Why workers and climate activists should reject the ‘British energy security strategy’

Yesterday (6th April) the UK Government announced a new ‘British Energy Security Strategy’.  The shape of the strategy isn’t a surprise with many of the elements being trailed in recent weeks.  Put simply the strategy is a disaster.  It’s a recipe for failing to meet UK greenhouse gas emission targets and ignores the recommendations of the IPCC report that was published earlier in the week (4th April).

This post is a first response, and we will share more detailed analysis in the weeks to come.  

The government’s press release notes that the strategy involves an ‘ambitious, quicker expansion of nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, oil and gas, including delivering the equivalent to one nuclear reactor a year instead of one a decade.’  

Note the ‘expansion of oil and gas’.  The aim will be to accelerate the approval of new oil and gas fields in the North Sea and west of Shetland.  Essentially, it’s a doubling down on the oil industries so called ‘North Sea Transition Deal’.  The aim of the deal is to make the North Sea a ‘net-zero’ oil and gas basin by 2050 – but this can only happen if carbon capture and storage can be developed and introduced at large scale, which is as yet uncertain.  

Hydrogen is part of the oil industry strategy – the aim of the transition deal is for hydrogen to replace North Sea gas in domestic and commercial heating systems – these currently account for more than 20% of UK greenhouse gas emissions.  The strategy talks about hydrogen supplying around 10% of energy needs.  What it doesn’t say is that producing hydrogen by splitting methane or water is an enormously inefficient process and so a very significant proportion of all the new electricity produced from nuclear, wind, solar and oil and gas will be needed to produce the hydrogen!

After a period of equivocating on nuclear power it’s now back at the centre of the strategy.   No figures are given, but if we extrapolate from the cost of the current Hinkley C project the proposed developments will cost around £150 billion.  The government refers to nuclear as clean and safe.  It is neither.  This blog has looked at the arguments about nuclear elsewhere.  It’s a hugely expensive form of energy, high risk with long construction times and a history of cost overruns and serious and unresolved problems with radioactive waste.   

The new strategy says nothing about reducing energy demand through insulating new buildings and retrofitting existing housing stock.  Retrofitting the majority of UK housing is estimated to cost around £160 billion – this is roughly what the new nuclear programme will cost.  So, it seems like their plan is to construct large scale nuclear plants whose output will then provide the energy that is lost through the walls and roofs of homes, office and factories.

The supposed rationale for the new strategy is energy security.  Currently working people are paying the price for the super profits being earned by the oil and gas sector.  Led by that sector the strategy opts for a future of high energy prices – continuing oil and gas and new nuclear.  Renewable costs continue to decrease, nuclear energy costs continue to rise.  Currently renewable electricity is 6 times cheaper than gas and the gap is even bigger between the cost of renewables and the cost of nuclear.   

Wind turbines near Carberry – image Pete Cannell CC0

It will be interesting to hear the response from the Scottish Government.  Until now Holyrood has been firmly signed up the North Sea Transition Deal and the oil industry agenda, but it has had a firm position of no new nuclear.  Similarly, it is now crunch time for the trade unions who have advocated just transition while endorsing the Transition Deal Strategy.  The argument at root has been over jobs.  It has been the case for a long time now that large-scale investment in renewables creates far more jobs than the same investment in nuclear.  Yesterday’s strategy announcement means in effect no transition and no justice.  There is an ever more urgent need for the workers movement and the climate movement to work together in opposition to the new strategy (really just the old strategy with more investment in false solutions).  Less than 24 hours after its release the strategy has been widely criticised but we will need to do more than oppose this latest attempt at preserving an unacceptable status quo and reject the North Sea transition deal in its entirety.

Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marching for climate justice

Despite wind and heavy rain one hundred thousand people marched in Glasgow yesterday. They were joined by hundreds of thousands more at over 300 locations around the world. Here’s a visual record of the Glasgow march. Thanks to Graham Checkley for the pictures and video.

And here’s an overview of the whole march from our friends at REEL News

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 Industrial Revolution’? Not with this plan

Boris Johnson’s ten point plan has received largely uncritical responses from the main stream media. We’re pleased to repost here the Campaign Against Climate Change’s ten point response. We welcome other contributions that develop or extend this critique.

