38) gives 400 billion tonnes CO2 as the global carbon budget to keep global warming to less than 1.5°C with 67% confidence. This is from the start of 2020. With a world population close to 8 billion, and using an assumption of global equity, this is 50 tonnes per person on the planet as a lifetime limit. The UK’s current CO2emissions are around 10 tonnes per person per year, according to a WWF report (Figure 21, p46). So the UK’s 50 tonnes per person will be used up in 5 years from January 2020, i.e. in December 2024, which is 3.3 years from now. 

This should not come as a surprise to people in the UK since similar calculations were done by the Tyndall Centre after the 2018 SR15 report, and are readily available for each UK local authority. These typically give a fair share of the global carbon budget as running out in 7 years from 2020 at current emission rates – the period is 7 rather than 5 years since the local authority data provided by BEIS is incomplete in not including emissions that are embedded in imports. Despite being so readily available, these reports have been almost completely ignored.

Photo by Marina Leonova on Pexels.com

Why is the need for radical change (emission cuts of double digit percentages per year) not common knowledge? Firstly, the UK Government promotes its Net Zero 2050 plan as a satisfactory solution, but the Government is not being sufficiently transparent that emissions from aviation, shipping and imports are excluded, or about the implications of the commitment to global equity, or about the feasibility of the implied technological solutions. Many commentators repeat the Government’s claims without challenge, but youth climate activists see through them and are speaking up about the deceits. Secondly, for various reasons, many climate scientists and many NGOs are self-censoring about the size and urgency of the changes needed – it is easier to campaign against the expansion of a particular airport than to explain the blunt truth that any leisure flying using fossil fuels is incompatible with a lifetime personal carbon budget of 50 tonnes CO2, since a reliable food supply and keeping warm are much higher priorities. 

Yet another COP may help, but what is really needed is for everyone to tell the truth about the climate emergency so that it is treated as an emergency, and to call out misinformation and deceits whoever makes them (however uncomfortable that is), as is advocated by Scientists for Global Responsibility in their Science Oath. It is clear that we cannot rely on governments to take the right decisions by themselves, however much they are urged to. It is up to citizens to be much more involved in policy making, and health professionals with their independence and their experience in making and explaining tough choices are well placed to make a major contribution to this. 

G7 – the world is watching

Scot.E3 has signed up to a statement on the G7 summit that is taking place in Cornwall between the 11th – 13th of June. Please follow the link and add your name and if possible get your organisation to sign too.

G7 the world is watching

The countries meeting at the G7 in Cornwall between June 11th -13th comprise just 10% of the world’s population but hold 62% of the world’s wealth and spend more on their militaries than the rest of the world put together.  

They are responsible for 

 – the lions share of historical carbon emissions  

–  and are still investing over $100 billion a year into coal, gas and oil. 

If the world is to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown the G7 meeting needs not only to commit to 

– single mindedly going flat out for domestic transition to sustainability, but also to  

– stop financing and subsidising fossil fuels and 

– pay its dues to the international community;  including the $100 billion a year pledged at Copenhagen for the developing world to cope both with immediate climate impacts and to develop without fossil fuels and 

– seek global co-operation not conflict. 

Claims to “global leadership” will be judged the world over against these benchmarks.  

I/we call on the G7 to meet them 

The online link can be found here

Scot.E3 is also part of the Edinburgh COP 26 Coalition which is organising for a solidarity rally at the Scottish Parliament at 11am on Saturday 12th June

Scot.E3’s campaigning pledge for COP26

With the delayed COP26 United Nations Climate talks scheduled for Glasgow in November the eyes of the world are on Scotland in 2021.

The Westminster and Holyrood governments aim to present themselves as international leaders in tackling the climate crisis.  However, the policy of both governments is to maximise economic recovery of North Sea oil and gas.  The Sea Change report shows how this policy is completely incompatible with keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees centigrade.   Oil and gas production needs to stop here in Scotland and worldwide.  At the same time the lives and livelihoods of those working in oil and gas must be protected.

We therefore demand:

  1. The immediate cessation of all new exploration, development and drilling activity in the British sector of the North Sea.
  2. A planned and phased end of oil and gas production in the North Sea that would ensure that activity ends by 2030.  
  3. The establishment of a publicly owned and democratically controlled Scottish Climate Service with a five-year target to create 100,000 climate jobs. The SCS would manage new investments in the production, distribution and storage of renewable energy and Scotland wide projects, for example, retrofitting homes and offices to high insulation standards and district heating.
  4. Guaranteed employment and retraining with the SCS for all oil and gas workers whose jobs end as a result of decommissioning.

