Two critical responses to the EAG ‘recovery’ report

Yesterday we published Scot.E3’s case for immediate and radical action on climate and social justice.  We contrasted our proposals with the recommendations of the Scottish Government’s Economic Advisory Group (EAG), which were published on Monday.  Here two regular contributors to this blog give their personal reactions to the EAG report.  In the coming days and weeks we want o publish more on this topic, but not just on policies and plans, we need to discuss movement building so that we can apply the kind of pressure that is required to achieve the system change we need.

Mike Downham writes of the EAG report:

77 pages of neoliberal propaganda, with passing references to climate change, inequality and racism to soothe the voters – all empty rhetoric, devoid of any proposals on how to address these social injustices other than through increased, top-down private sector activity.

But what else did we expect from a group of eight people hand-picked by a Government wedded to ‘Sustainable’ Growth (sustainable for capitalists) and to extracting the last drops of oil and gas from the North Sea, and which put profit before people’s lives by obsequiously following the UK Government’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic? 4,878 people have died in Scotland as a result of the epidemic at the last count on 16th June. People are still dying as the report is published.

That Graham Smith, previously General Secretary of the Scottish trade Unions Conference, which represents more than 500,000 workers, has put his name to this report is an ultimate manifestation of the successful co-option by neoliberal governments of the trade union bureaucracy.

On Just Transition we’re given “There is the jeopardy, as well as the opportunity, of the transition associated with climate change”, along with carbon capture and storage in the North Sea, and “positive behavioural change”.

This is not the time to “recast a new model”, or to follow “abstract arguments around the creation of new institutions”. By which the Group presumably means a National Climate Service, consisting of the National Investment Bank, a publicly owned Energy Company, and the creation of 100,000 carbon saving or carbon neutral jobs essential for improving the quality of life for people across Scotland, with training opportunities for all those who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, the many more who will soon lose their jobs as the recession bites, and those who didn’t have a job to start with.

Instead we should rely on the “might of the private sector” to create more jobs, because (logically?) that’s where 79% of jobs currently are. The “backdrop” is “constrained public sector resources”, which we know is nonsense.

This has to be based, the Report says, on “transforming some aspects of the relationship between business and the Scottish Government” a relationship which is working “reasonably well for financial services, agriculture and renewables”, but not well enough in other sectors. “If one party in a relationship says it’s not working, it isn’t. This could be “an opportunity for the Government to draw on businesses to second senior executives”. The Group reminds the Government that an election isn’t far away, so it had better get on with improving its relationship with business if it doesn’t want to lose its voters. The tone is overbearing, arrogant and amounts to bullying.

Apart from the pressure of elections, and the need to create more private sector jobs fast, there’s no hurry. Change will take time and will rely on “patient capital”. We need to build an attractive prospectus for inward investment. We also need to develop a new “pragmatic approach to regulation and planning”, for which read privatisation.

Overall, “recovery” is taken to mean recovering growth, sticking to the 2015 Scottish Economy Strategy with its ambition for Scotland to reach the top quartile of OECD countries, as measured by GDP.

There is much further detail in the Report but given that the principles are set in the four pages of the Foreword, it’s questionable whether it’s helpful to study the proposals further.

The underbelly of the report which we can focus on is the triad of trusting the private sector to alleviate social injustice, which history has demonstrated time and again fails; the lack of urgency in relationship to global warming; and a top-down approach as opposed to grassroots leadership, which history has plenty to say about too.

So here, in the flesh, is the “madness”, that ScotE3 and many others have warned against. If we allow these recommendations to fool us, and don’t promote alternative, coherent and more attractive recommendations quickly, we will have lost any possibility of slowing down global warming, and of effectively addressing poverty, inequality and social justice in general. We know, already knew, that only a mass movement will save us against significant attacks from capitalism, of which this Report is the latest.

Matthew Crighton’s view of the report: Green Recovery – what a disappointment

Yesterday started with hearing on Radio 4 the Pope say that the recovery must be ‘just and equitable’. He called for integrity not hypocrisy from politicians. Then came Mark Carney on how getting to net zero is part of the solution to the crisis, for companies as well as countries. He reminded us that net zero is ‘the law of the land’. Would these two be the warm-up acts to the revelation of truly transformative recommendations from the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery?

Image: Public Domain CC0

What a let down, then, to hear at lunchtime from ex-banker Benny Higgins who chaired the Group, set up “to advise the government on actions for economy recovery but also to build a fairer, greener and more equal society”(Nicola Sturgeon 17 April). There were lots of words from him and Nicola, but little useful content that I could find.

There are mentions of inequality in this report – but not one of them comes in the Recommendations! Nothing here for the Pope.

There is a section on prioritisation and delivery of green investments. It reads quite well – but it stands on its own and doesn’t permeate into any of the other recommendations. This is ticking the green box, not delivering a green recovery. The authors haven’t grasped the zero carbon imperative which Carney reminded us of. Instead of using the recovery to drive urgent decarbonisation action, they want to use green investments to boost the economic recovery which is the subject of the other 23 recommendations.

Left to Benny Higgins and his crew, that would be a very conventional recovery. One good thing is that it does call for a boost to investment levels, but it has no suggestions about how to do that apart from asking Westminster for more funds or borrowing powers. No plan for Scottish Green Bonds here, no call for a massive increase in the capitalisation of the Scottish National Investment Bank, just a suggestion that it should invest in housing – which looks dangerously like a dilution of its commitment to funding a Just Transition.

It’s a set of headings taken from the conventional economic development text book which has brought us to the dire state our economy was in before Coronavirus. Why set up an Advisory Group when you have Scottish Enterprise to write this stuff, and do a better job? It’s as if a Green New Deal had never been proposed!

One idea which got some attention is a business-led Scottish Jobs Guarantee scheme which would offer employment for at least 2 years to 16-25 year olds. This is a worthy objective but it misunderstands the challenge. It’s based on the Edinburgh Guarantee, an excellent initiative to address problems of a relatively small layer of young people not in education, employment or training at a time when unemployment was relatively low. We are, however, facing a scenario in which businesses of all sizes will be struggling to retain existing employees, let alone take on new youngsters.

The reference point has to be the mass unemployment of the 1980s and 1990s and the appropriate responses have to include a publicly-led intermediate labour market programme – a Future Green Jobs programme which funds rate-for-the-job employment in green projects to give people skills needed in decarbonising the economy. Not just for young people, there must be a clear offer to the adults who lose their jobs as recession bites. Apart from the expansion of PACE services, which support people facing redundancies, and platitudes about skills and lifelong learning this report offers nothing to them. The Advisory Group doesn’t even want to try a Universal Basic Income.

Disappointed doesn’t do justice to my feelings about this report! Instead of being the climax of a gig with the Pope and Mark Carney as warm-up acts, this was like an embarrassing local band trying to sound like they could share a stage with the stars but fumbling their words and striking some discordant notes as well.

Now that this report has come, and will probably sink without trace, we need to look forward to something sharper and more radical from the Just Transition Commission (it’s Call for Evidence is open until 30 June). And we need to continue to press for the Scottish Government to come forward with a list of specific programmes and policies which can make a difference, like a massive energy efficiency programme for our cold and draughty homes. Nicola Sturgeon can still bring on policies for a just and green recovery but she won’t find much in this report to help her.

Act Now: save lives, save jobs, save the planet

Yesterday saw the publication of ‘Towards a robust, resilient wellbeing economy for Scotland’. The report was written by the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery with a remit to make recommendations to the Scottish Government. As Ben Wray notes in today’s edition of Source Direct the report is strong on buzzwords but devoid of real urgency and concrete proposals. The end of this week is also the deadline for submissions to the Just Transition Commission. As a contribution to this debate we publish the near final draft of Scot.E3’s submission, which makes the case for radical and immediate action on the climate crisis.