We’ve had the big announcement: Boris Johnson’s ten point plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. But following initial positive headlines, the details start trickling out. £12 billion was announced, but just £3 billion, it emerges, is new money. This is paltry. Other countries have already made much larger commitments, including Germany’s green stimulus of over €40bn and France around €35bn. 

Most importantly, how does it stack up compared to the scale of the task facing us? Two years on from the IPCC’s ground-breaking report calling for an urgent transformation of the global economy to stay within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, global emissions are still (excluding the limited impact of the pandemic) on an upward trend. As temperatures continue to rise, sea level rise is accelerating as polar ice melts. And in the background a steady stream of records broken for ‘natural’ disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, hitting the poorest hardest. 

The UK’s carbon budgets reflect out of date targets, an 80% cut in emissions by 2050. Previous policy failure means we are nowhere near on track to even stay within these deficient targets. This latest set of announcements is therefore doubly inadequate. It leaves a major hole in meeting even these out of date commitments. However we don’t just need to close that gap. Last year the government set a new climate commitment of ‘net-zero’ carbon by 2050. In relation to this new target, the gap is even greater. But unfortunately even ‘net zero by 2050’ doesn’t cut it. We need to act even faster than 2050 to be compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Meanwhile, we also face a devastating pandemic leaving in its wake widespread unemployment. Now is the time for a real climate jobs programme to tackle the climate and jobs crises.

What would a real 10 point plan to tackle the climate crisis look like?

1. A comprehensive approach

Climate change cannot be tackled as an add-on, or a piecemeal approach that takes us one step forward, two steps back. We need a commitment that every economic policy, every spending commitment, every piece of legislation, will put us on track for a safer future, not jeopardise it by locking us in to business as usual. 

If the government had really taken on board the scale of the crisis, it would be rethinking the policies of unconditional corporate bailouts, planning deregulation, aviation expansion, road building, stifling onshore wind. It would not be giving a £16.5 billion windfall to military spending.

2. Meeting the needs of both people and planet  

Austerity has left us, more than ever, with a grossly unequal society with continued deep inequalities in race, gender and for disabled people. Underfunded public services are struggling. The move towards a zero carbon society must also ensure access to food, healthcare, education, income, job security, good, affordable, housing, clean and affordable energy and heat, public transport, clean air and green spaces for everyone.

There is huge public support to ‘build back better’ as part of recovery from the pandemic, investing in public services and frontline workers. Instead, a public sector pay freeze is being mooted. These are the wrong priorities: we need huge investment and expansion in the public sector and the people who work in it. 

3. ‘New Deal’ levels of spending

Boris Johnson has tried to compare his plans to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. In today’s money, Roosevelt’s spending programme amounted to about £4,300 – for every American living through the turmoil of the Great Depression. In contrast £12 billion is about £180 each.

Our own ‘One Million Climate Jobs’ report or Green New Deal plans give more of a sense of the levels of investment and ambition needed if the government is taking this seriously. Other recent analyses include an IPPR report which estimates that £33 billion a year in additional annual investment is needed to meet the government’s net zero target, creating 1.6 million jobs, including £8 billion on homes and buildings and £10.3 billion on transport.

The pandemic has shown that money can be found. It has been found for other spending, including billions to private companies for medical supply and services in contracts awarded with no oversight, regulation or transparency. These are the sums of money that now need to be directed into tackling the climate crisis, sums that can actually make an impact in reducing emissions and would truly justify the term New Deal.

4. Not relying on techno-fixes that don’t solve the problem

There are valuable technologies that help us cut waste and greenhouse gas emissions. But those we’d call ‘techno-fixes’ are a double-edged sword. Despite serious drawbacks, these pull resources away from proven solutions (for example onshore wind and solar are not even mentioned in Johnson’s plan). They often support the continuation of fossil fuel infrastructure, and give a sense of false security about the need to radically cut energy use. Boris Johnson’s ten point plan overly relies on these techno-fixes which seriously undermine any genuine and far reaching attempt to transition the economy.