We would like individuals and organisations to discuss the pledge, support and campaign for it.  If you, or your organisation, would like to add your name to the list of supporters, please email Scot.E3 at triple.e.scot@gmail.com .  You can use the form on our contact page if you wish.  The list of signatories is here.Please get in touch If you would like someone from Scot.E3 to speak at a discussion on the issues that the pledge raises

Glasgow Trade Unionists organise for COP26 and beyond

Stuart Graham writes about how trade unionists in Glasgow are organising for COP26 and beyond

Glasgow Trades Union Council (GTUC) attended the STUC Trades Councils conference on Sat 30 January and had requested that a session was added to deal with COP26 and the required level of mobilisation for the Nov summit.  Consequently 2 of the Glasgow delegates led the session to discuss the work started on one campaign (Free Our City campaign for free public transport) and the intention to devise another (along similar coalition-building type lines) around a retrofitting agenda for the city.  The opportunity to engage with Glasgow City Council on these issues has been presented by the fact that GCC declared a climate emergency in June 2019, published a list of recommendations from the Climate Emergency Working Group that considered the response and has subsequently undertaken public consultations on transport and the wider Climate Emergency Implementation Plan (CEIP).  While these are not always going to provide the desired solutions (indeed the transport proposals are particularly frustrating at this stage) this does provide some kind of opening to initiate genuine social dialogue and discuss what social protections are actually needed in the process of just transition. However, we need to ensure that such social dialogue remains genuine and capable of being a two-way conversation and not just a monologue with the option to tell the council in question how much you agree or disagree with an already defined endpoint.

As the provision of renewably-powered, free public transport is one of the significant, societal transformations that the Free Our City coalition (which includes GTUC) has identified as capable of delivering the just transition to a low carbon/carbon neutral economy, GTUC will be meeting with trades councils from the local authorities surrounding Glasgow to devise a common approach to take to the politicians which sit on the Strathclyde Regional Cabinet.  Bus service provision in Greater Glasgow cuts across local authority boundaries to such an extent that we will require a common mobilising agenda that is also capable of being adapted as we go.  Whether we view this solely from the perspective of municipal bus transit for a domestic population, or consider the amount of visitors we may be hosting come November (if the covid-19 vaccine roll-out permits an in-person attendance at COP26 that we were expecting pre-pandemic), we need to continue to make the case that the Bus Service Improvement Programmes (BSIPs) that continue to subsidise private companies like First Bus and Stagecoach, with public funds, are neither good enough nor capable of delivering what bus users across Greater Glasgow need.  Therefore irrespective of the current or anticipated positions of the various administrations which make up the Strathclyde Regional Cabinet, part of any campaign on public transport/buses needs to have the demand for public ownership and democratic control at its centre.  Public sector job creation – as drivers or mechanics as well that offered through renewables-focused supply lines – would also result from re-municipalization. 

GTUC are in the early stages of devising a local retrofitting campaign too and are watching with interest the progress of and obstacles to Leeds TUC’s retrofitting report and recommendations. Carbon emissions from domestic energy use/consumption remains a significant contribution to the city’s overall emissions levels, and while GCC’s CEIP has a commitment to a retrofitting programme, it is nowhere at the scale or level of ambition which will be required to retrofit all of the city’s homes, which will have different specifications depending on property types, ranging from multi-storey flats to tenemental and four-in-a-block properties.  While still in its very early stages, what is known about the scale of the retrofitting task ahead of us all, is that it has massive, public sector job creation potential and this is what we want to see.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs created to carry out the deep retrofitting of all homes, with the associated training available to those who want to work in this sector, as well as for those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic or are finding it particularly difficult as they are younger workers with little to no work experience because of the lack of real job opportunities (both pre- and mid-pandemic) and being forced into precarious work.  We will once again attempt to do so through coalition-building, and hope that Living Rent will also be one of the coalition partners due to its status and work as the only tenants union in the city.  

We appreciate that the priorities detailed are specific to Glasgow/Greater Glasgow and rely upon the demands of urban societies/economies.  And we know that some of the more rural local authorities/trades councils eg. Highlands & Islands, will have significantly differing demands, including a greater reliance on electrical vehicles.  Once known, these aspects can be better articulated, but will take some time to properly assess.  However, the proposal is to use one, other or both campaigns as a mobilising template or impetus which trades councils can then use to build coalitions and bespoke campaigning agendas around.  Transport and housing affect everyone – so the aim is to try and harness the energy that type of appeal can bring as a common mobilising agenda across trades councils.  Scottish trades councils will be meeting more regularly throughout 2021 under these and other auspices, to bring their affiliates under the banner of the COP26 coalition and call for more participation and action at all levels, and as we (in Glasgow at least) will definitely be here for the Nov summit, to build for it as if we are expecting a million people are (still?) coming to town.

