Decarbonising Steel Production

We’ve added a really useful report by the Coal Action Network to our Further Reading Page.Coal in Steel – problems and solutions‘ takes a detailed look at the ways in which carbon emissions can be reduced by alternative methods that break the steel industries reliance on coal.

The report argues that decarbonisation can be achieved by:

Decarbonisation of the steel sector could be achieved through:

  •  increased use of electric arc furnaces and recycled scrap— already happening in the UK.
  • using direct reduced iron production with green hydrogen in place of coke (which is produced from metallurgical coal). The HYBRIT project aims to do this at a commercial scale in Sweden by 2026, having made their first delivery of fossil free steel in August 2021.3
  •  reducing steel consumption through more efficient design of buildings, cars, energy infrastructure, and consumer products. Promoted by The Use Less Group at Cambridge University.

Global Climate Jobs Network – Technical Conference

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

Call for Papers

Climate jobs and green new deal movements are springing up around the world. This is a call for papers for an international conference on the technical aspects of the jobs that will be necessary, in 10th, 11th and 12th March 2022.

The conference will be on zoom, over three days, and contributors will be able to participate from all continents. We want papers from engineers, scientists, system modellers, designers, architects, planners, educators and trainers, foresters, soil scientists, trade union researchers, NGO researchers and other specialists.

The Climate Jobs Approach

We want contributors to think about the technical and technological implications of a “climate jobs” approach. This approach involves several features:

Massive government spending on public sector, direct employment to make possible reductions of 95% in CO2 emissions, and deep reductions in other emissions, within 20 years. In South Africa or Britain, this would be something like one million jobs a year, or in the United States 8 million jobs.

People who lose their jobs in old, high carbon industries would be guaranteed training and well paid, permanent work in climate jobs.

The work would begin from year one, starting with training a new workforce and shovel ready projects. Over twenty years many new technologies would become possible.

Public sector bodies would share intellectual property across borders.

Profits would be less important. Technologies that are necessary but currently “unrealistic”, could be developed rapidly at scale even if the cost was very high for many years. For example, alternative methods of making steel, substitutes for cement, or expensive forms of renewable energy like marine power and concentrated solar could enter mass production.

We could also move beyond the market, with regulations of many sorts. So we could think about the sort of rail, bus and electric system needed if all flights of 5,000 kilometres or less were banned. Or what could be done if we banned the manufacture of concrete, or F-gases?

Or contributors to think about the details, and the implications, of a building code that required new buildings to have greatly reduced energy use, and to burn no fossil fuels for heating or cooking. In this, we would like not only papers that argue this would be a good idea but think about how that code would be worded in different places, and what technologies and materials would be required, and what research would be required.

For more information about the conference, possible topics, how to participate and the deadline for submitting abstracts please download the full call for papers.

Decommissioning Fictions

Neil Rothnie – ex oil worker and one time editor of the OILC newsletter Blowout spoke to a conference of people involved in the creative industries in Aberdeen on Saturday 4th September. He talked about the North Sea, climate jobs and just transition. We publish his contribution in full here.

I’ve been asked to speak because a large part of my life has revolved around struggle in the oil and gas industry. I spent my working life offshore, mostly on the North Sea, latterly in the Norwegian sector.  On the whole I enjoyed my working life.  I miss it a bit.  But mainly the Norwegian bit.

In my early days in the industry, I was active in the Aberdeen Branch of the National Union of Seamen. And during the strikes and occupations led by the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, in the wake of the Piper Alpha disaster, I founded and produced Blowout.  At that time a “nasty scurrilous” tabloid that aspired to giving oil workers a voice. 

I became the Secretary of the OILC branch of RMT after OILC “merged with” the Rail Maritime and Transport union, and I briefly represented RMT’s oil worker members on the executive of that union.  I remain a member of the Norwegian union, Industri Energi. 

I was inspired to join the struggle against climate change by Extinction Rebellion.  I’m also active with ScotE3, campaigning for jobs and a just transition (the three Es in ScotE3 are employment, energy and environment).  I’m speaking for neither of these organisations. I’m sure a lot of what I say here would get agreement from many, but not all, of the supporters of these two organisations.

As I understand climate science, it is fossil fuels that are very largely the source of the greenhouse gasses that are heating the environment and causing climate change and threatening the existence of much of life on the planet. For fossil fuel read oil & gas, at least for the purposes of this meeting.

So, I find myself back in a fight with the oil industry.  In the wake of the Piper Alpha disaster, I struggled alongside the very best, and most conscious of the offshore workforce, many of whom were lifelong trade union members. Today I struggle alongside the very best, and most conscious of the youth, organised in Extinction Rebellion and in other civil society organisations, and with other old guys in ScotE3.

It’s a lifetime of work in the industry, and recent activity as a climate activist that informs my understanding of a “just transition”.  Global heating and climate change is not the fault of oil and gas workers, and it isn’t/wasn’t the fault of the coal miners either.  

That’s the good news.

This thought consoles me just before I try and get to sleep while trying to imagine my grandchildren having long, happy and fulfilled lives, sharing a planet teeming with life.  

