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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mossmorran

Public Meeting

Friday 1st February, 7pm at Lochgelly Town Hall, Bank Street KY5 9

This is a really important meetingAccording to the Scottish Environmental ProtectionAgency (SEPA) the ExxonMobil plant at Mossmorran in Fife is the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in Scotland – only the INEOS complex at Grangemouth is a bigger polluter.  People living in the vicinity of the plant have suffered from excessive flaring and poor air quality for a long time.   The Mossmorran Action group has been campaigning for a resolution to these issues.  George Kerevan has recently written about the ways in which SEPA has failed to respond adequately to their concerns.

The plant is currently being returned to operation after a shut down in August 2019.  Flaring and pollution has been at a high level and yesterday around 170 workers walked off the site to highlight concerns over working conditions and safety.  There needs to urgent action to protect the health and safety of local residents and workers.  But in light of the climate crisis Mossmorran must also be part of a plan for a rapid phased run down of the Scottish petrochemical industry in which the workers are supported in a just transition to new sustainable jobs – part of the just transition that is so urgently needed.

Mossmorran

CC BY SA 3.0  Mossmoran petrochemical plant

Glasgow XR meeting on North Sea Oil and Gas

Following actions in Dundee (see video) and at First Ministers Questions Glasgow XR held a well attended meeting on the 25th January.   The meeting began with contributions from XR activists, Friends of the Earth Scotland and ScotE3, before breaking into discussion groups.  The remainder of the post reproduces the text of the ScotE3  contribution in which we shared some thoughts on strategies for achieving a just transition to a zero carbon economy.

ScotE3 campaigns for the importance of climate jobs.  Jobs that are critical to the economic transformation that is needed to prevent a climate catastrophe.   In Scotland  100,000 of these jobs are needed .  However, to date we are not doing well.  According to the Office of National Statistics the UK’s green economy has shrunk since 2014.  The number of people employed has declined as has the number of green businesses.  This is true UK wide and in Scotland.  It’s no wonder that some representatives of unions that organise workers in the hydrocarbon sector pour scorn on talk of a just transition.

The Sea Change report makes it clear that unless we phase out North Sea Oil and Gas the UK will produce far more green house gas emissions than is compatible with restricting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.  But we have a huge challenge; the big energy companies are still committed to maximising extraction of oil and gas and so are the Holyrood and Westminster governments.  Just a year ago when the discovery of new oil and gas reserves east of Aberdeen was announced energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse highlighted,

 the significant potential for oil and gas which still exists beneath Scotland’s waters.

He added:

Scotland’s offshore oil and gas industry has an important role to play with up to 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent remaining under the North Sea and in the wider basin and discoveries such as this help to support security of supply as we make the transition to a low carbon energy system.

 Just this week the Africa summit in London ended with the Westminster Government pledging £2 billion to projects concerned with fossil fuel extraction.

From the outset North Sea has been a bonanza for the oil companies.  Nigel Lawson, now a prominent climate change denier, was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1986 and said then

the whole outstanding success of the North Sea is based on the fact that it is the freest petroleum province in the world

He meant of course almost complete freedom for the oil companies – few if any benefits accrued to society as a whole and even centres of the industry like Aberdeen were then, and remain, centres of acute inequality.

So we need a rapid phasing out of North sea Oil and Gas.   How can we overcome the powerful vested interests that oppose this and at the same time protect the lives and livelihoods of the workers in the industry.  Theer is no evidence that the private sector can lead such a transition.  The public sector has to take the initiative – and in Scotland that means a much more ambitious role for a state energy company and the new national investment bank.  However, for this to happen we need a powerful movement of movements that has deep roots throughout Scotland.

To grow the movement and force the pace of change clarity of ideas is essential.   We don’t have all the answers but the core issues around climate jobs and just transition are clear.  So we need to patiently and persistently explain why hydrocarbons need to stay in the ground, why we need zero carbon, why the counter proposals from the industry are a dangerous diversion and how a just transition would have a positive impact on working people.

Reaching the audience we need goes hand in hand with maximising pressure on the energy corporations and local and national government.  Much of this will be through all kinds of direct action.  There have been some brilliant examples already but we need much more.

Direct action is necessary but not enough.  The power to force a transition can only come from a mass movement and to build the movement we need to win hearts and minds.  This means reaching out into unions, communities and community organisations with a vision of just transition that goes beyond simply defending existing jobs and embraces practical steps that have direct and understandable benefits for working class people across Scotland and beyond.   We need win people to a positive vision of transition, but more than that we need to win them to be active agents in the transition: part of a movement of rebels, not just on the streets, but in workplaces and communities.  So as we plan actions we always need to think about how to reach new audiences – through stalls, street leafleting, public and workplace meetings and patient door to door leafleting debate and discussion.  It may be that some of those who work in the industry will be the last to be convinced (although that’s not inevitable – our opponents are the same corporations that drive down their wages and conditions and play fast and loose with health and safety).  But if they are unconvinced we need to aim for a situation where climate justice is common sense to millions and where the people that oil workers meet in the pub, out shopping, their kids and relatives, are all won to the need for transition.