Net Zero Targets – just greenwashing?

In the lead up to COP 26 in Glasgow the UK government will be pushing governments and corporations to declare new net-zero targets.  With every announcement we can expect politicians and large parts of the media to declare that these are real steps on the road to tackling the climate crisis.  In most cases this will not be the case. 

An excellent new report ‘Not Zero:  How net zero targets disguise climate inaction’ produced by a partnership of six climate justice organisations spells out why we should look very critically at the claims made for net zero.

The report argues that

Far from signifying climate ambition, the phrase “net zero” is being used by a majority of polluting governments and corporations to evade responsibility, shift burdens, disguise climate inaction, and in some cases even to scale up fossil fuel extraction, burning and emissions. The term is used to greenwash business-as-usual or even business-more-than-usual. At the core of these pledges are small and distant targets that require no action for decades and promises of technologies that are unlikely ever to work at scale, and which are likely to cause huge harm if they come to pass. 

Typically net zero strategies allow greenhouse gas emissions to continue while assuming that at some stage in the future equivalent amounts of carbon can be removed from the atmosphere.  The technologies proposed for this are untested at any significant scale.  Moreover, the sums just don’t add up.  We’ve written elsewhere on this site about BECCS (Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage).  Where they use tree planting or other forms of taking carbon dioxide by plants there is simply not enough space on the planet to achieve the targets.  

The report suggests some key questions when net zero plans are being discussed.

  • When the “net zero” target is reached, how much GHG pollution will still be taking place? Will GHG emissions be reduced to nearly zero – or not? 
  • How much CO2 removal does the plan rely on to reach “net zero”? How and where will this be achieved? 
  • Which sectors and GHGs are included? Some or all?3 
  • How many years or decades before a country or corporation can claim to be at “net zero”? 
  • Between now and the “net zero” target date, how many cumulative emissions in total will have been added to the atmosphere? 
  • Will there be “overshoot”, i.e. accumulating atmospheric emissions that take the planet to more than 1.5°C of warming before the assumed CO2 removals take place, thus significantly increasing the risk of crossing irreversible tipping points? 

The conclusion is that effective action on climate requires strategies to drive down greenhouse gas emissions to zero.  

Key findings from the report 

  • The term “net zero” is used by the world’s biggest polluters and governments as a façade to evade responsibility and disguise their inaction or harmful action on climate change. 
  • “Net zero emissions” does not mean “zero emissions” and should not be accepted at face value. 
  • There is simply not enough available land on the planet to accommodate all of the combined corporate and government “net zero” plans for offsets and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) tree plantations. 
  • Collectively, “net zero” climate targets allow for continued rising levels of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions, while hoping that technologies or tree plantations will be able to suck carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air in the future. 
  • By putting the burden for carbon sequestration onto land and tree plantations in global South countries – which have done little to cause the climate crisis – most “net zero” climate targets are effectively driving a form of carbon colonialism. 
  • Many governments and corporations have pledged to achieve “net zero” by a distant date, further compounding the harm caused. “Net zero by 2050” is too little, too late. 
  • When assessing “net zero” targets, we must remember key questions of fairness and ethics: Whose land? Whose forests? Whose emissions? Whose responsibility? 
  • Instead of relying on future technologies and harmful land grabs, we need climate plans that radically reduce emissions to Real Zero. 

The Urgency of Now – Climate Jobs and Just Transition

The Cop26 Coalition is holding a global gathering from the 12th – 16th November.  Register here.

Scot.E3’s contribution to the gathering is ‘The Urgency of Now – Climate Jobs and Just Transition’ which takes place at 6pm on the 15th November.

The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified calls for a global Green New Deal – an urgent transformation of the global economy with massive investment to tackle climate change and address inequality. But what does a just transition look like for oil workers facing immediate redundancies because of low oil prices and privatisation? And with much wider unemployment expected, how do we take the initiative to create momentum for climate jobs on a local level, creating solutions rooted in communities and a real alternative?

This workshop draws on recent research with offshore oil and gas workers in Scotland. While many are looking for better job security, they are not being given a clear path to transfer their skills to renewable energy. The oil industry in Brazil also faces insecurity due to privatisation. Meanwhile, campaigns for free public transport in Glasgow and for a mass home retrofitting programme in Leeds are challenging the piecemeal approach taken by national government and calling for investment that meets the needs of local communities and creates climate jobs ‘from the ground up’. Workshop participants are invited to bring their experiences of mobilising for a just transition and climate jobs in their own sector / community.