Climate Crisis

There has been a yawning gap between the Scottish Government’s rhetoric on the climate crisis and its actions. Vaunted cuts in domestic greenhouse gas emissions are almost entirely attributable to the greening of electricity production and the export of emissions as a result of deindustrialization.   To date the Scottish Government’s actions have failed to measure up to the urgency of the crisis.  

Covid19

However, the impact of Covid19 on society and the economy provides an opportunity to take decisive action.  Job losses in the North Sea oil and gas sector, as a result of the impact on oil and gas prices, are already significant and are increasing rapidly.  There have been layoffs before , however, this time round many analysts are predicting that the sector is unlikely to bounce back.  These redundancies will have a direct additional effect on employment in the supply chain and an indirect effect on local economies, particularly in North East Scotland.  The North Sea is only part of a much larger employment crisis in Scotland that includes tourism, some sectors of manufacturing, education and retail.  

The economic and social dislocation of Covid19 is having a massive impact on the lives and livelihoods of working people in Scotland and across the world.  Attempting to reset the economy to its pre-pandemic state at a time of climate crisis is madness.  Millions of working people will bear the brunt of hardship, unemployment, sickness, stress and anxiety, and precious time to act on a Just Transition to a new sustainable economy will be lost. 

The time to act is now

Many of those being made redundant in Scotland, oil and gas workers, engineers at Rolls Royce, have skills and experience that are needed to develop a new sustainable economy.  They represent a precious resource.  Yet if climate action is deferred, their knowledge and skills will be lost.  Meanwhile, those who have lost their jobs, together with their families, and communities will have repeated the experience of mining communities in the 1980s.   If these workers are not supported now it will be so much harder to win the case that Just Transition is possible.  

Around the world responses to Covid19 have demonstrated that rapid action and mobilisation of human and material resources by governments is possible at a time of crisis.  We suggest that the Commission recommends that the Scottish Government should learn from international responses to the pandemic and tackle the Climate Crisis and ‘recovery’ from the pandemic with the same urgency.

Public information on the nature of the crisis and the policies being adopted will be crucial in winning hearts and minds.  But Just Transition has to go beyond rhetoric – people will not be convinced unless there is clear evidence at every stage that Just Transition is underpinned by actions that have social justice at their heart.   But it should also be based on the premise that while the crisis is global, Scotland has a significant role to play.  We are a country rich in sustainable energy resources.  We have workers with exceptional skills and experience.  We have a historic obligation as part of a British state that contributed massively to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last two centuries.  

Establish a Scottish Climate Service

The JCT Interim report noted that climate action needs to be planned, systemic and coordinated across the whole of the country.  The private sector simply can’t do this, the public sector can.  However, planning requires appropriate infrastructure.  One component of this, the National Investment Bank, is in place – but its role needs to be much expanded.  The mooted State Energy Company, as another supplier in the energy marketplace is inadequate.  It should be replaced by a vertically integrated, publicly run organization that is involved in every aspect of energy; generation, distribution and supply.  The third necessary component is integrated research, education and training, planning, monitoring and evaluation.  Scotland has rich potential in this respect.  The knowledge and creativity from Universities and Colleges, think tanks like Common Weal, unions, workers, communities and climate activists can contribute to a democratic, open and coordinated planning process.  All three components might be seen as part of a Scottish Climate Service.It is perfectly possible to initiate effective action to reduce carbon emissions now.  We have the scientific knowledge and technical expertise.   A great deal of work has already been done on the steps that can be taken immediately.  Our Common Home – Common Weal’s costed blueprint for a Green New Deal for Scotland – is an example.  There will be need for debate and development of the details.   Critically investment should be into technology that exists and that provides solutions that are effective now.  New and unproven technologies like CCS should have a low priority (reversing what seems to be current practice).

Core principles that should underpin recommendations to the Scottish Government

  • End support for maximum economic extraction from the North Sea and begin a managed and rapid phase out of North Sea Oil and Gas through public control of oil and gas production and processing
  • Take INEOS’s Grangemouth facilities into public control
  • No subsidies or compensation for oil and gas companies – they have received super-subsidies for 50 years (see North Sea Taxation report by Juan Carlos Boué)
  • Support the workers who are losing their jobs in the North Sea with guaranteed income and fully funded support for retraining
  • Planning, action and investment for Just Transition should start now – establish a Scottish Climate Service
  • Ensure that social justice is at the heart of transition.  Social justice requires the protection of lives and livelihoods, working with BAME communities to end environmental racism, the creation of a gender equal economy and a focus on further improvement of air pollution in our cities
  • Democracy and accountability – involve energy sector workers, climate activists, workers and communities in the process of building the new sustainable Scottish economy
  • Creation of 100,000+ climate jobs – these are jobs that ensure reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (energy, transport, housing, home insulation, a new smart grid …) and jobs that are neutral with respect to emissions but contribute to health and well-being (care, health, education, recreation, nature conservation, local food production)
  • Ensure the safety of workers in all industries – no one should be penalized for refusing to put themselves in an unsafe working environment
  • A massive expansion in opportunities for education and training in all of the disciplines and skills required for transition – keep full time education free and make part-time education opportunities free for all 
  • Public control over an expanded and integrated free public transport system

Comments on this submission are very welcome as are reactions to the Advisory Group report. Use the contact tab to get in touch.

Not an atom of truth

The supporters of nuclear energy are at it again, attempting to position it as key to a ‘green’ recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and as part of the solution to the climate catastrophe. In this post, first published at www.rs21.org.uk and republished here with permission Scot.E3 activist Brian Parkin exposes the dangerous myths of nuclear power.

Climate of doubt

Nuclear power has made many bold claims on economic viability, safety, reliability and environmental sustainability over the years. Again and again it has been disgraced. But nuclear power is the come-back-kid when it comes to energy technology reincarnation and rebranding. Backed up by state revenues, corporate confidentiality and operational unaccountability, the nuclear industry remains the biggest fraud of the industrial age.

One of the most persistent frauds is the claim that it is the most technologically advanced form of electricity generation available. In fact, the global nuclear inventory is ageing and, as safety fears mount, it delivers ever-decreasing load factors (efficiency) and availability (the amount of time when energy is produced). The industry persistently claims that past operational problems are being resolved with each successive advance in reactor design and waste management improvement. It is forever promising that technological leaps will bring the cost of nuclear-derived power inexorably down.

The advocates of nuclear power now see the current economic and climate crises as an opportunity. Nuclear power still holds onto its reputation as a clean source of energy since it produces neither acid-rain precursors nor COemissions, and does not rely on relatively short-term finite fuel resources. Yet, despite this continually revamped argument, nuclear power cannot address either the prohibitive costs reality nor the safety issues that inevitably arise from an energy source created by fallible humans attempting to harness a power source hotter than the sun. It also hinders rather than advances the path to a low-carbon future.

This article will explain why the periodically disgraced nuclear dream is so dangerous, explain the political power that the industry can mobilise, and resist the arguments of supporters of nuclear power, such as George Monbiot, within the climate movement.

Visit to the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant IAEE Image Bank CC BY-SA 2.0

Proliferation

Today, nuclear power accounts for some 10.5% of all electricity generated worldwide. This power comes from a total of 457 reactors across a total of 31 countries.[1]Initially, the promotion of nuclear power generation was limited to the post-war ‘spheres of influence’ contest between the Soviet Union and the USA that extended their influence via the means of offering client states a various range of infrastructural vanity projects. This arrangement was later complicated by the rift opened up between the USSR and China, mainly in the Indian sub-continent, with India and Pakistan respectively choosing Russia and China as economic allies.