The bad news is that blameworthy or not, oil and gas workers are going to have to stop being oil and gas workers.  Sooner rather than later if they share my concern for their own grandchildren.  The solution it would seem is a “just transition”.  I think we should have a look at the two parts of this “just transition” construct.

The transition! It’s already underway. And insofar as I understand the science, there’s no going back. 

One possible outcome is that we’re going to complete that transition to a sustainable habitable world powered by renewable energy and a planet where we’ve stopped the practice of dumping greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere. 

The alternative is that we’re going to transition to a largely uninhabitable world      where the earth’s delicate ecological balance is disrupted,  and enormous forces of nature are released, eventually taking humanity and the rest of life on the planet into a premature and manmade fifth mass extinction.

Transition, it seems to me, is not a choice.  It’s begun.  We’re in the process. We WILL transition to a planet beyond fossil fuel burning.  

Mind you there’s a possibility that there just might not be people there to see it.  But if we and lot of the rest of life on this planet are going to survive oil and gas is going to have to go and soon.

But what about the “just” bit of a “just transition”?  Does “just” mean “fair”?  I only ask because it renders my next question into English.  

Fair to whom?  Do we mean fair to our grandchildren and to their grandchildren?  Those who are going to inherit the planet in whatever state we’re going to leave it?  Do we mean fair to those who have spent their lives with little access to the fossil fuel energy that’s destabilising the planet?  The very same people who are often at the sharp end of climate change?  Do we mean fair to all other life forms on the planet?  Or, as it’s usually understood in our corner of the globe, do we mean fair to the workers who currently produce and process the fossil fuels that have kept the lights on in the Global North?  In the sense that oil and gas workers, and the communities in which they live, should not be dumped, as were the miners before them, when the UK transitioned from coal to gas in the 1980s and 90s?

Surely, we mean “fair” in all of the above senses of the word.  But with, I think, an important qualification.  “The transition” is primary.  

Whether it is to be just or not, is entirely subordinate.  No transition to renewables  and the fairness or otherwise, really won’t matter a shit.   

None of this means that I don’t think it matters what happens to oil and gas workers and the communities in which they live.  But I think we should be clear that oil and gas workers and their families are not some sort of special case. The future for their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren will ultimately be bound up with the future of ALL of our grandchildren.  

There’s no special case, no “business as usual” scenario for the North Sea, where the transition doesn’t happen, and where oil and gas workers just keep on keeping on, producing fossil fuels.  And the fairness or otherwise of the “transition” for oil and gas workers is going to be determined in some part by the stand taken by the workforce and their families and communities.

From the standpoint of a roughneck, or a scaffolder, or a caterer on an oil rig on the North Sea, this “business as usual” might well look, pretty damned attractive if you’re hanging on to even a precarious “ad hoc” job, and the alternative is a wage thousands of pounds a year less, and that’s if you could actually get a job ashore or in offshore renewables.  In the same circumstances what would your initial reaction be?  You’d have a bit more of the “business as usual” too, at least till you could plan your exit.

But what has “business as usual” really meant for offshore workers in the UK sector.  Relatively good money!  That’s true.  But it’s been falling real wages and diminishing job security and major layoffs after successive oil price shocks going right back to 1986. You can have spent your whole working life on the North Sea and still be liable to arbitrary dismissal (I can explain the NRB later if anyone here is not familiar with it). And for many, work schedules in the UK sector are as ball bustlingly bad as ever. The boom days were pretty much over by the time Occidental killed 167 workers when they allowed Piper Alpha to blow up.

There are a lot of very good reasons for workers to get off the North Sea and into an industry with a future.   The problem is how,and where, because the Government and the industry, are hanging on, as if to dear life, to a hydrocarbon future.  Where is the clear plan to run down the industry and retrain and redeploy the workers in renewables, using the skills that they already have?  And where is the plan for learning to live with the amount of renewable energy that we can reasonably expect to produce in the crucial near future? Which is what a Government and an industry would be doing if they gave a fuck for the workers, or the planet for that matter.      .  

And then there’s the offshore wind industry, driven by profit. They’ll have studied carefully how the oil companies have tackled decommissioning.  They too would rather pay wage rates that might well allow a decent standard of living in Manilla, but certainly doesn’t cut it in Aberdeen or Middlesbrough or Burntisland.  The workers who used to produce wind towers in Campeltown could tell you all about this.  What we have instead of a plan for a just transition,     is a deal between the Government and the industry to further support hydrocarbon production, to continue with “business as usual”  on the North Sea, subsidised to the hilt by taxpayers’ money. 

The end of oil and gas globally must look like the end of the world to the fossil fuel industry, the bankers who finance it, the traders who parasitise it and the politicians. Hopefully it’ll only be the end of a rotten and corrupt system.

The Government parrots the industry formula about oil and gas production being necessary “for decades to come”.  They call their plan for the North Sea “maximising economic recovery”.  Producing every barrel that they can turn a profit on.  This perverse version of “business as usual” has been written into the UK’s statute books.  