All events will take place on Zoom and we will email through the relevant links beforehand when you register. You can get help installing zoom here. 

Contributors
Antony Devalle (Sindipetro-RJ, Brazil), Gabi Jeliazkov (Platform), Stuart Graham (FreeOurCity), Ellen Robottom (Leeds Trade Union Council)

Free Our City

Scot.E3 is part of the Free Our City campaign which launches with a conference on 19th September. We’re demanding a world-class, fully-integrated and accessible public transport network for Glasgow – free at the point of use.

Over the last few years hundreds of forward-thinking cities across the world – from Kansas to Calais – are upgrading their public transport networks and making them free for everyone to use. This radical policy is a necessary one: to address the climate emergency and gross inequalities in our society.Free public transport benefits everyone, but especially those living on poverty pay or benefits, young people, women, black and ethnic minorities – who all rely on public transport more. In a city like Glasgow with such low car-ownership (49% of households), free public transport would have a dramatic effect in reducing social isolation and lifting people out of poverty.

Last year, Glasgow City Council agreed the ambitious target to reduce the city’s emissions to net-zero by 2030, and agreed to undertake a ‘formal assessment of the potential for making the transition to a public transport system that is free to use’.

The Free Our City coalition has been founded to ensure this ‘assessment’ becomes action, and that this policy becomes a reality sooner, rather than later. We don’t have time to waste. Reliance on private cars is the main cause of carbon emissions and toxic air pollution in our city. In order to meet the 2030 target, car mileage will have to be cut by as much as 60% in the next ten years [1]. We need to provide universal and comprehensive active travel and public transport networks, so that everyone can fully participate in the social and economic life of our city without need or aspiration to own a car.

Free public transport also has economic benefits which far outweigh the cost of running it – returning £1.70 to the economy for every £1 spent, [2] and it can pay for itself in increased tax receipts. But it is only practical and cost-effective to deliver with full public control of the whole public transport network [3]. We must therefore use all new powers available in the Transport Act 2019 to re-regulate our bus network (under ‘franchising’) and set up a publicly-owned bus company for Greater Glasgow to take over routes and reconnect the communities left stranded by private bus company cuts. 


Why now? 

The coronavirus crisis has proved that public transport is an essential public service to get our keyworkers to their jobs. It has also laid bare the absurdities of running our public transport on a for-profit basis. The need to maximise profits from fares is not compatible with current social distancing guidance. When services were reduced during lockdown, they ended up costing us more to run. The Scottish Government has already bailed-out failing private bus companies by more than £300 million. This should be an opportunity to buy back our buses, so that they can be run in the public good for the long term.

There are many ways to improve the safety of our public transport and public control is central to them all. If we own and run our own buses, then we control the safety for staff and passengers. We can improve pay, conditions and training for staff. And we can deliver far more frequent and reliable services for passengers to reduce overcrowding, and better plan the routes to speed-up journey times and minimise the need to change. We can upgrade the fleet to zero-emissions electric buses and make them more spacious, with air-conditioning and multiple entrances and exits [4].  Upgrading the fleet of Glasgow buses can be an opportunity to save Alexander Dennis, the world-leading bus production company based at Larbert, which is currently threatening to make 650 workers redundant because orders have slowed down through the coronavirus pandemic [5].

We need to use this crisis as an opportunity to build back a far better public transport network, which actually serves our needs and helps us meet the many challenges of the decade ahead. Once the pandemic has passed, we will be faced with a massive economic crisis and a climate emergency that is not going away.[

 Building a world-class, fully-integrated and accessible public transport network – free at the point of use – will provide the thousands of high quality, ready to go green jobs that we’ll urgently need for our city to make a just and green recovery [6].

Imagine if buses were free?

The Free Our City coalition is launching with a conference “Imagine if buses were free?” on Saturday 19th September. Speakers from other cities which have achieved free public transport will describe how their system works. We will discuss in break-out groups what we need in Greater Glasgow, and how we move forward to achieve it. The conference will be open to all, welcoming representatives of community organisations across Greater Glasgow and interested individuals to share in the discussion. Register for the conference on Eventbrite. Promote the conference by sharing the Facebook Event and the Event Tweet .


[1] During the crisis, publicly-controlled buses in London were made free so that passengers did not need to make contact with the driver to pay fares.