Another factor was the post-war craze for the developing economies (‘Third World’ in the terminology of the time) to obtain sexy totemic technologies that marked their entry into the ‘First World’ via the procurement of mega-projects that gave swagger-power to the various state bureaucracies but little in terms of gross benefits to what remained impoverished populations. This often proved to be the case in countries where gross electricity demand was low and where the necessary distribution and supply networks were near non-existent.

In fact, what these projects did, via the means of fuel-cycle and operational technology, was to increase the subordination of developing states. Any illusions of sovereign security of supply and energy self-sufficiency, printed on the tin of the latest Pressurised Water Reactor[2] or Boiling Water variants, were quickly blown out of the water. Operational ‘teething troubles’, low load factors and poor availabilities left developing states unable to pay off debts acquired throughout the construction, commissioning and life-time operation of reactors that had not been needed in the first place.

Enter the International Energy Agency[3]

Nuclear power relies on the controlled heat energy released by the separation (fission) of the nucleus of an enriched heavy radioactive element, in most cases Uranium235. This process is therefore closely related to that of the uncontrolled fission of a nuclear weapon. With further ‘enrichment’, a totally artificial and radioactive element, Plutonium, can be created: the stuff of thermo-nuclear ‘hydrogen’ bombs. Consequently, it has always been a matter of international concern that civil nuclear programmes may well lead down the road to nuclear arms proliferation.

From its inception in 1956 at Windscale (now Sellafield) in Cumbria, nuclear power in the UK has been driven by the military imperatives of weapons grade material: supporting US missile ambitions, offering a means of repaying the US-UK lend-lease debts, while ensuring that by ownership of a military nuclear programme, that the UK would be ensured a seat on the UN Security Council. In this regard the post-war Labour government was as culpable as successive Tory administrations.[4]

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established in order to promote nuclear power, albeit within a tightly set-down set of protocols policed by the United Nations. However, by this point nuclear weapons ownership had already expanded beyond the post-war Cold War four of the US, USSR, France and the UK to China, India, Pakistan and Israel.[5]

The other IAEA concerns were the standardisation of operating standards, mainly in order to create a safety culture as well as control over the fuel cycle[6] and the manufacture of fuel rods and subsequent ‘waste management’. The latter issue was never satisfactorily resolved either technically or economically. What these arrangements have ensured, though, are techno-dependencies whereby fuel-cycle management has been out-sourced to the wealthier ‘nuclear club’[7] states for fuel manufacture, enrichment and the alchemy of fuel recycling.

Reactor enigma variations: jam tomorrow

Over some 55 years of reactor design and development, little in the way of a standard ‘safe’ reactor consensus has arisen. This is largely due to state-sponsored nuclear competition looking for export opportunities.

Initially, the design of reactors was a military thing. In the case of the US, this meant a Pressurised Water cooled Reactor (PWR), which over time became the dominant and preferred reactor for US power utilities. Elsewhere, designs favoured other means of moderating (slowing down) neutron release via different core materials such as graphite or heavy water, while others favoured different primary heat/cooling cycle systems such as pressurised light (ordinary) water, heavy water[8], gas (usually carbon dioxide) or sodium (liquid salt). But whatever the means, the sole object remains to raise super-heated steam in order to drive a steam turbine in order to produce electricity via an alternator. Whatever the glitz, nuclear power is a steam-age technology.

For over 50 years, nuclear power in its civilian guise has promised clean and infinite energy at a price ‘too cheap to meter’. In every respect, it has failed abysmally: due to impossible engineering challenges, rocketing costs, ever-demanding and failing safety systems and a perpetually irresolvable economic and technical waste management issue. Despite the continual claims that, ‘this time we have really got it right’, there is still no standard and generic design and operational culture.

When this is combined with newer imported costs and construction delays, the consequence has been that nuclear power has never been able to operate in a ‘free’ market, without state subsidies and a skewed regulatory environment.

Meanwhile, epic nuclear ‘incidents’ such as Windscale (now called Sellafield) (1957), Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) have all resulted in massive nuclear releases to the outside environment with melt-downs and huge reactor fires beyond the scope of established safety procedures. With each such incident, the nuclear ‘community’ has had to pause, think and then go into inventive mode regarding another excuse and a massive falsehood regarding the extent of environmental damage and long-term radiological health assessments.

Then, after a respectful moment of silence, this has been followed by another vast PR offensive, garnished with even more Jam Tomorrow.

An energy technology looking for a cause

Nuclear power has met each set-back with a new justification for its existence: security of supply, cheap power, clean power, infinite power and a source of power beyond the control of working class militancy (in the case of the UK, the miners). And at each challenge, a new fall.

But with the realisation of an impending climate catastrophe, the advocates of nuclear finally think that they have a irrefutable case. As nuclear power has no operational COfootprint, it is touted as the environmental answer for clean and sustainable baseload power.[9] They foresee a new and massive worldwide programme of nuclear reactor construction, standardisation and replication costs that will set generating costs on a downwards trajectory.

One persistent argument is that the ‘replication costs savings’[10] would be possible if only the industry world-wide could agree on one generic reactor design that could be used as the architecture for an ongoing sequence of revisions. The new basic stations could be built in line to growing capacity demand and with an actual reduction in capital costs as new orders came on stream. Not so much as jam tomorrow as pie in the sky.

However, such ‘replication savings’ arguments persisted within the UK nuclear cabal up until 1988, where at the Hinkley Point C nuclear inquiry, the UK Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) insisted that the Hinkley Point PWR would be the first-born of a ‘small family’ of UK PWRs.[11] This claim was blown out of the water by evidence submitted by the National Union of Mineworkers.[12]

The nearest thing that an international nuclear agreement has come to is an emerging view that the Pressurised Water Reactor offers the best basic model upon which future reactors should be based. The US Westinghouse (now General Electric) AP100 PWR is now being copied by China as an export model within its developing ‘sphere of influence’. It also forms the basis for technically and economically disastrous ‘third generation’ European PWR (EWR) at Flamanville in Normandy and Olkiuoto in Finland. The EWR is also the reactor of choice for the massive cost and schedule over-running Hinkley Point C project in the UK, and has been accepted as the design favourite for China’s Taishan 1 project which started in December 2018.

A little jam today?

Beyond the third generation of PWRs there are a number of other technical options on offer. Hitherto aimed at big capacity baseload units of reactors with a 1,000 Megawatt plus output, the nuclear industry has been looking at the development of smart grids with response capabilities for inputs from more intermittent small scale units. Within this scenario, smaller and more operationally flexible nuclear reactors are envisaged: the so-called new generation of Small Modular Reactors with capacity sizes down to as small as 10 MWe. Such SMRs could be prefabricated and shoe-horned into existing conventional power station sites.

But even if operationally proved as safe and capable of high load factors, SMRs would hardly contribute much to the capacity need as stated by the advocates of nuclear power. Given that the SMRs will be little more than down-scaled versions of already tried and tested failed reactor designs, there is little reason to expect them to behave over time little better than their bigger grand-parents.

Moreover, funding for nuclear research and development (R&D) drains from the pittance devoted to R&D for renewable energy, and the development large scale storage batteries and disaggregated smart grids which could do so much to create baseload potential for otherwise intermittent and ‘micro’ renewables.