And it begs the question of whether our Government, hosts of COP26, self-anointed global leaders in the fight against climate change,are giving the nod here to maximising economic recovery of ALL oil and gas?      

Globally?                            

I shouldn’t think Vlad the poisoner or the Crown Prince murderer need much encouragement to follow suite.  

Central to the UK plan is one mitigation measure. It’s an expensive, energy guzzling technology that has been stalling for the last three decades,    and which would require a 1000 fold increase in capacity worldwide to begin to address the situation.  It’s called carbon capture and storage (CCS) and it’s linked to so called “blue” hydrogen production.  CCS at scale is not even up and running in one single location in UK. It’s pretty much only commercially viable as a tool for producing even more oil and gas mainly in the States, and only then when oil and gas prices are high.  CCS is beloved of the oil industry and the Government, but is “disappeared” by the media in much the same way as the North Sea itself is largely disappeared in public debate about global heating.              

And the questions that never get asked?

Who’s going to pick up the bill for producing the hydrogen from natural gas and then capture and store this polluting waste product. The oil and gas industry itself?  Not very likely!  They don’t even pay for the oil.  And they’re not going to pay to clean up much of their old hardware on the North Sea when its useful life is over.  

The taxpayer is going to have the privilege of paying for a vast amount of the decommissioning of redundant platforms.

The polluter pays?  Huh!

Putting the cost of hydrogen and carbon capture on top of the cost of production of oil and gas sounds very much like the kind of squeeze on profits that periodic oil price collapses have repeatedly given us. And the oil and gas workers know what happens every time the oil price falls and profits are squeezed.  Investment dries up and the workers get dumped, and if they’re lucky, rehired at lower rates down the line.

If hydrogen and carbon capture and storage is a serious solution to global heating, then we need to know how much more fossil fuels will have to be produced to fuel this energy hungry process and how much carbon will be captured and stored and by whom on what timescale      and at what cost, to whom.  We need urgently to open a conversation with those, and I’m thinking here of the hugely respected climate scientist Myles Allen, who sees the transition led by the oil industry. Which sounds a lot to me like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Although it’s not the oil workers’ responsibility alone to change this situation, they are first in the firing line, and what they do is going to be decisive in deciding whether the transition is going to be fair or “just” from their point of view.  They can swallow the plan of Government and industry for continued exploration and development of new oil and gas fields. They might gamble that the industry will see them out and fuck the consequences for their grandchildren and the planet.  They might opt for the “business as usual” option that gives them periodic job crashes and diminishing wages and conditions, and very likely future disasters and loss of life, and leaves them negotiating their escape from the industry alone as individuals.  Certainly, the last time any significant section of oil and gas workers took up a struggle was over three decades ago after Occidental dispatched 167 workers on Piper Alpha. 

Back then the official trade union movement completely failed to step up to the challenge.  They were utterly useless, and it took the rank-and-file Offshore Industry Liaison Committee to try and ensure that Piper Alpha would never be repeated. But a quarter of a century later, French oil giant Total did exactly that.  They presided over a complete breakdown of safety offshore, endangering the lives of the 267 men on Elgin and the Rowan Viking in 2012.  Only luck stopped Total blowing up the Elgin complex with all hands onboard.  

The Blowout publication never reported on the Elgin Blowout. That edition coincided with the 25th anniversary of Piper and would have seriously challenged the  “never again” and the “we’ve learned our lesson” mantras.

So, who can predict what lies ahead, and what the workforce might, or might not do?  We’ll no doubt get the measure of the offshore unions’ commitment to fighting climate change when we hear what their response to the proposed new Cambo oilfield West of Shetland will be.  

Yesterday’s Just Transition Coalition Conference featuring the trade unions gave us a bit of a clue.  The unions kept quiet on the issue.

But not one section of society alone is going to turn the climate crisis around. And the offshore worker is no more to blame than anyone else for the crisis, and no more responsible for solving it.  

But if the oil and gas workers are to play a part in securing a just transition for themselves and their communities, they’ll certainly need all the support they can get. 

The environmental movement have the responsibility for making sure that oil and gas workers have access to the science and an understanding of the role that fossil fuels play in global heating. 

Creatives also have a role, maybe even some sort of responsibility here. And indeed this exhibition and related events suggests that this community is awake to oil and gas and its colossal implications locally, and for the planet.  Maybe here in Aberdeen we’ve seen an end to an era, when for almost two decades, BP could sponsor the Grays’ School of Art degree show, drink their champagne in their own cosy enclosure, and with their own invited guests.

While BP were basking in the glow of appreciation from academia and creating a warm and fuzzy image in Aberdeen, they were breaking all the rules on the Deepwater Horizon where they killed 11 men, and in the process trashed the Gulf of Mexico with the world’s worst oil spill?  I’m guessing BP’s paltry sponsorship money didn’t stretch to getting that years photography class from Garthdee over to Louisiana’s beaches. Not that that would have appreciably added to their 65 billion dollar costs that included a 4 billion dollar criminal penalty.

Andy Kennedy, old friend and neighbour, and one time tutor at Gray’s and known to a few of you here today,  told me

Artists are encouraged to practice thinking, questioning, observing and reacting.  It’s what they do.  