[2] By the end of 2020, as many as 1 in 3 young Scots could be unemployed as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

[3] ScotE3, 2020, Act Now: save lives, save jobs, save the planet

[4] Transport for Quality of Life, 2019, A Radical Transport Response to the Climate Emergency, p.2

[5] Jeff Turner, 2020, How Much Will Free Buses for Glasgow Cost and What are the Benefits?, p.1

[6] Transport for Quality of Life, 2019, A Radical Transport Response to the Climate Emergency, p.4

COP 26 Coalition Statement

COVID-19 Statement: Multiple Crises, Common Injustices

Scot.E3 has signed up to the coalition statement

From soaring death-tolls to the threat of global famine, COVID-19, designated by the World Health Organisation as a pandemic only a month ago, has brought about the rapid disruption of our world economy like no other event in human history.


This is a public health crisis, but it’s also an unprecedented crisis of inequality, as lockdown guidelines, implemented around the world, are followed by the collapse of entire industries, unprecedented spikes in unemployment, a growing scarcity of essential commodities as a consequence of the ongoing disruption to global supply chains, and huge social dislocation arising from these.


A worldwide crisis is being exposed, of lack of access to even basic infrastructure – housing, clean water, energy and food – that would make a lockdown viable for many millions of people around the world. As the negative impacts of disruption set in, it’s the people most deprived of this basic infrastructure that feel the hardest impacts.


Inequalities of race, gender, age and ability are being exacerbated. Those with the means and security to self-isolate and access medical support are able to do so, while those without are left to suffer the consequences.


There are currently more than 70 million people around the world that have been forcibly displaced from their homes. 3 billion people have no access to hand-washing facilities.


This devastating level of deprivation undermines our collective power to contain and suppress the ongoing spread of new disease. We’ve seen no clearer illustration of the way that global inequality threatens the collective security of all of us.


The COVID-19 crisis and the inequalities it exposes are set against the backdrop of our greater ecological crisis. As the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has warned us, this crisis sees humanity on course for a century of “climate apartheid” as the impacts of rising temperatures fall with violent disproportionality between the wealthy and the poor.


As the repercussions of this pandemic plunge the world into deeper economic turmoil, we know that it’s those living already on the frontlines of climate crisis – indigenous communities, subsistence farmers, coastal communities and the urban poor, particularly in the global south – whose lives and livelihoods will again be most at risk.


Even before this pandemic, COP26 was billed as a crucial staging post in the challenge of bringing the world’s political leaders and civil society organisations together to achieve consensus on a pathway to rapidly reducing carbon emissions while building global resilience in the face of climate breakdown.


Necessarily postponed until 2021, COP26 will now be the first meeting of the world’s climate leaders in the wake of COVID-19. We will have survived one of the world’s worst public health crises in a century and we will be seeking a pathway to recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.


COP26 will now be a vital arena in which to demand that this recovery, as yet to be imagined, be both a green recovery, and crucially a just recovery, that tackles the scourge of global inequality at the root, while reducing carbon emissions.
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the deep inequalities in our structures, and highlighted the vulnerabilities of ecological, social and economic systems. But it has also shown how we can and must respond to crises. Our response must put the most vulnerable and marginalised first. It must be urgent and ambitious. It must be democratic, and we must resist authoritarian attempts to use crisis responses to increase their power and control. It must be based on transformative, people-centered solutions rather than political and economic business as usual, and it must be informed by whole systems thinking to ensure a truly just transition.


As we’re now discovering so vividly, our futures are deeply interconnected; whether we acknowledge that or not, there is no path to ecological balance that doesn’t start by putting the goals of social and economic justice front and centre.


Now is not the time to stop talking about climate change. Now is the time to raise our voices even louder, to call out the profiteers, to resist exploitation, to build power and stand in global solidarity as we prepare to tackle multiple crises and fight common injustices.
If you wish to add your group/organisation to the list of signatories, please do so by filling this form.

Briefing 12 – What is the COP?

Our latest briefing (number 12) explains what COP 26 is and discusses some of the issues that it raises. Like all our briefings it’s designed for downloading, sharing and distributing in workplaces and community settings.

What is the COP?

COP stands for ‘conference of the parties’.  Organised by the United Nations, it’s normally held on an annual basis and it is the place where the nations of the world come together to discuss policy on climate action.   So to give it its’ full title COP26 is the 26th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

COP 26 was due to take place in Glasgow in November 2020. However, the actual event is always preceded by a number of inter-governmental meetings.  These have not taken place because of the global pandemic and as a result it has been postponed until 2021.  The new date is not yet known.  At the moment Glasgow is still expected to be the venue. 