It is a dangerous fantasy to think that nuclear power is best placed to replace fossil fuel power production. According to the International Energy Agency, the installed global power generating capacity as of 2018 was:

Fuel SourceCapacity (TW)
All fossil fuels4.154
All renewables, including:1.278
Wind 0.515
Solar0.387
Hydro0.166
Geo-thermal0.130
Tidal/wave0.180
Nuclear0.354

Statistics compiled and amended by Dr T. Wang, Statista, 3 December 2019

Meanwhile, of non-renewable fuel sources, in terms of total % global electrical power consumed:

Non-renewable fuel source% total global electrical power consumed (2017-18)
Coal41
Natural gas22
Nuclear10.5
All other26.5

IEA World Energy Outlook 2019.

The projection of a 65% nuclear capacity to replace all fossil fuel power plant by 2040 does not just mean the replacement of all existing carbon power generation. It also means an immediate programme for replacing all existing nuclear power plants, two thirds of which will be due for end-of-life decommissioning within the next five to ten years anyway. With no standardised reactor type and operational culture, this would mean 65% of global power generating capacity depending on a variety of plant designs for which no commercial insurability safety assurance will be possible.

Then there is the issue of waste management. Given a present 10.5% global nuclear power generation with no waste management consensus, a capacity increase of six times over presents the stuff of nightmares.

Waste management

The problem of waste recovery, recycling and long-term management (storage) has so far proved insoluble for the nuclear industry. The industry adopted wet storage – large underground cooling pools – pending proper technical waste management. This was meant to be a temporary solution, but it is still used to this day.

In the mid-1970s, the UK BNFL declared a worldwide solution with the development of a Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) to be built at Sellafield in Cumbria. But dogged with a continuous string of technical problems, as well as very real doubts as to the safety of the Thermal Oxide process, the THORP project with a bill in excess of £5 billion was scrapped in 1989. THORP contracts worth many billions of dollars were force majeured, and nuclear states such as Canada, France, Japan and Sweden were asked to take their waste back home.

According to a 2019 report, some 250,000 tonnes of highly radioactive spent fuel material is in wet storage in some 14 countries awaiting a waste storage solution that will never come.[13] Meanwhile, some 2 billion tonnes of uranium mining ‘tailings’ and process waste remain untreated and with no treatment or financial liabilities settlements in sight.

This is the legacy for future generations that 65 years of nuclear folly has bequeathed. Long-life and long half-life waste radioactive elements, isotopes and their ‘daughter’ products that will last further into the future that human civilisation has taken to reach this moment.

Conclusion

Virtually all of the statistical information referenced above was compiled before the present Covid-19 pandemic. It also predates another global economic event: a growing global recession that has so far been eclipsed by the immediate public health disaster. Such pandemics are, like recessions, treated as natural forces: events beyond the comprehension and control of mere mortals like the ‘rational self-interested actor’, much beloved by liberal economists.

Statistics based on real and reliable evidence make projections rooted in a status quo, which itself presumes business as usual. From such vulgar assumptions, trends are discernible and tendencies towards increasing capital accumulation, urbanisation and population growth can be factored in as verities based on a dismal human condition, unfettered population growth and the persistence of the rule of capital and the inevitability of capricious markets.

Against such projections the IEA and an ever-predatory World Nuclear Association now draw on the undeniable probability of worst-case climate catastrophe to create a new age for nuclear power need. So from a current 10.5% of nuclear generated power, we have to envisage a COabated 2040 where nuclear power will provide 62% of electricity.[14] This means that 70% of all currently operating reactors will have been replaced and that every 40 years or so, all reactor capacity will have to have been renewed.

This means that forever, humanity will have to exist on the brink of a barely containable climate threat, and a source of dangerous energy at barely affordable prices for the bulk of the global population- and that forever, the deceptive alchemy of waste management will remain the radioactive legacy for generations to come. Such a projection is both hopeless and apocalyptic. It offers an eternity of business worse than usual, and it offers a totally fraudulent scenario.

Furthermore, it denies the human capacities of both hope and redemption through struggle. It denies the organised agency of a proletarian class that by 2009 (by UN estimates) had already come to comprise over 52% of the world’s population. Statistical apologists for capitalism and its compendium of various barbaric imperialist scenarios may interpret the world in many ways, but it still remains the role of a revolutionary working class to change it. For the better.

Notes

[1] International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report 2019.

[2] The PWR and BWR reactor types use ‘light’- ordinary water in the primary and secondary cooling cycles.

[3] The IAEA was set up as an ‘independent’ agency in 1957 for the promotion of ‘Atoms for Peace’. It is located in Vienna and has 171 member states. It reports to both the UN general and Security Councils.

[4] Former Secretary of State for Energy Tony Benn in his statement of case for the NUM at the Hinkley Point Inquiry, went on to describe the UK Magnox reactors as little more than ‘bomb factories’.

[5] Israel is neither a member state of the IEA nor a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

[6] The ‘fuel cycle’ covers the process of mining Uranium or to the manufacture of nuclear fuel and its waste ‘management’.

[7] The so-called ‘Nuclear Club’ presently comprises Argentina, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, S Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Ukraine, UK and US.

[8] Heavy water is water with a molecule of oxygen plus two isotopes of deuterium- a hydrogen ‘heavy’ isotope with two electrons as opposed to the usual one.

[9] Baseload power is electricity from a reliable round-the-clock source not subject to daily or seasonal interruption.

[10] ‘Replication savings’ are the economic benefits arising from series production: i.e. the ‘economies of scale’. In the UK such replication benefits were promised with the Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) which now make up all but one of the UK nuclear inventory. In this case the ‘savings’ ended up as double the original project cost.

[11] The 1986-89 Hinkley Point Inquiry was for an original proposal involving a Westinghouse Type AP100 PWR. The present Hinkley Point project presently taking place is based on an Areva/EdF European PWR (EWR).

[12] NUM Proof of Evidence. Parkin et al. Hinkley Point C public inquiry. Proof denied on grounds of ‘misappropriation’ of confidence and ‘purloining’ of information.

[13] P. Roche et al. The Global Crisis of Nuclear Waste (Greenpeace France, 30 January 2019).

[14] World Nuclear Association. World Energy Review December 2019.

Covid19 and Oil Extractivism

In recent weeks we’ve published a number of articles on the impact of the drop in global oil prices on employment in North Sea oil and gas and on the urgent need to protect workers in the midst of the pandemic and seize the opportunity to organise for a rapid and just transition to renewables. Simon Pirani, Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies spoke at our 10th May public meeting.

You can watch the video of Simon’s talk here:

As background to the talk and for more information on the North Sea Oil and Gas industry you might also like to read the report on taxation and subsidies to the oil companies operating on the North Sea that we published in February.

If you’d like to look at Simon’s slides without watching the full video you can see them here:

We have a small number of Simon’s book available at the reduced price of £11 (postage extra). Email triple.e.scot@gmail.com if you’d like a copy.

A transition to renewables is coming but will it be a just transition

James Masson is a university student who is also involved with environmental activism. Coming from the North East of Scotland Just Transition is of particular interest to him.  We are really pleased that he’s given us permission to republish this article on Just Transition, which was written as a journalism project.

In recent years, climate change has become a key issue and we are only starting to realise the full impact that it could have on our lives. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth report stated in 2013 that they are 95% confident that climate change is being caused by humans burning greenhouse gases. More recently the UN Chief called climate change an existential threat to humanity. In light of the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is bad for the planet and therefore all life on Earth it seems obvious to suggest we stop burning fossil fuels, and of course we should. However, we cannot forget about all the jobs and money tied up in the fossil fuel industry. 

The North East of Scotland is a region that depends upon the oil and gas sector for much of its wealth. Scottish government stats show that in 2019 the oil and gas sector accounts for £16.2 billion or 9% or Scotland’s economy. The high concentration of fossil fuel jobs within the North East has meant that the employment rate in Aberdeenshire, in 2018, was 82.3% compared to the UK average of 74.8%.