He said,

Artists are supposed to upset the apple cart, knock on doors and ask for change

He said a lot of nice things about artists but these are the only bits I understood.Ah!  Some of you do know him I see.

Maybe from here on in we’re likely to see, reflected in the degree show, a much more critical appreciation of the industry that’s dominated Aberdeen for the last 5 decades.  Maybe that’s not how it works.  

But at least creatives should be checking what is being funded by Oil and Gas, what if any hidden strings are attached, and ask themselves just what are the BPs and Shells of this world getting out of sponsorship of the arts.

We all, including the workers, will have to work out where we stand in this existential crisis.  Nobody on this side of the fence is forcing the workers into a corner. It’s the climate crisis itself that’s doing that to all of us.

So, who knows whether the transition is going to be just?  The brightest light in this gloom are the youth inspired by Greta Thunberg.  They include the sons and daughters of oil workers, and they now find themselves on the front line of struggle. It’s their future that’s at stake. They are more likely than anyone to speak truth to the workers and to the industry.

The climate movement, armed by climate science, has a responsibility not to shy away from the very difficult questions posed by the transition for the industry workforce.  The workers need to know the facts about climate change and fossil fuels. The workers and their communities will themselves have to come to terms with what continued hydrocarbon production means.

Maybe climate activists in Aberdeen and the North East          bolstered by the creatives might consider opening their doors    for a couple of days during the COP to activists who will be in Scotland from all over the global south.  

Maybe together we can challenge Shell, Siccar Point, and the Oil and Gas Authority in Aberdeen, and let them know what we think of their Cambo plans.  

Maybe together we can get out to the heliports and into the city and open up a conversation with the oil workers about what would be a “just transition” for everyone, and how that might be achieved.  

Maybe we can set the tone for a global conversation about the future of hydrocarbons.

The transition is already under way.

How “just” it will be is yet to be seen.

Facing Catastrophe

An opinion piece by Mike Downham that looks at the twin challenges of Covid and Climate and the role of the big corporations. A version of this article is also published in the the Scottish Socialist Voice newspaper.

It’s been said before but let me say it again: COVID IS NOT OVER!

This bears repeating because we’ve fallen into a deep pit of thinking that there’s no viable alternative – that our daily lives have to be like this – and taking at face value what those in power tell us. We keep falling back on trying to persuade and negotiate with them. This is a trap deliberately set for us by those who have the power at this point in history – the big corporations, served by their political lackeys in governments across the world, particularly in the Global North. 

The corporations are a consequence and integral part of the capitalist economy, which is, as encapsulated by Asbjorn Wahl:

 A system which is geared towards making profits rather than producing use value; dependent on economic growth; a system exploiting workers and over-exploiting natural resources – one that is also about to destroy planet earth as a place to live for future generations. 

This week’s IPCC report says that the impacts of this destruction – floods, fires, droughts, heat which humans can’t survive – are now being experienced in every region of the world. Glasgow experienced unprecedented flooding on the same day the report was published. 

Image by Pierre Banoori CC BY-SA 3.0

The report concludes that we are set to overshoot the critical 1.5 degree rise around 2030 – a decade earlier than their previous prediction. Only a huge reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years can save us.

In relation to the pandemic, the pharmaceutical companies want us to rely solely on their vaccines to stop the pandemic. No pandemic in human history has been stopped by vaccines alone – simple public health measures to cut down the spread of infection have always been necessary. But social distancing isn’t a source of profit, and ventilating buildings doesn’t need new technology.

In relation to global warming, which is now set to kill 100s of millions of us (the global death count for the virus is ‘only’ 4+ million so far), the Oil and Gas companies want us to go on burning fossil fuels down to the last drop, while they prepare to replace or compensate for these fuels with energy sources and technologies which will be equally profitable and every bit as exploitative

Trapped as we’ve been, we keep trying to negotiate with these companies and with the governments who serve them. Given the huge current imbalance of power between them and us, this amounts to inaudible whispering down the barrel of a gun.

The Zero Covid Scotland campaign has drawn a line under its attempts to negotiate with the Scottish Government. Just as the only way to avoid catastrophic climate change is to slash emissions, the only way to prevent more deaths and more suffering from Covid is to eliminate the virus. Slashing emissions and eliminating the virus are both entirely possible.

Image by Pete Linforth – Public Domain

Jonathan Neale (his book Fight the Fire published in February can be downloaded free from The Ecologist website) said at an event in Scotland last week that when you are faced with catastrophe the only way out is to build a mass movement of those most threatened by that catastrophe – a movement which starts by focussing on keeping each other alive.

The Zero Covid Scotland Campaign is planning to contribute in a small way to a movement to keep each other alive from Covid infection by inviting a range of people who have been most impacted by Covid to give evidence at a Public Hearing on Saturday 4th September, staring at 11.00am. You can register in advance for this event here.