A history of failure

The first COP was held in 1995 in Berlin.  It has taken place every year since then. 2020 will be the first year that a COP has been postponed.  In terms of making an impact on greenhouse gas emissions the COPs have been an abject failure. The two most common greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane.  When COP 25 took place in Madrid at the end of 2019 the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had risen 67 parts per million by volume (ppmv) above what it was when the first COP met in Berlin. To put this in perspective CO2 levels increased by more during the 25 years of COP discussions than they had in the previous 200 years.  Methane levels have tripled since 1995.  Greenhouse gases act like an insulating blanket over the earth’s atmosphere and are responsible for rising global temperatures.   So the massive increase in the amount of these gases in the atmosphere is the reason why the climate crisis is now acute and why rapid action to cut emissions is so important.

The Paris Agreement of 2015

Back in 2015 the COP (21) took place on Paris.  The conference ended with an agreement that has since been ratified by 189 out of the 197 countries that participated (The Paris Agreement).  Ratification committed countries to developing plans that would curtail global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees centigrade.  Those who have not ratified include some important oil producers.  Moreover, the USA ratified under Obama but has now withdrawn.  

In principle ratifying the Paris Agreement commits countries ‘to put forward their best efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead.’  The reality has been that progress has been negligible.  The agreement is essentially voluntary and avoids specific targets.  Patrick Bond notes the ‘Agreement’s lack of ambition, the nonbinding character of emission cuts, the banning of climate-debt (‘polluter pays’) liability claims, the reintroduction of market mechanisms, the failure to keep fossil fuels underground, and the inability to lock down three important sectors for emissions cuts: military, maritime transport and air transport.

Paris 2015- the big demonstration defies a police ban – image by Pete Cannell

COP 26

Along with committing countries to regular reporting on progress the Paris Agreement also scheduled 2020 and COP26 as a major milestone at which all the countries would need to assess progress.  Had the COP gone ahead in November an honest assessment could only have been that the Paris Agreement has been a failure.  The failure will have intensified by the time COP26 takes place in 2021.  No one should have high expectations that COP26 will take action to address this failure but it is an important opportunity for the climate movement to hold the rulers of the world to account.  Success for our side must mean a bigger, stronger, better-rooted movement that develops the strength to insist that governments take action.  

COP fault lines

The COP is dominated by the big powers.  So in the negotiations there are sharp divisions between the major industrial nations that are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions and the global south, which endures the biggest impact of climate change.  These divisions were much in evidence at COP 25 in Madrid.  At the COPs and in the run up to them there is also a great deal of activity from non-state organisations.  Businesses, NGOs and union federations lobby before the event and can obtain credentials that enable them to be within the main conference areas.  There is of course a huge imbalance in resources between the corporate lobbyists and the climate campaigners.  Groups that represent women, indigenous people and poor people struggled to have their voices heard within the conference – indeed in Madrid some were excluded for holding a peaceful protest.  The climate movement is mostly excluded from the conference zone by barricades and police; we make our case on the streets and in meetings and the counter summit.  This will be the case in Glasgow.

Cop 25 in Madrid – image from Wikimedia Commons

Why should we organise for the COP?

From the start the COP process has operated within the domain of market economic orthodoxy.  Crudely it has assumed that market forces will drive a move towards less carbon intensive technologies and hence reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  There have indeed been significant developments in sustainable technologies – particularly wind and solar.  And yet at the same time the big energy companies have also pursued a ruthless drive to exploit new hydrocarbon resources in a way that is completely incompatible with even the most modest targets for limiting global warming.   

COP 26 will take place in 2021 in the economic and social aftershocks of a global lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Mobilising for the COP is necessary because the event will be the occasion for a huge onslaught of ‘greenwashing’, aimed at persuading us all that the leaders of the world know best, and that the market, ‘business as usual’, can protect us.  Now more than ever we know that ‘business as usual’ is not simply ineffective in face of global crisis, it costs lives.  So building for mass protest in Glasgow is necessary, but is only part of the ongoing struggle to win a just transition to a people centred zero carbon economy.   

Download the PDF

Report back from the XR “Oil & Gas” Public Meeting

We recently published the Scot.E3 contribution to the XR “Oil & Gas” Public Meeting held in the Garnethill Multicultural Centre, Glasgow on Saturday January 25.  Thanks to Neil Rothnie for this much more comprehensive report.

Rather than try and summarise the individual contributions by invited speakers and the discussions from the work groups, I’ll try and give a sense of what I thought the meeting achieved. 