 The North East relies heavily on the existence of the oil and gas sector for its prosperity and therefore we must replace the oil and gas industry with an equally strong industry that will mean the local area isn’t hurt economically. This is a concept that is referred to as a just transition. The aim of a just transition is to ensure that communities reliant on fossil fuel industries are not economically disadvantaged when moving away from fossil fuels and are provided with opportunities to grow economically in other sectors, namely the renewable industry. 

If we want to avoid the worst consequences of climate change a just transition needs to happen very soon. Scotland just like the rest of the world is warming at an alarming rate.

Read the rest of James’ article here.

Protect North Sea workers now and in the future

At the same time as making some workers redundant, oil and gas companies have continued to operate rigs on a three weeks on three weeks off pattern.  In ‘No Market Solution’, posted on this blog yesterday, Neil Rothnie asks a critical question about the safety of the workforce.  He queries whether at a time of global oil glut this is really essential work and whether it can possibly be safe

Who knows how effective this [testing] is, or whether the infection is spiraling offshore only to come home with these guys at the end of their trip?  Are all the companies quarantining all outward and inward bound workers?  Are they testing everyone every day? Otherwise what possible precautions could be put in place to get workers offshore via helicopter to work eat and sleep (sometimes in shared cabins) cheek by jowl in an atmosphere of endlessly recycled air? 

One of the tragic lessons we’ve learnt from Covid-19 is that concentrations of people in enclosed environments are horribly vulnerable to a highly infectious virus.  Too late in the day the consequences of not protecting elderly and vulnerable people and care workers living and working in care homes have come to the fore in public debate.  After initial publicity the plight of 100,000 workers who are still trapped on cruise ships around the world has been largely ignored.  According to the Guardian newspaper at least fifty of the ships have Covid-19 infections spreading onboard while the workers are shut out of ports and unable to return to their homes.

In this context we need a public debate and rapid action to protect the lives of the North Sea workforce.  It’s clear that the industry is not putting safety first – at a time of crisis they are making the workforce pay the price through redundancies and unacceptable risks to their lives, while at the same time continuing to pay out massive dividends to share holders.

Protect the workers now

Shut down offshore production and development until there is a clear case that it’s safe to resume.  Ensure that livelihoods are protected.

Protect the workers in the future

Organise for a rapid, planned just transition out of hydrocarbons and into a new sustainable economy.

Oil Platform in the North Sea

Overdue! A Just Transition for Scotland’s offshore Oil and Gas workers: Part One

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Taking a battering. Will North Sea oil withstand the coming Covid-19, world recession and Climate change storms?

For over 40 years the North Sea oil and gas industry has been hailed as Scotland’s economic and industrial crowning glory. But economic dips and global price wars have seen the industry drop in both output and workforce over the past decade. And now, the most-deadly of confluences- a Coronavirus pandemic, a global economic recession and a rapidly closing climate crisis- confront the industry with its hastened demise.

In this brief paper we examine the closing economic vice on the industry- a crashing oil price against a sudden and historic decline in petroleum demand- as well as the realities of the urgent need to cut and eliminate carbon emissions in order to offset an impending environmental catastrophe.

But here we will argue that rather than crises spelling the death-knell for workers and their communities, new industries requiring new skills and more jobs should emerge via a Just Transition that can offer workers, their families and communities hope for a secure, bright and clean future.

SAUDI-CALEDONIA

 In his Black Gold Charles More[1] dates the origins of the UK’s North Sea industry to a day in the early 1960’s when a Dutch family’s garden caught fire. Initially investigating for wartime explosives, the authorities eventually discovered that the fire was from an out-burst of gas from hydrocarbon bearing seams that ran west out to the North Sea- towards the UK.  Initially, interest in North Sea hydrocarbons was restricted to natural gas- as a cheaper and cleaner option to town coking-oven gas- but with the founding of a Department of Energy with a sovereign security of supply remit, oil, which was found in equally abundant reserves, became a growing area of interest.

Then following a humbling miners’ strike in 1972, followed by the Yom Kippur war and subsequent OPEC oil embargo and price shock, gears were shifted to put UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) oil production (and nuclear power)- on high priority as energy security hedges. Subsequently a Labour government priority became the setting up of a British National Oil Corporation (BNOC) alongside a similar gas enterprise- British Gas, to ensure the fullest exploration and extraction of North Sea assets.

In late February Scot.E3 released a hitherto unpublished paper which in great detail explained how an intricate range of taxation vehicles and regulations had encouraged oil companies into the North Sea basin by ensuring that blocs would be virtually given away by the device of zero-valuing proven oil and gas deposits whilst also ensuring that capitalisation would be subsidised, investment risk deferred to the tax payer- along with future decommissioning liabilities.

The exploitation of offshore oil resources however, failed to realise any power-generation security of supply in that the oil from the first drillings (Aramco Montrose field developed 1967, BP Forties field developed 1969 and the huge Shell Brent field developed 1971-76) all proved to have oil totally unsuitable for burning in power stations. But nevertheless, UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) oil was able to provide up to 70% of crude for the purpose of refining into transport fuels. But the reserves were substantial.

And overnight the east of Scotland ports were transformed into oil and gas bonanza towns. Texans, Uzbekis and Arabs with exploration drilling skills flocked in- to be followed by newly recruited oil and gas workers with substantial numbers from the declining Scottish shipbuilding industry.  And here it is worth noting that at its peak at the time of the millennium, total UKCS employment was around 600,000.

For Scotland, the offshore waters that proved to be the most fruitful were in the Central North Sea sector where at its peak, over 50% of all N Sea offshore activity took place- the more remote North N Sea and West of Scotland sectors being later in development. And with continued tension between the big OPEC producers and the ‘west’, up until the early 2000’s the UK Continental Shelf resource looked certain for continuous development- albeit on a slight declining output expectation.

DECLINE AND FALL

Oil, and to a lesser extent, natural gas, is the most necessary commodity on the world market. It is also the most precarious and volatile. Slight fluctuations in global growth, political tensions, commodity markets speculation- and more lately, growing environmental concerns, all influence a vast capital intensive and continually technologically evolving industry.

So with these factors in mind we have to then consider the status of the UKCS oil business as both marginal- in terms of total resource strength- as well in terms of exploration, development and extraction costs. Hence the tax and subsidy fiscal environment that the industry has enjoyed under successive UK governments since 1970 as explained by Juan Carlos Boue. But with a vastly expanding global hydrocarbon resource base, it was inevitable that a tendency to over-production would lead to a continued trend of downward prices- a trend that the high cost UK oil business would find impossible to compete under.

Wars are good for oil- particularly wars in the Middle East global energy hub. So some 20 years of Iraq-Iran, the US/UK- Iraq conflict has been good. But in 2014, OPEC led by Saudi Arabia started an over-production war in order to kill off the burgeoning US shale oil industry- which it virtually did by driving oil prices at one point down to $14 per barrel- only to be followed by an oil price 6 month long depression of a price at around $35-40 per barrel. And it is this historical juncture of 2014 that has since cast a shadow on the future of the UK oil and gas industry.

So it is 2014 we should use as the pivotal point where we see the immediate loss of 75,000 offshore and onshore support jobs, after which there is a marked decline in both employment and investment- as well as a weakening of world oil prices alongside a further expansion in marginal cost producers entering the market. By 2015 total N Sea related job losses were put at 185,000.

graphs for north sea

UKCS Report Sept 2019

The balance of offshore UKCS jobs is elsewhere in the Irish sea and West of Shetland.