After registering, you’ll receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

In the same way that eliminating the virus is the way of keeping each other alive from Covid, the way of keeping each other alive from global warming is climate jobs. This isn’t a new idea – thanks mainly to Jonathan Neale through the Campaign Against Climate Change it’s been around for more than ten years. But it’s been considerably developed through research in terms of how it would work, what kinds of jobs we are talking about (above all good, secure jobs), how many jobs (latest calculations for Scotland come to more than 100,000), and what training would be necessary. Climate jobs are the solution because they are the only way we can simultaneously and quickly slash emissions and keep our economy going so that we don’t have to drop our standard of living.

There’s a third specific catastrophe facing many people in Scotland – the loss of huge numbers of jobs in the North Sea Oil and Gas industry. There’s a sort of “offshore-so-not-affecting-most-of-us’ blind eye being turned on this by people in Scotland, led astray by our governments. But it’s already a reality for around 30,000 redundant workers, their families, and their communities. Unless something is done quickly it will affect at least 100,000. If you add this number of redundant workers to a society the size of Scotland’s which already features inadequate services, inadequate housing, and inadequate income support, in the middle of a lethal pandemic, to speak of keeping each other alive isn’t an exaggeration. Moreover, at the end of September, on the verge of winter and with the Covid epidemic still raging, the UK Government is set to terminate furlough, reduce Universal Credit back to its insulting pre-pandemic level and increase the cap on energy prices to an unprecedented figure. This amounts to a perfect storm for less well-off people.

The solution to the catastrophe facing offshore workers also lies again in climate jobs, specifically in the sectors of renewable energy, public transport, and heating efficiency, where a majority of offshore workers already have the right skills and experience. We can’t achieve energy transition in the short time we have available without the skills and experience of offshore workers.

Unfortunately, there’s an elephant in the room in relation to climate jobs and a transition to them. Just as we need to go on (to every one we meet regardless of their politics) about Covid and elimination and about climate change and climate jobs, we also need to speak of this elephant, which is the trade unions. 

As Wahl points out it’s entirely understandable how the trade unions have got into the fix that they now find themselves in. 70 or so years ago they had a place at the bargaining table with employers and governments because they had shown how they could disrupt the capitalist economy by withdrawing their labour. But the balance of power today is such that they don’t have a place at the table any longer. To win it back they need to demonstrate again that they are prepared to stop the train in its tracks. Unless the unions shift their perspective, the workers will leave them and set up their own collective arrangements

We mustn’t be fooled. The corporations which hold the power have no motivation to make concessions at this critical point in history. They are prepared to accept whatever number of deaths and however much suffering it takes to remain profitable. They are fatally hooked on the system they’ve created.

Fuel Poverty Update

The latest of the ScotE3 briefings to be updated is Briefing 7 which looks at Fuel Poverty. A week ago the UK Energy Regulator ‘OFGEN’ raised the price cap which governs electricity and gas prices for consumers. There will be sharp increases in gas prices in particular. The raising of the cap is good news for the energy companies and very bad news for the poor. There is no doubt that in the context of rising unemployment there will be an increase in already unacceptably high levels of fuel poverty.

Here’s the text of Briefing 7. You can download the briefing to read, print and distribute.

Fuel poverty kills

In Scotland, almost 25% of households live in fuel poverty and just over 12% are in extreme fuel poverty.  Households in extreme fuel poverty are disproportionately represented in rural Scotland Older people living in rural Scotland are particularly hard hit. Every year thousands die because of fuel poverty – in 2018/19 excess winter mortality was 2060 – the death toll can be more than twice as high in cold winters. [Please note that at the time of writing all the data available predated Covid 19 – the pandemic is likely to have increased the figures we quote here.]

Rising fuel prices

From 2006 – 2016, Gas and Electricity prices rose by 71% and 62% respectively. Between 2017and 2020 electricity prices increased by a further 8% in real terms while gas prices fell by a similar amount. Gas prices are more volatile and steep price rises are taking place in 2021.   Throughout Britain, it would cost £3billion – £8billion to end fuel poverty – a fraction of the cost of tax avoidance or defence.

A new policy

In June 2019 the Scottish Parliament passed a new act setting statutory targets for reducing fuel poverty.  The bill is necessary and welcome but falls short of what is needed.  Rightly it highlights the impact of fuel poverty on the most vulnerable in society. Low income, high-energy costs and 

poorly insulated housing result in this appalling situation where families, young people, elderly, disabled and many working people, cannot afford adequate warmth.  It also notes how measures to alleviate fuel poverty can have a positive impact on carbon emissions and create new jobs and links these measures to decarbonisation and the new Just Transitions Commission.

Lack of ambition

The new act sets interim targets for reducing fuel poverty to 15% of households by 2030 and final targets for 2040.  In light of the climate threat we face this is way too slow.  The act is sketchy on how targets will be achieved.  Moreover, there is no recognition of the impending crisis of energy capacity in Scotland, which, if not addressed, will further impact heavily on the poorest, weakest and elderly in our communities.  Some of these weaknesses could have been addressed in a Final Fuel Poverty Strategy that was due to be published u=in September 2020.  However, this was put on hold because of Covid and is yet to be published.