It was, it seemed to me, a success.  It was well attended.  Maybe 60 odd people? Men and women were fairly equally represented and there was a wide range of ages amongst those attending, though we were predominantly young.  The speakers were good, the meeting attentive and discussion lively. 

The success of the meeting owes much to the fact that it took place at the end of the month long Rig Rebellion 2 which, receiving considerable media attention, had brought the issue of fossil fuel production in UK into sharp focus. This meant that the struggle to end fossil fuel production on our patch was no longer just a theoretical question.  We are engaged.  This was reflected in the meeting.

A document laying out the basic premises on which the meeting was called had been circulated widely in the movement in Scotland. A “critique” of Rig Rebellion 2 presented by Andrew and a further document for discussion presented by Paul had been received by the facilitators and Paul was able to attend and speak to the documents during group discussion.  All three of these documents are appended.

The meeting was facilitated by Dario Kenner, active in XR Families in London who had travelled up with partner and two toddlers – an expression of seriousness if I ever did see one.  Dario is author of “Carbon Inequality: The role of the richest in climate change” (Routledge, 2019). He’s also co-author with Rupert Read of a memo to XR. I’ve appended it.  Dario’s presence, more than any argument, shouts that the struggle to decarbonise the economy, to take on the polluters, is a UK issue as part of a global issue.  Certainly not a Scottish issue. No more than XR Aberdeen can be expected to shoulder the burden of confronting Big Oil, XR Scotland do not have the resources to take on the UK’s major polluters and chief source of UK’s greenhouse gasses.  We are part of a movement that spans the whole of the UK. 

A very personal message from a rebel “allegedly” involved in the most ambitious of the Rig Rebellion 2 actions was delivered to the meeting. It placed central stage, the issue of civil disobedience and direct action against the polluters, and nailed, as central to the struggle for survival, the end of fossil fuel production.  Our speaker challenged the web of relationships in which oil and gas worker, rebels and the myriad other victims of climate change are caught up, in a toxic system built on misinformation, social conditioning, debt, powerlessness, privilege, excuses and ignorance.  Rig Rebellion 2 means that no longer is the discussion about the future of North Sea oil & gas to be solely the property of industry and Government.  The text will be appended if legal advice allows.

My ideas/comment on what the meeting achieved borrows heavily from the contributions of the two main speakers.  Ryan Morrison from Friends of the Earth Scotland talked us, at breakneck speed, through the FotE sponsored “Sea Change” report , and Pete Cannell from Scot E3 took the discussion on to how we respond to this crisis.  I’ve tried to reflect, as best I could,  what came out of the group discussion I was involved in, and/or had notes from.

The big lie at the centre of today’s, still restricted, public discussion about global warming and species extinction is laid out clearly in Sea Change as presented to the meeting by Ryan. We can’t avoid climate chaos without tackling global warming.  We can’t stay “well below” 2 degrees of warming without decarbonising the global economy.  That is, not without the planned rundown of the source of greenhouse gasses – fossil fuel production. (North Sea oil & gas on our patch).  And we can’t decarbonise the economy by following the “magic thinking” of industry and Government (Pete Cannell) who want business as usual and the maximum economic recovery of every barrel of oil & gas under the North Sea.  20 billion barrels more is the industry’s guesstimate. This gives us warning of what the industry plan is globally.

The issue of a “just transition” is central to the struggle to end fossil fuel production, and it’s not just about providing well paid jobs in renewables for workers who stand to lose well paid jobs in oil & gas, important as this is.  Just transition is seen very differently in the global south (Ryan) and when we get the chance to explore this when activists from throughout the global south descend on Glasgow for COP26 later this year, we can show no more solidarity than be seen to be fighting to end to fossil fuel production in the global north starting with on our own patch, the North Sea.

The meeting took the discussion forward from the understanding that the Sea Change report gives us.  Direct action is crucial in applying pressure on industry and Government and as Rig Rebellion 2 did, bringing the issue centre stage.  But it is not in itself enough if the mass of people only look on – scared.  The ideas of a just transition must become the common sense of society. (Pete)  But to do that the ideas need to be sharply defined, not just the easy ones like why the oil & gas needs to stay in the ground, but those that confront the smoke and mirrors employed by industry and Government to justify business as usual.  We need to understand carbon capture and storage (discussed by Ryan).  If, as widely suspected, it cannot be delivered at anything like the  scale required, then we need to be able to expose this with thoroughly researched materials and in a clear and concise fashion.