There is more detail below about why we are concerned about the emphasis on hydrogen, carbon capture and storage and nuclear energy. The promotion of ‘Jet Zero’ (zero carbon flying) also hides the fact that the scope for genuine decarbonisation of aviation is limited and the pursuit of ‘sustainable aviation growth a mirage. There should be no further airport expansion in a serious plan to tackle the climate crisis. While not mentioned explicitly in this latest plan, biofuels and biomass (burning wood for power) also fall into the same category – unsustainable while subsidised as ‘green’ technology. 

5. Provide decent, well paid, secure jobs

With a wide range of sectors hit by the pandemic, unemployment is expected to rise in 2021 to levels not seen since the 1980s. The transition to a zero carbon economy needs a workforce, but opportunities are being lost even when the investment is made. Manufacturing contracts for offshore wind supply have not been used to provide work for a skilled workforce in Scotland. Instead Scottish workers who could have been making the infrastructure needed for offshore wind have been made redundant. We need a proper climate jobs strategy, not a piecemeal approach rooted in a market based thinking. A strategy which is driven by understanding of the huge transition that is needed across manufacturing, transport, agriculture, construction, insulation, managing our land and biodiversity, in training and education. And one which seeks to create well paid secure jobs across these sectors to meet this challenge.

 The difficulties and delays with the recent Green Homes Grant are a warning example of what happens without this strategic approach including workforce skills. Trade unions have a key role. There are more accidents in non-unionised offshore wind jobs than there are in offshore oil. A worker-led Just Transition is needed. As set out in the One Million Climate Jobs report, a National Climate Service could take on key aspects of the transition to zero carbon, providing well paid, secure, flexible, permanent jobs in the public sector.

6. Keep it in the ground: phase out fossil fuel extraction 

Extraordinarily, the UK’s Infrastructure Act introduced in 2015 a legal obligation to maximise economic recovery of oil and gas. It was clear then, and even clearer now that we can’t continue fossil fuel extraction. Keeping the planet safe means leaving remaining fossil fuels in the ground. 

The oil and gas industry has already been hit hard by the economic impacts of the pandemic. We need instead a just transition for oil and gas workers as part of a strategy to phase out UK fossil fuel extraction. Many of these workers could be and want to be retrained to be part of a new offshore wind industry. 

We also need an immediate end to the anomaly whereby the UK offers billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in financial support to companies that bid for work on fossil fuel projects overseas 

7. Tackling car dependency and increasing public transport, walking and cycling

The transport sector accounts for around a third of emissions in the UK. Surface transport alone represents around a quarter of our total emissions, while air pollution is a serious health problem. So far, electric vehicles have barely made a dent (less than 2% of new car sales), while SUVs represent over 40% of new cars sold.

But this cannot be solved by a simple like-for-like switch to electric vehicles. We need a property resourced and integrated public transport system under democratic public ownership. Alongside this, we need a reallocation of road space in towns and cities away from cars to walking, cycling and public transport, and a presumption in favour of development that reduces travel.

These changes would not just benefit our climate: the social inclusion and health benefits would be huge. It is shocking that the £27 billion currently intended for road building, which will significantly worsen our climate crisis, is far more than the entire ‘green industrial revolution’ budget touted as tackling the climate crisis. 

8. Decent homes for all

We do need a programme of mass retrofitting our homes and buildings to be warm and energy-efficient, but it must be much more ambitious. We also need to be wary of corner cutting which does little other than inflate the profits of companies.  Poorly fitted cavity wall insulation has been a scandal affecting thousands of homes with damp and mould, while post-Grenfell, there are still tower blocks with unsafe cladding. This is an example of where a National Climate Service could ensure high standards of work by employing a well trained public sector workforce with the goal of delivering warm homes and energy use reduction rather than quick and easy profits at the taxpayers expense. 

It is much easier and cheaper to build homes and public or commercial buildings to near-zero carbon energy standards, than it is to retrofit. The scrapping of the Zero Carbon Homes standard in 2015 was a huge step back, and proposed new energy standards are totally inadequate. One of the major problems facing the UK is a lack of affordable housing, in particular social housing. We need to invest in jobs to ensure decent homes for all – quite literally ‘build back better’.