Climate action

There is no reason why Scotland could not produce an energy surplus.  There is an abundance of renewable resources to hand.   In light of the recent UN report, and the latest science, what’s needed is an integrated policy that aims for a zero carbon economy by 2030.  Such a policy would eliminate fuel poverty and create many thousands of new jobs.

A mass insulation campaign

In its ‘One Million Climate Jobs Pamphlet’, the Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC) notes that 

Three quarters of emissions from houses and flats … are caused by heating air and water. To reduce this we need to insulate and draught- proof the buildings, and replace inefficient boilers. This can cut the amount of energy used to heat the home and water by about 40% and delivers the double-whammy of reducing energy costs and helping mitigate the scourge of fuel poverty. 

Based on these CACC estimates, which are for the whole of the UK, a campaign to properly insulate all homes in Scotland would employ around 20,000 construction workers for the next 20 years.  This doesn’t account for additional jobs in education, training and manufacture that would spin off from such an endeavour.  Through this carbon dioxide emissions from homes would be cut by 95%.   We could ensure that all new houses are effectively carbon neutral.  The technology exists – there are examples of ‘passive houses’ that use very little energy. 

New Technologies 

The current costs for fossil fuel power range from 4p -12p per kilowatt-hour. Inter renewable energy agency (IREA) state that renewable energy will cost 2p – 7p with the best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects expected to deliver electricity for 2p or less.  Renewable energy is necessary for a sustainable future and it is cheaper than fossil fuels.  Current Westminster Government policy – notably the subsidy ban for new onshore wind farms – is impeding the shift to renewables. The ban could add £1billion onto fuel bills.

No Fracking

For the moment fracking is off the agenda in Scotland.  The result of a magnificent campaign of resistance.  But INEOS continues to import fracked gas from the US.  This has to stop.

No market solution

Fuel Poverty is a direct result of the ”wrecking ball” of market forces dominating our need for energy to give us warmth, light and sustenance. In the pursuit of profit, the use of fossil fuels adds to the catastrophe of climate change.

We have the technology and skills to stop this madness and misery through a radical shift in Energy policy that would combine sustainable and renewable resources dedicated to social need.  Tackling climate change would go hand in hand with creating additional jobs, eliminating fuel poverty, and improving health and well-being.  To make this happen we need the kind of focus and the level of investment that has only normally applied at times of war.  Ending the use of fossil fuels over a short period is practically possible provided there is the political will.

Trident and Jobs

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

Briefing 4

The case for scrapping Trident

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

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

Nuclear weapons are a threat to us all

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

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

No time for business as usual

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

A million climate jobs

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

Jobs under threat

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

Action for change

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

If not now when?

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

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

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

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

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

Wind Power, Green Jobs, Global Capitalism

Mike Downham reviews ‘Who wields the welding rod’ recently published in the London Review of Books

It’s impossible to do justice here to James Meek’s 12,000 word piece “Who holds the welding rod?” (LRB 15th July).

This exceptional investigation took journalist Meek to Hull, Campbeltown and remotely (because of Covid) to Vietnam through a Vietnamese researcher. The piece is threaded with the bitter experiences of many individual workers and an intimate account of the Campbeltown community’s past and present predicaments.

The story starts with a vivid picture of the voyage of a German-owned cargo ship loaded with wind towers which had left the Vietnamese port of Phu My in early April last year, arriving more than a month later in Hull.

The towers are massive. The hollow tapered columns, made of thick painted steel, are designed to be attached to the sea-bed, raising the turbines high enough above the sea for clearance of their huge blades. They are hundreds of feet tall and weigh hundreds of tonnes.

This shipment was destined for Hornsea Two in the North Sea, which will be the largest offshore windfarm in the world, scheduled to be operational next year.

The towers were made in a factory in Phu My by the Korean company CS Wind. The towers for Hornsea One were made by a CS wind factory in Campbeltown. CS wind doesn’t have a factory in Korea. Instead it has factories in Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, China, Canada and Scotland (Campbeltown). It’s really one vast international factory. The factories in both Canada and Scotland have been closed down because CS wind said they couldn’t make a profit. In the year or so before closure working conditions in the Campbeltown factory deteriorated to such an extent that serious accidents, some of them permanently disabling, became common. Then 100 jobs were lost from a small remote town which offers few other employment opportunities.

The Scottish Government had made it attractive for CS Wind to start a factory in Campbeltown, though it could have invested instead in an available Scottish company. They chose the cheaper investment of a Korean company, knowing full well that the reason it was cheaper was that CS Wind pays its workers less and works them for longer hours. The jobs it provided people in Campbeltown, more like slave labour than jobs, lasted less than three years. 

CS wind may sound powerful but it’s at the bottom of the pyramid of control in the wind industry. At the top are the project developers, who put up the money – companies like Orsted (controlled by the Danish government) and SSE (London-listed, Scotland-based). The project developers contract engineering companies to manufacture and install the turbines. In Europe and much of the world the dominant engineering players are Vestas (Danish) and Siemens-Gamesa (German-Spanish), both of whom manufacture the blades and the turbines themselves because they are high-value, and contract out the rest, including the wind towers.

