Two critical responses to the EAG ‘recovery’ report

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

Mike Downham writes of the EAG report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Public Domain CC0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just and Green Recovery

Scot.E3 is one of more than 70 Scottish organisations that have added their names to a letter to the Scottish Government calling for a Just and Green Recovery. The letter was initiated by Friends of the Earth Scotland. You can sign the linked petition here. The five points that are central to the letter are:

  1. Provide essential public services for people, not profit. Expand public ownership of public services and boost investment, including in social care, strengthen the NHS and cradle-to-grave education, and create zero-carbon social and cooperative housing instead of buy-to-let.
  2. Protect marginalised people and those on low incomes by redistributing wealth. Provide adequate incomes for all instead of bailouts for shareholders, significantly raise taxes on the wealthy, ensure all public workers receive at least the real Living Wage and strengthen health, safety and workers’ rights, including access to flexible home working. Investigate and mitigate the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 and social distancing on women, children and young people, disabled people, LGBTI people, people of colour, key workers, unpaid carers, private renters, and those on lower incomes.
  3. Provide new funds to transform our society and economy to meet Scotland’s Fair Share of climate emissions cuts and greatly enhance biodiversity. Create and protect jobs in sustainable travel, renewable heat, affordable local food and energy efficiency, with ambitious green employment opportunities for young people and support for retraining where whole industries are affected. Put measures in place to ensure all government programmes tackle inequality, public health and the just transition away from fossil fuels, excluding rogue employers, tax avoiders, major polluters and arms manufacturers from bailouts.
  4. Strengthen democracy and human rights during these crises. Withdraw new police powers, surveillance measures and restrictions on protest as soon as possible. Enable full scrutiny of planning and policy decisions. Create an independent Recovery Commission founded on participatory democracy to engage and empower communities, trade unions and civil society. Introduce fundamental human rights into Scots law so that safety nets are always in place for the most vulnerable.
  5. Offer solidarity across borders by proactively supporting an international Coronavirus and climate emergency response that challenges the scapegoating ofmigrants, centres on the worst affected, bolsters global public health, development and environmental bodies, and ensures equitable access to COVID-19 treatment. Use the UN climate talks in Glasgow to push for robust implementation of the Paris deal, platforming the voices of indigenous and frontline communities and advancing climate finance and global debt cancellation. Ensure coherence between all domestic policy and global sustainable development outcomes.

Decisions made in times of crisis have long-lasting consequences. After the 2008 financialcrisis, inequality grew and climate emissions spiralled. We want to see this moment seized for the common good, not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Survey

Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland are carrying out a survey to gather information on the effect of the oil crisis and COVID-19 on job security and work conditions and to understand how the campaign for a ‘Just Transition’ is perceived by oil and gas workers and what kinds of demands workers would like to see addressed by a transition to net-zero. 

The survey is directed at people employed in

  • The oil and gas industry
  • The supply chain (such as aviation, transport, car manufacturing and service industries)
  • Public bodies, unions or community organisations who regularly interact with the oil and gas industry and supply chain

If you fall in to one of these categories do take the time to complete the survey.

Scotland, Norway, Climate Jobs and Covid 19

The economies of Norway and Scotland have both been shaped by 50 years of exploitation of North Sea oil and gas. Both countries have governments that talk about tackling the climate crisis while remaining wedded to the further extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea basin.  There is however, a sharp divide between the two countries.  After 50 years Norway has the biggest Sovereign wealth fund in the world.  Scotland in contrast has no such fund and UK governments since the 70’s have pursued taxation policies that have resulted in massive net subsidies to the oil industry.  Right now job losses are taking place in the Scottish sector as companies respond to the overproduction of oil and the drop in price – in the worst-case scenario this could mean (including the multiplier effect) up to a quarter of a million jobs lost in Scotland out of a total workforce of 2.6m.

On the 24th May we were fortunate to hear from Andreas Ytterstad who is part of the Norwegian Climate Jobs Campaign – Bridge to the Future.  You can watch a video of Andreas’ introduction below.  This was followed by a very lively discussion in the course of which participants shared questions, ideas and links to resources.  It’s hard to do justice to such a rich discussion but in the rest of this post we have sketched a summary of the issues raised and included links to further reading and useful resources. 