With the COP being held in Glasgow this year we have a huge opportunity to build outwards and take a massive step forward in creating a campaign for transition that is unstoppable.

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North Sea Oil Rig by Gary Bembridge, CC BY SA 2.0

Phasing Out Oil and Gas

One of the workshop streams at the Scot.E3 conference in November focused on Oil and Gas and Just Transition for workers involved with the North Sea.   Stephen McMurray summarises the discussion that took place.  

The oil and gas group included Simon Pirani, author of Burning Up: a global history of fossil fuel consumption, and a retired oil worker now campaigning with XR and ScotE3. The initial discussions included how we start to phase out oil and gas extraction. The main policy suggestions included ending subsidies to the oil and gas industries and ending licences for oil and gas exploration.

There was an interesting debate about whether the government should set a date to end oil and gas, for example in 2030. On a positive note, it may stop companies exploring for oil and gas well before 2030. On a more negative note, it may encourage companies to seek to maximise output and increase carbon emissions before 2030.

Earlier in the conference, we had watched a series of short films by REEL News. One of the films illustrated that companies were increasingly turning to automation and subsequently reducing their workforce. This led to a discussion considering that research should be undertaken into the impact of automation into the oil and gas industries. Furthermore, it would be useful for REEL News to make a film of the North Sea and show their films on the impacts of oil and gas to oil workers.

There was a general feeling that there was a lack of information for oil and gas workers in relation to training for new industries, and that a just transition conference should be held in Aberdeen for oil and gas workers. There was also a discussion on how we engage with suppliers to the oil and gas industries so they are included in a just transition. Additionally, it was not clear that the Scottish Government had produced a post-oil industrial strategy, and there was a need to give presentations at universities for the need to move to careers post carbon.

Finally, there was an agreement that we need to bring the rebellion to the oil and gas industries and that we need a massive confrontation with big oil in Aberdeen during COP26 when it comes to Glasgow next year.

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Energy from Waste

On of the issues that came up in discussion at the recent Scot.E3 conference was ‘Energy from Waste’.  There is large-scale investment in this technology taking place across the UK.  We agreed to produce a briefing on the topic.  What follows is the text of the first draft of the briefing.  We are also developing further resources that will be added to the Resources page on this site.  We’d welcome comments on the text and ideas for useful resources that we could link to.

There are a large number of Energy from Waste (EFW) projects planned across the UK.  By the end of 2017 there were nearly 120 EFW proposals at various planning stages. Sixteen of these are in Scotland. In this briefing we take a critical look at Energy from Waste and ask whether it has a place in a strategy for a zero carbon Scotland.

Energy from Waste Projects

At first sight, the term ‘Energy from Waste’ appears to be all things green. It suggests a new and rational way of ‘treating’ the ever-growing mountains of waste that are an inevitable by-product of our throwaway society.  It invites the idea of a ‘green energy’ that has been derived from what would otherwise be a possibly harmful and long-term environmental problem. When the alternatives proposed are either a long-term toxic and smelly and unsightly landfill problem or a health-threatening incineration route, then EFW appears to be a sensible choice.

Behind the EFW hype, which many UK local authorities have accepted, there is a fog of confusion regarding the most optimal waste management solutions; whether they be recycling or minimising the production of waste at source – both options are ruled out by market driven/low cost and value-for-money economics.

Landfill

Since 1945 the volume of disposable waste per household in the UK has multiplied threefold. Over the years, the local authorities have traditionally chosen landfill disposal as the preferred waste ‘treatment’ route.  However, landfill, demands considerable land acreage and depth and entails significant public health risks as well as potentially long-term hazards for the environment. Aside from smell and vermin nuisance, landfill sites- even the best managed ones- constitute over time- a high risk of biological and toxin leaching into surface soils and ground-waters.  Methane from decomposition also adds to greenhouse gas emissions.

For all of these reasons, waste management authorities have either been incentivised away from landfill by grants for recycling- or more often – ‘disincentivised’ in the way of increasingly punitive landfill taxes. First introduced in the 1970’s, landfill taxes have been subsequently reinforced by EU directive-and as alternative waste ‘treatment’ technologies have fallen in capital cost, so landfill taxes have risen.

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Landfill tax per tonne

2010      £63.00

2018      £88.95

2019-20 £94.15

Tax policies make EFW-type waste treatment strategies appear attractive- particularly because in exchange for a penalty for handling waste, there is an income from generating electricity.

EFW technologies

There are a number of EFW technologies on offer but all share the same objective of converting solid (or in some cases, liquid/sludge) waste into energy for the production of electricity.