Are the conflicting goals of cheap green energy, free trade and secure well-paid jobs irreconcilable? At one point Meek thinks they are. But later he says:

It shouldn’t be more important that the North Sea wind farms get built than that some of their towers are made by low-paid labourers working twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week; and yet the immense utopian project to decarbonise human activity forges ahead, while the equally utopian project to end the setting of ‘low income country’ worker against ‘high income country’ worker barely exists. The mad dream of a green energy transition might just be starting to come true, with much of the credit due to stubborn activists, clever engineers and a handful of far-sighted policymakers. But it is also happening for the unlikely reason that it has been redefined as a global capitalist-consumerist project. It realises utopian goals while simultaneously keeping stock-markets ticking over, making the rich richer and spreading a general sense of virtue. The system has been able to turn the green energy transition into a set of products – electric cars, solar panels, wind turbines – but the transition  to a world of better-treated workers involves systemic changes that are the antithesis of commodification.

We have an internationalist movement to save humanity from climate. But we also have an internationalist movement to save humanity from capitalist exploitation. For the latter movement to win the struggle, as Meek concludes, a world factory like CS Wind’s demands a world trade union.

Pittsburgh – Green New Deal Declaration

There is a growing network of campaigns for a Green New Deal in the United States. This is an example from a newly established campaign in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. They are keen to get feedback from the wider network in the US and internationally.

Green Jobs in Scotland – a review

In April the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) published a new report ‘Green Jobs in Scotland’. written by Transition Economics.  The headline finding is that the decarbonisation of the Scottish economy could lead to 367,000 new jobs.  That’s about 16% of the number of workers employed currently in Scotland.  

The jobs message is powerful but it’s not new.  More than a decade ago the ‘Million Climate Jobs’ pamphlet looked at how large numbers of new jobs are essential to the transition to a zero-carbon economy. It estimated that a million new jobs are needed across the UK; scaled by population size this means around 100,000 jobs for Scotland.  This prediction was confirmed by a December 2018 report by the Green European foundation, which provides regional estimates for job creation in Scotland.  Six months later the Sea Change report showed how a planned run down of North Sea Oil and Gas could mean many more, new, skilled jobs in renewables.  The STUC report adds to this body of evidence. However, the challenge remains for trade unionists and climate campaigners alike to take the evidence, make it widely known and build a mass movement to make it happen.  

Green Jobs in Scotland comprises 103 pages of densely packed analysis covering six broad sectors of the Scottish economy.  It’s important to note that it is not a critique of either the Scottish or UK’s policies on climate.  It takes as given, for example, the fact that both governments’ have strategies based on large scale use of carbon capture and storage.  What it does do, sector by sector, is take current targets and policy recommendations and analyse in detail what needs to change for decarbonisation targets to be achieved.  The graphic illustrates how, in the best case scenario, 367,000 new jobs would be distributed across six major industry sectors.  

The report repays careful reading, not just because it provides solid evidence to back up the case for climate jobs, but also because, working within mainstream assumptions about the economy it shines a light on significant dangers along the road to transition.  

The Transition Economics team highlight the inadequacy of current climate action plans and argue that for targets to be achieved the Scottish Government’s timeline to meet its 2045 targets needs to be revised

Scotland’s net zero emissions by 2045 target, decarbonisation has to accelerate.

They also make it clear that, to date, the promise of jobs has been illusory. Indeed, job numbers in the renewable sector have been in decline.  This is a direct result of policies that have relied on the market.  And the report makes it clear, that while with the right policies and funding in place, 367,000 new jobs in the Scottish economy is a possible outcome, without such policies the number of new jobs might be as low as 156,000.  It concludes that 

… it is also possible for Scotland to decarbonise without significant domestic job creation – and that those jobs created could be primarily precarious and under-paid. 

The report gives examples of the consequences of giving free rein to the private sector. For example, in offshore wind and solar 

… employment in renewable energy …has been below standard. Jobs tend not to be unionised, and there have been reports of large multinational energy utilities like EDF trying to avoid unionisation of their (new) renewables divisions, despite union recognition across the rest of the company. The wind power Sector Deal created by the UK Government excludes any provision for trade unions. This adds to significant Health & Safety concerns with wind power, repeated violations, and recent deaths amongst onshore wind workers.

An investigation revealed that migrant workers hired to work on crane ships and guard vessels for offshore windfarm construction and offshore cable-laying sites were paid a fraction of the minimum wage and made to work more than 12 hours a day – both at the Beatrice site and others.  Instead of ensuring acceptable labour standards, the UK government has now repeatedly extended a waiver work for permit requirements in the wind sector to facilitate the employment of foreign crews – raising concerns about poor safety and human rights conditions for migrant workers, as well as concerns about local jobs and training opportunities in the sector.

Throughout, the report assumes that climate projects will be undertaken by the private sector with public participation.  The role for participation is to set policy goals, make investments and provide some level of regulation – legislation on fair work practices for example.  One example that is given notes that there are serious skill shortages in some sectors and recommends a co-ordinated approach to skills provision for the climate transition through the creation of a new public body – Climate Skills Scotland.  The new organisation’s role would be


to play a co-ordinating and pro-active role to work with existing providers (e.g. FE colleges) to quickly roll out the new qualifications required. 