Multi billion pound taxpayer subsidies (our money) is handed to the industry by a Government whose ear they have.  The threat of job losses in oil & gas that the industry say would accompany the ending of such subsidies and the ludicrous industry claim that they are ready to deliver net zero as a part of the solution as they continue business as usual. (Ryan). Our answer is the massive expansion of renewables during (and financed by) the end to subsidies to the oil & gas, and the planned run down of the industry starting now.  This could leave us with a world class green energy industry to replace oil & gas.  Otherwise where would we be in 2050 if this ludicrous plan for “maximum economic recovery” is allowed to proceed.  Apart from fire fighting the results of another 30 years of full on fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions, we’d still have a reliance on oil & gas from wherever, when the North Sea fields have been pumped dry.

The weakness in the regulatory regime that encourages the misuse of migrant labour who are paid a fraction of the UK minimum wage in the offshore renewables industry was noted. (Ryan)  A practice they no doubt learned from offshore oil decommissioning.  The Sea Change report puts trade union organisation at the centre of a just transition to renewables, though this, given the state of trade unionism on the North Sea, is problematic.

When we confront Big Oil in Dundee and Aberdeen as we have begun to do, who are we actually speaking to?  We challenge the industry’s vice grip on a media traditionally prepared to repeat any old nonsense that flows from oil company PR.  But we’re also speaking to wider society.  Those working in the industry might be the last people to be convinced, but they need to know that the energy transition is inevitable one way or another, and that their intervention will be crucial in determining whether it is to be fair to them or not.  They also need to know they do not have a veto.  All our grandchildren must have a future.

The discussion is impossible for me to record in any readable form.  I’m here setting down some of the ideas that emerged from the contributions of our speakers and from the workgroups I have notes from.  This is obviously not definitive and my be controversial.  It’s not the final say and can only at best provide a framework for further more concrete planning if, as I hope, an Oil & Gas Working Group can be set up to carry forward what the Rig Rebellions have started.

Although direct action can’t stop oil & gas production, it can identify Big Oil as the problem and can generate press interest and effectively open the issues to public scrutiny.  Maybe we can call our self Big Oil’s Big Nuisance.  That’s a joke!  But not for the industry who spend big keeping everyone “on message”.

Only as the role fossil fuels plays in generating greenhouse gasses and climate change becomes “common sense” in society (throughout the UK) can pressure be progressively brought to bear on Government and industry and finance to begin the mass expansion of renewable energy in sync with the rundown of oil & gas production.

The voice of even a small minority of oil & gas workers prepared to speak out on the issue of just transition and a future for their grandchildren would have a powerful effect and therefore outreach amongst this group is particularly important.  But whatever they want to say, the workforce must be encouraged to say it.  It is the workforce who will be forced to transition sooner or later, in a planned or a chaotic way.  They need to intervene if it is going to be anything like fair to them.  The last time there was an energy transition the coal miners and there families and communities, were shafted.

Amongst the citizens of Aberdeen, and amongst oil & gas workers, is where there is likely to be maximum pushback against these ideas, and has to be where we do our most serious listening. They will tell us where our arguments are weakest. Aberdeen also provides us with potential allies amongst those sections of the population who live amongst oil wealth and the high prices it generates, but who are living without oil wages.  Making common purpose with them in the Oil Capital of Europe will bring the spotlight on the iniquity of the system and the nature of Big Oil. The transition is inevitable.  But the industry, left to its own devices, will leave that city with little of value.  What it threatens to leave society with is mass extinction of species

Research into carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen production, pushed as solutions to global warming needs to be accessed and turned into outreach material. 

Imaginative materials allowing us to interact with citizens and oil & gas workers will be needed. 

Media penetration will be important.

Should it be decided that an Oil & Gas Working Group be established to take this discussion further and make concrete plans, I think one of it’s first tasks will be how it can penetrate XR UK Circles, and challenge them to take responsibility for encouraging the whole movement to see ending oil & gas production from the under North Sea, and a major upscaling of renewable energy production, as a major strategical aim for the movement. This will need the whole movement with all its skills and operating at its regenerative best.  UK’s greenhouse gas reserves/emissions are not a Scottish issue. XR UK must be challenged to encourage a movement wide campaign.

None of this is possible unless the necessity becomes “common sense”.  Outreach is fundamental.

This is the year of COP26 in Glasgow.  Let us show our solidarity with the activists from the Global South who come to Scotland.  Let them see our determination to end fossil fuel production in the UK.  We can organise transport and hospitality for Nigerian and other activists from around the world who may want to share our action and give their own message to Shell (and others) in Aberdeen, one of the the Oil Capitals of the Global North. 

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Image: Aberdeen Harbour  CC0 from Pixabay.com