Summary of the discussion

Andreas and others argued that state intervention and public control is essential for just transition. The door we’ve been pushing against is now slightly open – for example the growing scepticism in the Finance Department of even the right-wing Norwegian Government about further investment in oil extraction. All governments are now under huge financial pressure from increased expenditure and reduced receipts in the Covid-19 pandemic. This is an entirely new situation – we can push for things we couldn’t realistically push for before. Oil companies have no interest in funding transition, especially as they are led by men coming to the end of their working lives, not up for taking risks.

There was a lot of discussion about Climate Jobs, what they are and their relative importance in the overall economy.  Speakers noted the importance of studies by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign and the Green European Foundation in establishing a rigorous case for climate jobs.  Andreas noted that even if the current target number is too small it could act as the battering ram to break through to State acceptance of Climate Jobs and Just Transition.  He argued the need to win acceptance of the idea but that by itself it was insufficient.  The campaign also requires the agency of workers as active participants to ensure that ideas become implemented. Offshore workers’ skills will be important in new housing, energy efficiency retrofit of buildings and public transport. We are going to need huge numbers of Climate Jobs across all sectors, not just the energy sector. An aerospace worker added that there is also huge need for Climate Jobs arising from redundancies in the Aerospace industry.

Andreas noted that regional variation is important in planning and achieving Just transition. It will be most difficult in communities, which have grown and are now entirely dependent on oil.  Aberdeen is similar to Norwegian examples, but less remote and therefore more easily incorporated into a national plan. In the meantime we should support even defensive actions by these communities. One speaker noted that in England, Sheffield and County Durham for example, are both developing their own Climate Jobs / Just Transition plans. In both Norway and Scotland (and England) there’s potential for local and regional state authorities to join the Climate Jobs movement.  There were questions and contributions on the role of local authorities from contributors in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Other questions raised in discussion included:

How to fund the transition? Without a national investment bank how can manufacturing of renewables and other socially useful products for climate jobs be financed?

What are these green jobs?

Who will create them?

Who will fund these new jobs/businesses?

What is the response from Norwegian oil workers to transition jobs?

Will the jobs be from the private sector, or subsidised by national/regional governments, or state/regional publicly owned and financed?  Responses to this included ‘That’s fundamental  – I think the devil is not just in the detail of when or how much but also who will own it!  In Aberdeen the oil and local political establishment have ignored and then when they had to, slowly started to talk about transition but mainly to manage it and make sure they were still in control of transition!  What about pushing for transition without them in control?  Where all could the money be taken from.’

What does anyone think of case of Uruguay?  

More links and further reading

Andreas Ytterstad writing on climate jobs for the Open Democracy website

Scottish Government Energy Strategy

Aberdeen City Council consultation and net zero vision

Sea Change Report – the case for transition from North Sea Oil and Gas

In Scotland the Common Weal “Our Common Home Plan” outlines a way in which a six of passive measures to REDUCE energy requirements in buildings AND improve well-being. 

Call to Action

Read the call to action on global climate jobs

Just Transition Commission Interim Report

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

Commissio interim cover

The interim report has four main themes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More on ‘Our Common Home’

Earlier this week we shared a video of Tiffany Kane talking about Common Weal’s plan for a Green New Deal for Scotland. This post is a review of the plan written by Pete Roche. It was originally published in the bulletin of Nuclear Free Local Authorities.

commonweal

The Common Weal think tank has published a revolutionary green new deal plan for Scotland that will cost billions of pounds and create thousands of new jobs. The most costly of the raft of proposals is the biggest overhaul of housing since the Second World War, with a plan to have greener Scottish homes by installing loft installation, double glazing and renewable technologies. That would involve setting up a national housing company and spend £40 billion to make every home in Scotland more thermally efficient, saving 40% off heating bills.

The Common Weal’s plan of action would be financed through public borrowing – and it is understood it could be paid off over 50 years. It would require no additional private spending by households – while creating a carbon-neutral Scotland and future-proofing the nation for generations. The think tank says it is one of the most ambitious projects they have ever organised and consists of a “fully costed” blueprint for how to bring about a net zero Scotland – the first in the world. It will also claim that all current projections about how much of Scotland’s GDP will be needed to tackle climate change are underestimates and that every year for the next 50 years Scotland will have to spend an annual amount closer to three per cent of GDP than to the two per cent often quoted. (1)

Guiding Principles:

Take responsibility to identify what can be done domestically rather than waiting for multilateral agreements.

The crisis can’t be solved through market forces alone.

The time for setting targets is long gone – these tend to emphasise what it would be good to achieve, not how to achieve it.