Typically, an EFW plant is based on an incinerator chamber into which is fed solid waste.  The upper walls of the chamber comprise water-filled tubes in which super-heated steam is produced for a steam turbine that in turn produces electricity.

Steam is also captured from the waste feed system. If the plant is fitted with what is called a ‘back-pressure’ steam turbine, then high-pressure hot water can be distributed to local industrial and residential heating networks in what is called a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system.

However, as such plant is typically fed unsorted, or semi-sorted waste with a low calorific value, the combustion process will be ‘boosted’ with an additional combustion element in the form of natural gas or diesel oil. Less typical EFW technologies with little application to date, are the various gasification processed that involve the digestion of biological waste- usually food or agricultural wastes which are then converted into a ‘bio-gas’ which via a gas turbine is converted into a higher electricity output. In some processes, the waste is heat-treated anaerobically – i.e. in low oxygen conditions- (pyrolysis) to produce a synthetic ‘natural’ gas.

All EFW systems discharge exhaust gases. The principal emission is carbon dioxide but there are also emissions of nitrogen dioxide.  Quenching water can contain uncombusted toxins and  solid wastes in the form of light ash or clinker have to be disposed of safely.

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Image M J Richardson, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/5668478

Renewable energy?

EFW systems add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere through the process itself and also through large-scale transport of waste to the incinerators (mostly by road).  They are a response to the perceived problem of landfill rather than tackling systems that produce unrecyclable waste.  To operate efficiently EFW plants require a continuing supply of waste at or around current levels.  Scotland produces around 1.6 million tonnes of combustible municipal waste per year, if current plans come to fruition this means and awful lot of capacity chasing a very finite amount of waste. Local authorities could be tied in to contracts to supply waste for the next thirty or forty years.   This could pose a real threat to the commitment to recycle plastics and other recoverable materials out of the waste treatment stream. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency notes that EFW is not a renewable energy source but claims that because it can be substituted for fossil fuel electricity production it forms an important part of the Scottish Strategy for sustainable energy!

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Alternative Strategy needed

Energy from Waste is not green and not sustainable.  It undermines attempts to reuse and recycle and it has a significant carbon footprint through transport of waste to centralised sites and through the greenhouse emissions from the burning of waste.

Investment in Energy from waste should be reallocated to genuinely sustainable technologies aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which also provide opportunities for jobs in construction and better opportunities for long-term employment.

Further reading

For further information on Energy from Waste go to www.scote3.wordpress.com and click on the Resources tab in the menu.  This briefing is one in a series produced by Scot.E3.

2019 Conference report – Mary Church

Mary, who is Head of Campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland followed on from Simon Pirani.  In her contribution she talked about the Scottish context and the need to mobilise for COP26 when it’s held in Glasgow in 2020.  You can watch the video of her speaking here.

2019 Conference Report – Simon Pirani

In the second plenary session of the conference Simon Pirani and Mary Church reflected on the growth of the climate movement and the challenges we face. This post includes video of most of Simon’s contribution. He began by reflecting on the connections between some of the struggles for just transition highlighted in the REEL News films and the onslaught on working class communities that took place in the Miner’s Strike of 1984/5. Miners were fighting for their communities and lives and livelihoods. He argued that in the context of climate crisis we are defending communities no less than we were in 1984/1985.

Simon was clear that there is a still an argument to win. Some trade unionists suggest that jobs and climate action are in opposition. He argued that this a false choice – without system change we face disaster on an unimaginable scale – our fight is for effective action and social justice. Each depends on the other.

2019 Conference Report – Climate Rebels

The first two sessions of the conference aimed to set the scene for the discussion on the politics and practice of just transition that followed.  First up was Shaun Day from REEL News.  The idea of just transition has deep roots in the USA and goes back to the 1990’s.

In 2018, Reel News went on a 14 week tour of North America to look at grassroots struggles around climate change, particularly struggles around a “just transition” from fossil fuels to renewable energy, where workers and communities control the process so that they benefit from the transition, and around “just recovery” – recovery from extreme weather events which do not exacerbate current inequalities.
The documentary films that they made, while in the US, record inspiring and visionary struggles all over the continent, led by working class communities of colour, with people organising just transitions and just recoveries themselves.

Shaun showed short extracts from eight of the American Climate Rebels films:

Building a social and solidarity economy in Jackson, Mississippi 

Taking on the oil giant Chevron in Richmond, California

Fighting injustice, pollution, environmental damage and police oppression in Los Angeles

People United for Sustainable Housing in Buffalo

Kentucky Miners fighting for renewable energy

Towards a zero carbon, zero waste city – New York

Hurricane Harvey – just recovery in Texas

Minnesota – stopping the tar sands pipeline

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Image by Leslie Peterson CC BY NC 2.0  Stand with Standing Rock