9. Land use and agriculture

With the UK’s biodiversity in crisis, and agriculture a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, it is not simply a matter of ‘plant more trees’. Alongside reforestation and protecting habitats, we need to consider land ownership, the vital role of access to nature for all, even and especially in urban environments and the potential of rewilding. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for the government to take the simple step of banning peat burning, an easy climate win which appears to be being blocked by grouse shooting interests.

There is huge potential for agriculture which is better both for climate and biodiversity. The government has been remarkably reluctant to promote, for both climate and health reasons, a dietary shift to reduce meat and dairy consumption. Without forgetting, when talking about diet, that the obesity crisis still coexists with real food poverty in one of the world’s richest nations.

With food and environmental standards likely to be a casualty of post-Brexit trade deals, it is clear that our unhealthy food system also has implications for workers rights and animal welfare. The prospect of further zoonotic diseases – and future pandemics – cannot now be ignored. Land use, our food system and biodiversity have to be a key part of any climate strategy. 

10. Climate justice beyond our borders

Any real climate policy must be rooted in climate justice. This is a global problem and the UK has a historically disproportionate contribution to the climate crisis. As well as doing our fair share in reducing domestic emissions, the UK’s policies must address this historic responsibility. 

The goods we import, as well as having their own carbon footprint, may also hide ecosystem destruction and exploitation of workers. So do the deals made by UK banks, pension funds and insurance companies. There must be no ‘solutions’ for this part of the world which rest on further damage and explotation of nature and people in other parts of the world, whether that be in mineral extraction or land grabs for carbon ‘offsetting’. Solutions must be rooted in climate justice, collaboration and internationalism. 

We need a real climate jobs plan, a real Just Transition, a real Green New Deal.

Techno-fixes – what’s the problem?

Carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) has promised to make fossil fuel burning environmentally friendly by capturing carbon dioxide from the smokestack emissions of power stations or industrial plants. However, additional fossil fuel burning is needed for energy to capture the carbon. The new funding promises to bring the total government funding back to £1 billion – the same amount promised for a pilot that was suddenly cancelled at the last minute in 2015. But CCS technology still has not been successfully scaled up elsewhere, with problems of finding reliable storage for the captured CO2. Certainly for power plants it seems more an attempt to continue fossil fuel production than a significant climate solution.

Hydrogen sounds like a great idea – a fuel that when burned, produces only water. But so-called ‘blue’ hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels and requires carbon capture and storage. It has been heavily promoted by gas companies. Meanwhile green hydrogen, generated from renewables, also has significant limitations. It is approximately 4-5 times less efficient than using renewable power directly because you have to convert power to a gas and back into power, and will probably take around 10 years to generate at scale. Hydrogen may have a place in the zero carbon economy for some hard-to-decarbonise uses.  But the idea that it is a cost or energy efficient way to heat the nation’s homes – and could be rolled out in the time needed – seems far less plausible. 

Nuclear is a dangerous, unnecessary and expensive diversion which will pull away investment from safe and cheap renewable energy which could come on stream quickly.

The Glasgow Agreement

Apologies for the short notice – we’ve just received notification that there’s an Open Assembly of the ‘Glasgow Agreement’ tomorrow (Sunday) at 2pm – the invitation to attend is copied below.  You can see the latest draft of the agreement here.


We want to invite you to our next open assembly of the Glasgow Agreement on the 27th of September (Sunday), from 2pm GMT until 4pm GMT. You are more than welcome to participate, and to invite other groups that you know and that might be interested to participate in the Glasgow Agreement, even if they are not in the process yet.
 
Agenda:
We will talk about: the current status of the text and how you can be involved on the process; what space does the climate justice movement need in 2021; what is the inventory tool and the climate agenda.
Introductory webinar:
We will also have an introductory webinar at 1:30pm GMT, in the same links, for those who don’t know the Glasgow Agreement that well. Feel free to join us if you want to know more about the agreement before the assembly!
 