The oil price recovery since mid-2014 has been patchy but generally upwards. Contract prices have on occasion held at around $100 per barrel, although more recently, $85 pb has tended to be the average price which has been sufficient to maintain global output at a growing over-capacity level. Once again OPEC has attempted to control over-capacity by throttling out-put in a bid to kill off the higher cost and marginal cost fields. In this endeavour, they have sought the cooperation from Russia- a joint venture that although unstable, was able to drive down prices from the $65 pb at which 2020 opened.

But 2020 opened with the signs of a global economic recession. And now the Covid-19 pandemic.

PRICE CRASH…AND GOING DOWN

2020 began with oil prices at around $65 per barrel- which for most N Sea production requiring a $40-50 as a ‘comfort zone’- looked set to ensure a good rate of return on the more ‘mature’ N Sea infrastructure. Output from the N Sea is divided into two grades; Brent and N Sea Light crude. The Brent grade due to its viscosity and chemical content characteristics is a ‘premium marker’ grade, which along with West Texas Intermediate (WTI) provides the benchmark prices by which world traded oil prices are measured.

By early February 2020 the international oil markets had come to realise that a forthcoming pandemic was about to hit an already faltering global economy- and this, combined with the OPEC-Russia oil price tussle- was about to have a massive impact on the future of whole sections of the oil industry- let alone immediate oil prices.

By mid-February N Sea oil and gas prices were ($ per barrel or unit):

Brent                         32.93

N Sea Light              25.76

Natural gas                1.484

Then by 17th March (at which NYMEX trading was suspended) prices were:

Brent                         28.02

N Sea Light              18.27

Gas                               1.7

And of 20th April:

Brent                         25.93

N Sea Light              15.05

Gas                               1.95

These prices are subject to speculative swings and as such give no certainty to which point the oil and gas prices will level out. But with world oil and petroleum products storage at about 98%, there is clearly little- if any room- left for further production above what is an already collapsing rate of consumption. And it is also clear that world prices for the foreseeable future are likely to remain well below the cost of N Sea production.

But by the morning of 21st April the Financial Times, in a departure from its usual austere and responsible mode, was in full panic flight with a front page screaming about how for the first time ever the commodity markets had turned negative. Overnight the price of premium grade crude oil had been trading at minus $40 dollars per barrel. And elsewhere analysts were suggesting a possible market intervention by producers and traders alike where for the foreseeable future oil has a traded ‘floor’ where a demand-led ‘swing’ of between $10-20 per barrel would be permitted.

However, such a ‘swing price’ would eliminate the higher cost producers such as the US shale sector, the Canadian tar sands, about 35% of OPEC members- and with certainty- the entire North Sea operation.  But in the first stage of the crisis many big drilling and appraisal contractors are already cutting back on their operations with some 40% of forward investment cut overnight and hundreds of workers sacked under force majeure terms with neither redundancy pay nor furloughing support.

If we look at the employment profile of Scottish workers engaged in N sea oil and gas we find around   110,100 overall in the direct production sector. And if we then factor in a c.£45,000 per capita annual income, this translates into £4.95 billion in total earnings of which some c.£3 billion constitutes disposable income into the regional economy per year.

If we look at recent job loss events in the Scottish economy (going back some 30 years) we find that losses in coal up to 2000 were 10,100 and steel (Ravenscraig) 14,000, pale by comparison to what could happen in oil and gas losses. By any measure the present situation represents a schism from which point the status quo is irrecoverable. The terminal collapse of UK oil and gas is now a possibility, which for Scotland would be an economic catastrophe.

Oil has no cover of long-term contracts. It is a Just-In-Time commodity which in the past has been robust enough to weather any market storms. But as Goldman Sachs have reported, the free market advocates of the US oil business have just issued an emergency appeal to the Federal Reserve for a $600 billion bail-out.[1] And at the same time Brent has been trading at a mere $21.54 with its sister marker grade, West Texas Intermediate at $14.85- and falling.

The International Energy Agency now reckons that over 1 million oil and gas jobs will go by the second quarter end of 2020.[2]And if it comes to screwing more effort and more oil out of the workforce- then forget it. Since April 2014 to January 2020 North Sea oil workers have contributed to a 16% increase in annual productivity from an offshore workforce cut of 38%. Furthermore, almost punitive working conditions of 17-hour shift on a 7-day week, with a three week onshore/offshore regime have been imposed- what some workers have suspected as being ideal conditions for the cultivation and transmission of the Covid-19 Coronavirus.

Silver lining

The confluence of the Covid-19 pandemic, a protracted global recession and a mounting antipathy to hydrocarbons in what is now widely perceived to be a growing climate crisis make any return to an oil and gas status quo inconceivable. And from this a North Sea high cost marginal offshore industry faces a bleak future. But the principal asset of that industry- its workforce could be easily redirected to a green economy urgently in need of a growing renewable infrastructure.

The North Sea workforce embraces a wide range of skills only found in the most modern production processes of construction, shipbuilding, aerospace and chemical engineering. This young workforce- average age 34 years- could easily be set to task in a new vertically integrated renewables industry where point of power production to plug via a publically owned and accountable energy company could provide Scotland with a secure, safe, secure and equitable future. For that, a Just Transition is crying out.

Brian Parkin 22nd April 2020.

Sources

 Goldman Sachs. Financial Times, 22nd April 2020

IEA. Energy trends April 2020.

Oilprice daily bulletin quoting Bloomberg, New York 20th April 2020.

Charles More Black Gold: Britain and Oil in the 20th century. Bloomsbury, London 2011.

Just Transition and Energy democracy

Sam Mason is a policy officer for the PCS union and active in PCS workers for climate justice.  Sam introduced the latest Scot.E3 online meeting, which looked at Just Transition and Energy Democracy.  Her introduction is available on the Scot.E3 YouTube Channel.

Sam started by reflecting on the pandemic and the talk that Jonathan Neale gave on the 5th April.   She went on to explain the concept of energy democracy, its’ importance to people’s lives and livelihoods and why, when market solutions have failed, public ownership is necessary for its’ realisation.   Later she spoke about how energy democracy is a necessary part of a just transition to a new sustainable economy and is about human rights and human needs nationally and internationally.  

In the discussion participants in the meeting talked about: rebuilding the union movement as part of the campaign for just transition, the role of the state, the impact of the pandemic and global recession on oil process and jobs in the north sea, limits to growth, greenwashing, the role of hydrogen in a sustainable economy and participatory democracy.  These contributions were not recorded.  We’d welcome contributions to this blog on any of these topics whether you were at the meeting or not.

A Green New Deal for Scotland

The Common Home Plan: A Green New Deal for Scotland

Reflections on the plan dubbed ‘This is how we save the world’.

Common Weal’s Green New Deal for Scotland was launched in November 2109.  A costed plan for a transition to a zero carbon economy, it is an important contribution to the debate about just transition.  Previously we’ve published a summary review of the plan by Pete Roche from Nuclear Free Local Authorities and a video of Tiffany Kane from Common Weal https://wp.me/p8FiJr-cE.  In this post Annie Morgan takes a critical look at the plan from an internationalist perspective.  Annie writes:

There is much that is commendable and doable in the Common Home Plan.  However, there is a lack of an international perspective.

‘No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main‘

(John Donne. Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624))

Donne’s writings from 400 years ago have a prescience similar to John McGrath’s play ‘The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil’, in our theatres again this year. Donne compares people to countries and his writing is a plea for recognition of our inter connectedness.  The poem is an argument against isolationism and has resonance today in terms of climate change (or as some would say, climate chaos, since change may not describe the devastation already occurring). McGrath’s play is testimony to the centuries old exploitation of people, landscape, land and resources that has blighted Scotland.  Therefore the Common Weal collective are quite right to assert that our land isn’t ‘natural’ nor is it ‘well stewarded’ (Page 57).  The proposals for land reform, national planning approach, reforestation regenerative/agroecological methods are excellent.  Careful planning is demonstrated.