You don’t want to have to make any transformations twice. The scale of investment needed is so large it must deliver value for money for many generations.

The plan must be a once-in-many-generations fix for persistent social problems.

Above all this will transition Scotland away from a linear extractive economy to a circular participatory economy – more wealth would be retained and circulated round the domestic economy and much less exported in the form of corporate profits.

Because this is a collective task which will serve many generations, the cost should be met through low cost public borrowing paid back through progressive taxation.

The headline cost of £170bn may be a sobering figure, but it is less than double Scotland’s contribution to the 2009 UK financial bailout, and will only have to be found over 25 years, and gradually repaid over 50 years. And the investment will create new revenue streams, for instance there would be a publicly-owned energy system for electricity and heating which would generate an income. The plan would create around 40,000 direct jobs. Other positive impacts would be: warmer homes, cheaper to heat; healthier food; travel faster and more efficient; quality of life would improve.

Buildings

The thermal performance of all new build houses and other buildings should be up to Passivhaus standard. (15kWh/m2/yr) But the materials used should be healthy and organic mostly sourced in Scotland.

All new houses should be ready for district heating unless they are energy neutral.

A National Housing Company should be set up to retrofit all existing houses to achieve 70 to 90% thermal efficiency. Commercial premises should be retrofitted to a similar standard. All public buildings should become energy positive.

Heating

Moving to electric heating would roughly double the load on the grid which would require significant upgrades to cope. But peak load might increase by a factor of five. While better-insulated houses would reduce the problem much of the spike would come from water heating which would not be reduced by insulation. Ground source heat pumps require a substantial land area. Air source heat pumps struggle to provide sufficient heat in the winter.

Hydrogen would have problems with leakage. All household boilers would need to be replaced. Because of the difficulty of phasing in hydrogen, boilers would probably need to be dual use. Hydrogen would probably be expensive.

Solar thermal, geothermal and industrial waste heat recovery delivered via a district heating network are probably the most viable method of heat delivery.

Heat Budget

Scotland uses around 86TWh of heating each year. Firstly, we need to reduce demand by about 40% to about 52TWh. The next step would be to make the most of solar thermal, but this would also require inter-seasonal storage. This could provide around 20TWh via district heating. Geothermal from old mines could provide another 12GWh. Biomass could also add around 6.5TWh of heat to the mix.

A Heat Supply Act could be implemented to require all developers of large waste heat sources to recover and recycle heat to feed local homes.

An Energy Development Agency would plan the shift to renewable heating; a National Energy Company would install a national district heating system and renewable heat generation infrastructure.

Electricity

Planning the future electricity generation requirements involves replacing current non-renewable electricity generation and meeting the needs for the electrification of transport and the production of hydrogen for transport and heating.

The National Energy Company would progressively take over energy supply to customers and would develop and own all future large-scale energy generating facilities. It would also generate hydrogen for energy storage.

The Scottish Energy Development Agency would plan all new capacity and have responsibility for ensuring the lights stay on while meeting the decarbonisation agenda.

Oil & Gas

The Common Home Plan says Scotland must stop extracting oil and gas. By the end of the 25-year plan Scotland will no longer be using oil and gas.

Transport

One of the biggest unknowns is the development of driverless vehicles. On call vehicles, if deployed effectively, could displace a large volume of car ownership resulting in some major changes in urban planning assumptions.

The Common Home Plan calls for the establishment of a National Transport Company which would roll out a comprehensive charging infrastructure and develop a national transport transition plan.

The Company should integrate the ability to make more journeys by foot and bike with its overall transition plan.

Scotland has around 3 million vehicles. It is generally assumed that this number will increase as population rises. Most of these would be parked in residential streets which would imply the need for charging facilities in every residential street – an enormous task. But if other transport approaches develop this could be an enormous white elephant. The National Transport Company would have to make some decisions on which way forward.

Hydrogen could become the fuel of choice for HGVs, ferries, and trains on non-electrified lines. A strategy for air travel will need to be developed.

Food and Land-Use

The plan envisages the establishment of a National Food Agency and a National Land Agency. Amongst the proposals is the suggestion that 50% of Scotland’s land area should be reforested.

There are also chapters on Resources, Trade, Learning and Us. The plan calls for, for instance, a circular economy; and training for an appropriate workforce (there are only 140 plumbers being trained at the moment and yet we will need thousands to install district heating).