Platform:
The assembly will be online, using the Big Blue Button (BBB) platform.
In English, the link will be this one: https://meet.nixnet.services/b/gla-nnw-hgv.
(You can download here a guide about how to use BBB or watch this tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYYnryIM0Uw)


Scot.E3 is not currently signed up to the agreement we’ll discuss this at our next meeting – please send feedback to triple.e.scot@gmail.com


The problems with BECCS

Scot.E3 has joined with a number of other organisations in signing a letter sent to the Scottish Government arguing that Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage should have no place in the their updated Climate Change Plan.

The key points in the letter are listed below.

Image from USFS staff at the USDA National Agroforestry Cente
CC BY-NC
  1. Risk of exacerbating rather than mitigating climate change

Biodiverse forests are vital protection against the climate and ecological emergencies. Protecting mature forests and allowing more land to revert to forest and other natural ecosystems is a vital part of our efforts to sequester and store carbon. Large-scale tree burning for biomass energy is not compatible with this need, and any level of BECCS implementation would further increase demands for extraction of wood and other types of biomass.

To date, the only working example of BECCS anywhere in the world is the capture of CO2 from ethanol fermentation. This process emits more carbon than it sequesters once the fossil fuels burnt during the refining process and the emissions released by land-use change are taken into account. Cutting down trees for energy production exacerbates the climate crisis because it takes too long for new trees to grow back, and forest ecosystems that are logged will not recover for many decades, if ever.

  1. High risk to nature 

The suggestion from the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) that Scotland could grow and supply around 33% of all UK biomass and would therefore be an ideal location for BECCS is extremely concerning. Existing demand for biomass energy in the UK far exceeds the availability of genuine biomass residues and wastes. If BECCS was applied on a large scale in Scotland, it would increase the demand for wood and land, and therefore add pressure on woodland and other biodiverse ecosystems.

The world’s only example of a pilot BECCS project involving the burning of biomass – one which has not succeeded in sequestering any carbon so far –  is at Drax Power Station in Yorkshire. Drax is the world’s biggest biomass burner and routinely sources pellets made from clearcut, coastal and hardwood forests in the Southeastern USA as well as from forests in the Baltic States. These forests are home to countless rare and endangered species and Scotland must not have a role in their destruction. 

In Scotland, biomass electricity relies heavily on burning domestic wood from tree plantations, most of which are Sitka spruce. The Forestry Strategy for Scotland highlights the major role of biomass energy in the overall demand for wood, itself one of the ‘strategic drivers’ of expansion. Conifer plantations may be faster growing than native woodlands and thus preferred for bioenergy, but they provide little habitat for wildlife. 

European biofuel policy has shown that large-scale demand for crop-based biofuels causes large-scale land-use change. In the case of European crops, it involves more intensive agriculture with greater agrochemical use, contributing to the decline in farmland birds, animals, insects and wildflowers.

  1. Diverts resources from meaningful responses to the climate emergency

We urge the Scottish Government not to rely on speculative negative emissions technologies such as BECCS in the energy sector to make up for, or “undo”, carbon emissions. These unviable technologies distract us from the urgent action needed to tackle emissions at source and meet our climate targets.

Scotland’s new 2030 climate target requires urgent action to reduce emissions, and the costs – both financially and environmentally – of trying to develop BECCS are huge, representing a real risk of diverting much needed resources and financing away from proven and effective responses to the climate and biodiversity crises which, unlike BECCS, can be implemented immediately.

The Scottish Government must end support for new fossil fuel developments, focusing instead on ensuring a Just Transition that protects the livelihoods of communities which currently rely on high carbon industries.  Swift efforts must be made to upscale truly clean energy, to develop a mix of energy storage systems at scale and to greatly expand the roll out of heat pumps and the insulation of homes.

The Scottish Government must invest in, and provide policy support for, increasing biodiverse forest and woodland cover and the protection of forest, peatland and wetland ecosystems which naturally sequester carbon prioritising the expansion of native woodland through tree planting and natural regeneration. 

Read the full letter here.

Free Our City

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

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

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

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

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


Why now? 

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

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

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

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

Imagine if buses were free?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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