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The Cheviot,the Stag and the Black Black Oil Poster Abbey Theatre Dublin 1974 CC BY 2.0

However, there are considerations in the global context that impact on the implementation of the plan.  I explore these below.

In Common Dreams Brian Tokar summarises the problems inherent in the global capitalist economy.  I have added to the list.

  • Metals, mineral extraction and exploitation of mining workers and communities
  • Oil, gas, coal burning is still dominant and in the control of multi national corporations.
  • Food insecurity exacerbated by climate change
  • Neo-liberal doctrine dominance, read privatisation, deregulation and ‘free’ markets.
  • International Monetary Fund/World Bank/World Trade Organisation stranglehold with continued imposition of structural adjustment programmes (now referred to as Extended Credit Facility)
  • Rise of right wing /fascist governments and influence aided even encouraged by global powers

These all demonstrate that the Common Weal assertion that ‘negotiations at an international level’ are unrealistic, sits alongside, but at odds with Asbjørn Wahl’s perspective on a clear policy on energy (the main source of emissions and global warming).  He argues for a move from market oriented ‘green growth’ towards a position ‘anchored in the need to reclaim energy in public ownership and democratic control’.  The Common Weal report, while consistently and rightly calling for Public Ownership, does not consider the required programmatic shift at a global level. Asbjørn calls for the work of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy and the Global Climate Jobs Network and allied networks to be recognised.  Allied groups could include environmental agencies, Climate Activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Friends of the Earth and others, ScotE3, the Scottish Trade Union Congress and Trade Unions, Common Weal, students and workers. An international solidarity ethos as described by War on Want would recognise the consequences of climate damage particularly for vulnerable groups and working people and that climate chaos is impacting both here in Scotland/UK and worldwide.

Another impact of IMF imposed programmes is that impoverished countries have to compete with each other, leading to massive over production and lowering prices. Thus cheap imports in the Global North clog Landfills after short-term use.  Examples include the clothing industry (Fast Fashion -the Global Rag Trade), plastic toys, household items and trainers.  This inhibits the progress to the circular economy, rightly called for by the Common Weal team.  A walk round any shopping centre/recycle centre/landfill will highlight the slow progress towards halting the throw away mindset.  Communities in the Global South must be supported in their human rights to sustainability.

That business as usual is the predominant response by both governments is the concern. This is illustrated below in consideration of current energy policy.  Peter Roche does a good job of reviewing favourably, the Common Weal Plan for a Green New Deal.   However, I will highlight, some of what may be considered ‘ omissions’.  I have conflated the categories of Buildings, Energy and Electricity into one section on energy.  I further highlight the international context.  I will pay particular attention to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Carbon Usage and Storage with reference to the Common Weal comment that CCS is unproven at scale, risks leakage and prolongs unnecessary use of hydrocarbons.  This is totally correct but Energy Voice in 27/11/2019 announced ‘Ground Breaking New CCS charter agreed by the Scottish Government and the Oil sector.’  No progress to public ownership there and the oil giants are calling the shots.  We will have to work hard and quickly if we have any chance of reversing this strategy, which lies at the heart of energy policy in Scotland.  More below.

  1. Energy

New models of public ownership are required to combat the corrupting influence of the extremely powerful extractive industries. The Scottish Trade Unions Congress (STUC) will debate Public Ownership at a Conference this May . The Common Home Plan steers clear of prescriptive political solutions.  In doing so there are two problems; firstly, the reality of the political context in Scotland, UK and secondly, the power of multi-national corporations. Brexit compounds this. In addition, the lack of detail in the ‘how to’ increase the role of the public sector is problematic.  The plan rightly advises and gives practical means of public sector borrowing, ‘quantitative easing’, or new money with progressive taxation to repay but does not expand on how to reverse the current ownership arrangement.  Energy policy itself remains largely reserved to Westminster.  Increased self determination and progress to Independence will be necessary to realise a Scottish Green New Deal, a sentiment that is expressed in the Commonweal plan.

The current political reality is found in the on going influence of a neo- liberal outlook (Growth Commission), the limited commitment to public ownership at state/nationalisation level for energy and the lack of a municipalisation strategy for heating /transport.  Thus great ideas around district heating and integrated, connected public transport may be neglected.  The Common Weal plan alongside the ‘Sea Change’ report demonstrates the increased number of climate jobs, which can be created in the transition to a low carbon economy. The time is now to push for strategies to implement a Just Transition.

The current lack of commitment to public ownership, not least in the refusal to take the Caley rail depot in North Glasgow into public ownership, the refusal to support the Bi-fab workers and the chaotic ownerships of energy provision and renewables in Scotland points to a near future lack in public investment.  Pat Rafferty of Unite outlines the ‘ smorgasbord’ of foreign ownership in the energy sector – ironically sometimes European state owned.  The Bi-Fab story highlights the need for government action-EDF (French) awarded the contract to Siapem (Italian) who subcontracted the manufacture of wind farm jackets to Indonesia to be shipped back to Scotland with a small number of jackets to be made in the Methil yard.  This type of globalisation with companies chasing cheap ‘Global South’ labour must end; decommissioning, arduous work on rigs in the North Sea, is undertaken by migrant workers, paid a pittance.

Furthermore the lack of progress to ‘ Green Jobs’ is undermining union confidence and support in a Just transition with unfortunate calls for retention of Hunterston Nuclear facility, continued Oil and Gas extraction, continued subsidies to ‘Defence ‘ (the Arms Trade) and the biggie – Trident.

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The Common Weal plan does an excellent job of costing the transition in a supplementary booklet.  However, I would argue that current subsidies to the Oil and Gas industries, to the Arms Traders, to the Trident obscenity both in financial and moral terms, and in the deployment of blue hydrogen with Carbon Capture Usage and Storage which is underway will  continue to seriously damage the public purse.  Alongside divestment, a challenge to the Oil industry’s dominance in Carbon Capture Usage and Storage is an urgent priority.

Patrick Harvie (Scottish Greens) noted that

 ‘Entrusting Climate Change Policy to the Oil and Gas industry is comparable to entrusting Public Health to the Tobacco Industry‘  (paraphrasing exchange during FM question time (September 2019)).

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (hardly a left wing think tank) predicts £20-£30 billion costs for the scaling up of the new technologies.  Bio energy with CCS is also of concern with Drax in England in the forefront; expensive and likely to drain money from other ecological restoration projects.  The  Common Weal plan conflates the Hydrogen economy into the most environmentally responsible type – Green Hydrogen.  Oilrigs could be used in the manufacturing of green hydrogen by electrolysis using seawater and wind energy.  However grey hydrogen and blue hydrogen; the grey reforming from ‘natural’ gas (methane), and the blue meaning storing the resulting CO2 beneath the North Sea, is the favoured option at Government and Scottish Investment Bank level.  Common Weal note that Scotland is in the forefront of the hydrogen transformation and the Levenmouth project and Orkney green hydrogen developments are welcome.  Fuel cells for transport could play an important role in decarbonisation (Aberdeen buses already using them).  However, the reality is that the St.Fergus operation (Blue Hydrogen/ CCS)  is well underway and scheduled to come online in 2024.  Shell, Total, SSE and Chrysoar have signed up to the ‘agreement’ with the Scottish Government.  Pale blue dot, the Oil and Gas Technology Centre and Peterhead Port Authority are the partners in North East CCUS Enterprise (NECCUS).  The £275 million CCS project underway by Acorn will be scaled up.  Note the cynical use of greenwashing titles and images – Acorn and Pale blue dot;  a tree, the Earth from the Voyager photograph.  Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish Government Energy Minister declared his delight at the Alliance, adding that CCS was essential for Scotland to reach net zero emissions by 2045.