So essentially, public participation means supporting and facilitating the private sector.  But given the track record of the private sector there must be grounds for questioning whether this level of participation is adequate. It’s clearly right to suggest, as the report does, that there is no certainty that the headline figure of almost 400,000 jobs will be achieved, or that jobs will be unionised and provide good pay and conditions.  Even if both Holyrood and Westminster step up the pace and address investment in the projects outlined in the report, the private sector will still be driven by profit maximisation.  That’s why renewable job numbers in Scotland have declined, why renewable projects source production on the other side of the world resulting in massive carbon footprints, and why wage rates and working conditions are driven to the bottom.  Scot.E3 argues that public participation is not enough to ensure that we meet zero carbon targets or to ensure that the jobs that accrue from transition are good jobs.  We need public ownership and democratic control.   

Finally, the report touches upon three areas which, in our view, require urgent attention if Scotland’s roadmap for transition to zero carbon can have any credibility.  The first of these is North Sea Oil and Gas.  Most oil and gas production is not included in Scottish emissions figures or in targets for emissions reductions. The report notes that:

Scotland’s oil and gas output is equivalent to an additional 180.3 MtCO2e when used, more than four times greater than Scotland’s own greenhouse gas emissions [our emphasis].  

These uncounted emissions represent a whole herd of elephants in the room and must be addressed as part of a planned, coordinated and just transition.  This requires a sharp shift from the current policy, espoused by both Holyrood and Westminster, of maximum economic recovery of North Sea hydrocarbons.  It also requires a break with the long-term partnership with big oil which has been cemented over 50 years by massive subsidies from the public purse and is now driving the policy focus on hydrogen production in order to sustain the industries dominant economic position.  

The report is critical of a focus on hydrogen production from oil (blue hydrogen), arguing that it could delay progress with green hydrogen produced by electrolysing water. However, in line with its overall concentration on existing government policy it fails to look at the serious criticisms that have been made of zero carbon plans that foreground hydrogen.  

Finally, the report notes how the private companies contracted to build energy from waste plants have tried to drive through serious cuts in pay and working conditions.  However, it is uncritical of a strategy that requires a continual stream of waste for burning (and thus generating greenhouse gas emissions) for decades to come) and is incompatible with a zero-carbon transition and the Scottish Government’s aspirations for a circular economy.

New Report – Green Jobs in Scotland

A report released today, written by Transition Economics for the STUC shows how the transition to a low or Zero carbon economy could create a large number of new jobs. The report’s findings underline the need for planning, public investment and public control and consequences if these steps are not taken.

New STUC report shows the potential for up to 367,000 green jobs in Scotland. However poor policy choices could see less than 131,000 jobs being created.

Written by Transition Economics, “Green Jobs In Scotland” looks at how energy, buildings, transport, manufacturing, waste, agriculture and land-use need to be decarbonised, and sets out how Scotland can maximise green job creation, as well as fair work and effective worker voice in these jobs. It finds:

  • Energy: The transition to zero-carbon energy could see 30,000 – 95,000 jobs created over 15+years. However, this will require a national energy generation company, local content rules, and upgrades to ports and manufacturing sites. Without policies like this we could see less than 16,000.
  • Buildings: Decarbonising buildings & broadband could see 61,000 – 136,000 jobs created over 10+years, plus a further 22,000 – 37,000 jobs over 3 years in building new social housing. This area holds the greatest potential for job creation but requires billions of investment – including in a street-by-street retrofitting programme run directly by Local Authorities.
  • Transport: Upgrading and expanding transport could see 26,000 – 60,000 jobs over 10+ years with a further 11,000-13,000 ongoing jobs in operations. However, this will require significant investment in municipally run electric buses, railways, shipping, cycle and walking infrastructure etc.
  • Manufacturing and Industry: Heavy industry is particularly hard to decarbonise but 5,000 – 9,000 jobs could be created in steel, CCS and re-manufacturing, while existing employment numbers in chemicals and refining could be protected. However, even achieving this will require investment in plant conversions and an industrial strategy to promote domestic manufacturing.
  • Waste: The circular economy and waste management could provide 17,000 – 23,500 jobs. But this needs policies to boost recycling capacity, improve waste collection, scale up the deposit and return scheme, develop tool libraries, expand reverse logistics services, and expand remanufacturing.
  • Land-Use and Agriculture: Greening land-use and agriculture could create 17,000 – 43,000 jobs over 12+ years. But this requires significant investment in reforestation and rewilding, alongside support for local organic farming and stronger enforcement of labour standards in Scottish agriculture.

The recommendations in the report span UK, Scottish and Local Government, with the scale of public investment required to meet climate targets and potential job levels exceeding what the Scottish Government alone can access under the current financial settlement. However, calls for a more active industrial strategy, far greater levels of public ownership and significant public investment noting that employment in Scotland’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy decreased in 2019.

You can read the full report here.