The Common Home Plan can be found at https://commonweal.scot/policy-library/common- home-plan

  1. Herald 9th Nov 2019 https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18025538.radical-multi-billion-pound-green- plan-scotland-unveiled/

 

Climate emergency – a model motion

New Year 2020 is a critical time to be taking the campaign for climate action into our workplaces.  Below we’ve pasted a model motion that can be used or adapted in your own workplace context.  (You can also download a PDF here and a Word version here.  If you have already raised a similar motion in your workplace we’d love to hear about it and would be pleased to share the text (with permission) so that others can build on your experience.  We think there’s a particular case for developing clear policies in education, from school through to university, and would be really interested to get feedback on particular demands and actions for the education sector.  Please send feedback to triple.e.scot@gmail.com 

Draft model motion 

This (branch/region/committee/trades council/union/conference) notes the urgent need for action on the climate emergency, both in response to existing negative impacts such as extreme weather, fires, droughts, floods and loss of habitat and species; and to avoid the catastrophic and irreversible climate damage which people increasingly realise the world is on course for, after the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

We recognise that big business, the military and the richest individuals are responsible for the vast majority of climate change, yet the global working class and poor are disproportionately at risk. A just transition (that protects the lives, livelihoods and rights of the poor and disadvantaged) to a decarbonised economy is not only right, but is the only way the movement against climate chaos will secure the mass support needed to win, and avoid a rich minority protecting themselves at the expense of the planet and the vast majority of people.

We congratulate the school students striking around the world for real climate action and welcome the decision of the TUC to support them and call for a solidarity stoppage. We note that many workers did strike on 20 September 2019, despite Britain’s repressive legislation, by campaigning to pressure employers not to apply sanctions to climate strikers.

We note that there is discussion about the possibility of making Friday 1 May 2020, traditionally International Workers’ Day, also a climate strike. We note that the UN ‘COP’ climate change conferences have become a major focus for campaigners, that COP26 will be taking place in Glasgow from 9-20 November 2020, and that many organisations are already making plans.

We resolve to:

  1. Publicly state our support and solidarity with the climate strikers and the wider movement for rapid and effective climate action
  2. Invite climate strikers to speak at our meeting
  3. Educate our members about the climate emergency
  4. Give practical support to the climate strikes, without adults taking it over. This will include asking schools and local authorities to commit to imposing no sanctions against striking students, promoting the strikes on social media, encouraging members to attend, taking our flags or banner if agreed with the strikers. If requested, it could include co-hosting events, providing sound systems, staging and stewards, using our public liability insurance, help with press releases or police liaison.
  5. Support workers joining climate strikes and maximise member involvement
  6. Work with other local labour movement and environmental organisations to arrange discussions locally and within workplaces about practically how workers and unions can learn from 20 September, join climate strikes or show solidarity
  7. Promote through the labour and climate movements the idea of making 1 May 2020 a climate strike as well as International Workers’ Day
  8. Organise to make COP26 in Glasgow, 9-20 November 2020, a major focus of campaigning for effective action on the climate emergency
  9. Call on employers and local authorities to declare a climate emergency and involve workers and communities in planning, implementing and monitoring to rapidly achieve zero carbon emissions, including ending investments in fossil fuels
  10. Call on employers to recognise union green/environmental reps and give them work time for their activities
  11. Create climate action groups at workplace level and within union structures
  12. Look for opportunities for unions, communities and the climate movement to work together, for example for improved housing and public transport
  13. Call on unions and the TUC to back the climate strikes, call and build action
  14. Call on our union to carry out a major exercise to understand the potential positive and negative impacts of the climate crisis and responses to it on employment
  15. Campaign for a legal right to strike and to repeal all legislation that makes it harder to strike over climate
  16. Discuss what climate-related demands to include in collective bargaining, including ones which could be the basis of a lawful “trade dispute” under current legislation and to call on our union to produce guidance on this
  17. Ensure that unions are visible as relevant and useful organisations within the climate movement and that participants are encouraged to join a union
  18. Demand massive public investment in the jobs required to address climate emergency, including massive improvements in renewable energy, housing and public transport
  19. Send this motion to our local trades union council, up through our union structure, and to local SNP, Labour Party and Green Party branches

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Phasing Out Oil and Gas

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018-07-19 08.57.05

Energy from Waste

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

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

Energy from Waste Projects

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

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

Landfill

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

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

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Landfill tax per tonne

2010      £63.00

2018      £88.95

2019-20 £94.15

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

EFW technologies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renewable energy?

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

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Alternative Strategy needed

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

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

Further reading

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