In contrast, Equinor (Norway state) lobbying of the German Government has failed and green over blue has prevailed.  These discussions are absent from the report, yet they are vital – the Commonweal plan aims to encourage responsible trade ( export)  in renewable fuel. Further research on the role of hydrogen and potential for export is required.

2. Food

Our Common Home suggests that Scotland could move towards self-sufficiency in food production needs qualification. Certainly localised and seasonal production in restored soils with good stewardship and land reform can be highly effective in climate mitigation.  However, available arable land, renewable energy usage, peatlands, wetland, rewilding are all to be considered.  Natural Carbon sinks/trees/hemp also require growing space.

Moreover the IMF/World Bank continues their imposition of structural adjustment/cash crops on the majority world, its practice for decades.  If the ‘Global North’ quickly reduces imports without expanding fairer trade and enabling counties globally to be more self sufficient (as they were once and know how to be) there will be increased food insecurity.  Insecurity made worse with crop failures, lower yields, petroleum based fertilisers, geo engineering and so on.  Again this is a call for an interdependent, intersectional, Internationalist understanding.

3.Transport

The transport section of the Common Weal plan has proposals for decarbonisation, city and town planning, to have local facilities and encourage active travel /recharging infrastructure/discouraging air travel and so on.  The call for a National Transport Company is welcome.  However again there is little detail on moving towards public ownership for public transport.  We require increased public transit – reliable, with greater frequency, convenient and integrated for workplace/hospital/education; these details are missing.  Hopefully the proposed National Transport Company would look at details – for example, expanding underground for Glasgow and expanding rail for passenger and freight throughout Scotland.  A move towards fare free transport to impact on individual car use will necessitate a reversal of private ownership.  The recently announced free fares for under 18’s are welcome but will do little to decrease car use.  Democratic ownership as described by Andrew Cumbers is also important. Lothian buses, although Council owned, has not considered drivers conditions sufficiently and Edinburgh remains at the top of congested cities in the UK. (TomTom traffic index January 2020).  Improved communal transit is vital in reducing emissions and a National Transport Strategy vital to impact on car culture, that is, to reduce individual car use.

The other categories around resource use and producer responsibility could be enhanced by a consideration of the Lucas Plan and the democratisation of the economy with bus driver input to developing integrated routes, engineering workers in heating and so on.  I had a very enlightening conversation with a heating engineer who was fixing my central heating, very knowledgeable on renewables, and I was thinking it would be excellent to have workers input in think tanks and climate activism.  Communities also need to be actively engaged in a path towards greener energy.  Common Weal is well placed alongside climate groups to be encouraging community involvement.

War on Want have good examples of communities fighting back against the ‘Free Trade’ doctrine and privatisation agenda. The current pandemic of the Covid virus may impact on the neo liberal trade agenda. It is important that changes in trade are explored from a Global Justice perspective. Examples are the Bolivian Alliance ALBA and La Via Campesina.  It is hope that delegations from the majority world will be able to attend alternative conferences at Cop26 in Glasgow.  We can learn and adapt strategies.

Finally, the above by no means seeks to undermine the good work and intentions of the Common Weal think and action tank and their supporters.  I will finish on a further example of War on Want’s request to consider the ways in which we can lessen the impact on communities in our move towards sustainability in towns, cities and countryside.  The Common Weal plan considers recycling in the sense of failure and rightly calls for a circular economy.  This article asks for awareness on the obstacles to the realisation of this circular and sharing economy within a capitalist, always for profit, paradigm.  Thus, yes, we have to have optimism that a different world is possible while recognising the long ecological revolution it will take (see John Bellamy Foster). This does not imply that we can procrastinate.  The 2020’s is the Climate decade.  Now or never!  Therefore, one last example of the here and now , what we can do while building for the society outlined into Common Home Plan.  Jake Molloy of the RMT Union calls for large recycling hubs for steel, glass, vehicle chassis, brick and concrete.  War on Want call this Urban Mining.  Landfill mining also: electronic waste is full of precious metals – Anthropogenic waste (all the pollution from human activity) can be recycled to reduce raw extraction. Now there is a transition idea – one that would be labour intensive (that’s a good thing -more jobs!).

Finishing with a quote from Arundhati Roy, Indian Activist and writer.

A new world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day , I can here her breathing’.

 

 

 

 

Just Transition Commission Interim Report

The Just Transition Commission began its work in 2019.   Established by Scottish Ministers its remit is to advise on how just transition principles can be applied to climate change action in Scotland.  It is tasked to complete a final report with recommendations for Scottish Ministers by January 2021.  The Commission published an interim report on 26th February 2020.

Commissio interim cover

The interim report has four main themes:

  1. Planning Ahead
  2. Public engagement
  3. Bringing equity to the heart of climate change policies
  4. Opportunities and the need for immediate action

The report notes that since the Commission began its work both the Climate Change (Emission Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act and Scottish National Investment Bank Bill include reference to just transition principles. However, it is critical of a lack of action by the Scottish Government and highlights opportunities that have not been taken.  The closure of the coal-fired power station at Longannet is cited as a case where the local community in Kincardine contest the view of Fife Council and other agencies that the closure was well managed and socially just.

There is a strong emphasis from the Commission on the need for strategic vision that cuts across sectors and for government leadership and direction.   It contends that the task of making strategic progress across sectors

… cannot be left to enterprise agencies or indeed companies themselves. There is a crucial need for Government leadership.

Further, it argues that the Scottish Government shouldn’t wait for its  2021 report before acting, stating that

We firmly believe that all decisions taken by Government in the year ahead need to be made with a view to supporting a just transition for Scotland. We don’t want Government to wait for our final report to begin planning how a just transition will be achieved.

It notes that current planning approaches are insufficiently rigorous and suggests that all Scottish Government funded investments should be prioritised against inclusive, net-zero economy outcomes.  Planning is essential if we are to avoid the kind of unjust transition that has characterised previous major economic transitions.

While arguing for a much more proactive role for the Scottish Government the interim report doesn’t make recommendations for how a state energy company could be used to drive transition. It’s to be hoped that the final report will say more about this.

While it is critical of lack of action and leadership from the Scottish Government, the interim report is weak on the role of public ownership and democratic engagement.  The former is largely neglected while the latter is viewed in terms of  consultation – there’s no real sense that system change is on the agenda.  This is most evident in the way that the report approaches North Sea Oil and Gas.  The  oil industry’s  Vision 2035 and associated roadmap are mentioned without criticism.  The truth is that aiming for the  North Sea to become the ‘first net-zero carbon hydrocarbon basin’  means continuing extraction and carbon capture and storage on a massive scale.

‘Just Transition’ was prominent at COP24 in Katowice – developed by the workers movement and climate activists – it has been partially co-opted by corporations and government agencies.  It’s critical that the climate movement defends the radical core of the concept.  If social justice is not central to transition then it will not be possible to build the scale of social mobilisation that is needed and the risk of a climate catastrophe is magnified.  Here in Scotland we need to put social justice at the heart of our actions as we build the climate movement and mobilise for COP26.  The Just Transition Commission is asking for civil society to submit their views as it works through 2020 and prepares its recommendations for Ministers.  We should do that.  But even more important is raising the level of mobilisation so that the pressure for action becomes irresistible, system change is on the agenda and corporate greenwashing is exposed as a desperate attempt to cling on to business as usual.