U.K. makes progress on a Green New Deal amid the chaos of Brexit

Understandably, the Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom are preoccupied with the chaos of the Brexit crisis – which in itself, has huge implications for environmental policy in the country.  “How Brexit will impact the UK’s environmental policy”  provides a good summary of the specifics, and an active website publishes analysis by “a network of impartial academic experts analysing the implications of Brexit for UK and EU environmental policy and governance” . Greener UK, a network of 14 environmental NGOs, is also focused on Brexit “in the belief that leaving the EU is a pivotal moment to restore and enhance the UK’s environment. ”

Lucas UK screenshot gnd billProgress on a Green New Deal  amidst the chaos:  But while Brexit rages, and  the country awaits the May 2 publication of recommendations on long term net zero emission targets by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC),  the Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill  was tabled in the House of Commons by two members of Parliament – Green Party member Caroline Lucas  and Labour Party member Clive Lewis .  Although the bill doesn’t use the term “Green New Deal”,  Caroline Lucas  does in her Opinion piece in The Guardian, “The answer to climate breakdown and austerity? A green new deal” (March 27).  She states: “Our bill would introduce a “green new deal” – an unprecedented mobilisation of resources invested to prevent climate breakdown, reverse inequality, and heal our communities. It demands major structural changes in our approach to the ecosystem, coupled with a radical transformation of the finance sector and the economy, to deliver both social justice and a livable planet… This is purposely radical territory. We must push the boundaries of what is seen as politically possible. Because climate justice and social justice go hand in hand.”  The official summary  of the Bill appears on page 7 of the parliamentary Order Paper for March 26 including a 10-year time line with reporting requirements, and a stated goal for  community and employee-led transition from high-carbon to low and zero-carbon industry, and the eradication of inequality.

UK Green New Deal coverGreen Party MP Caroline Lucas has a long history with the concept of “green new deal”, as part of the Green New Deal Group which was founded in the U.K. in 2007  and published its first policy statement :  A Green New Deal Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices  in 2008.

The Labour Party has also been in the news recently for its new grassroots initiative, the Labour Green New Deal.  For example,  “Labour scrambles to develop a Green New Deal” in Climate Change News (Feb. 14);  “Labour members launch Green New Deal inspired by US activists” in The Guardian (March 22) ; and “Our new movement aims to propel Labour into a radical Green New Deal”  (March 22) in The Guardian,  an Opinion piece by  Angus Satow, co-founder of the coalition, who states that the party’s  Green Transformation Environmental policy statement, is a starting point, but “ a GND means a new settlement for Britain. It would give local communities the funding and power to control their future, while democratising industry and the economy. Communities with control of utilities will have great power over their lives, while tackling fuel poverty, as the profits go to ordinary people, not shareholders.” “Labour for a Green New Deal – because climate change is a class issue” by Chris Saltmarsh at Labourlist(March 22) lays out the role of unions in the initiative, with specific and detailed plans: “A Green New Deal in the UK is therefore nothing without participation and leadership from our unions. Rank-and-file trade unionists across the country are ready to organise for this from below. We’ll work with them to build support, host events, pass motions from branches to policy conferences, and develop regional plans for a Green New Deal that put workers first.”

U.K. Offshore wind energy investment promises jobs, but the example of Scottish workers leads unions to protest

offshore wind Beothuk Installation Newfoundland.jpgOn March 7,  the government of the United Kingdom announced a new Offshore Wind Sector Deal  which aspires to provide 30% of the U.K.’s electricity by 2030 and, according to the article in The Guardian, also promises that  jobs in offshore wind will triple to 27,000 by 2030.  The detailed  government press release  further states that the deal will increase the number of women in the industry, continue efforts by educational institutions to develop a sector-wide curriculum to facilitate skills transfer, prompt new targets for apprenticeships, and create an “Offshore Energy Passport”, recognised outside of the UK, so that workers will be able “to work seamlessly across different offshore sectors.” Unite the union reacted with this statement , which included a warning that the Energy Passport “should not  be used to attack workers’ terms and conditions of employment, nor compromise health and safety regulations.”

In the same statement, Unite also called for a ‘level playing field’ for Scotland so that it can secure large-scale manufacturing contracts for its own offshore renewables sector. The  concern follows the award of  £2.8 billion in contracts for turbine manufacture to companies in Spain, Belgium and the United Arab Emirates, rather than to the BiFab yards in Fife, Scotland. As reported in “Union fury as £2.8 billion wind turbine contract goes overseas”  in the Greener Jobs Alliance newsletter (March/April), the GMB and Unite unions are calling on the Scotland’s Prime Minister and the Scottish Parliament to intervene, stating: “The Scottish Government and the public have a stake in BiFab and with it our renewables manufacturing future. We owe it to our communities to tackle the spaghetti bowl of vested interest groups that’s dominating our renewables sector and to fight for Scotland’s share’.

 

One more time – how best to train workers in green construction?

UK 2019 housingThe  U.K.’s Committee on Climate Change released a new report on February 21, U.K. Housing – Fit for the Future? , assessing how well U.K. housing  is prepared for the impacts of climate change, including heat waves and flood risks. Energy use in Britain’s 29 million homes accounts for 14% of current GHG emissions, and the report concludes that the U.K. cannot meet its present climate targets without major improvement in the housing sector.  The report states that energy use in homes actually  increased between 2016 and 2017, with many energy efficiency initiatives stalled and standards and policies weakened or not enforced.  The report identifies 5 priorities and makes 36 recommendations to improve that performance, with a goal  to reduce emissions by 24 % by 2030 from 1990 levels.

One of the five priority areas needing urgent change is “the skills gap”.  The report states: “Regular changes to key policies have led to uncertainty and poor focus on new housing design and construction skills in the UK. The UK Government should use the initiatives announced under the Construction Sector Deal to tackle the low-carbon skills gap. …. Professional standards and skills across the building, heat and ventilation supply trades need to be reviewed, with a nationwide training programme to upskill the existing workforce, along with an increased focus on incentivising high ‘as-built’ performance. There is an urgent need for further work to ensure that low-carbon heat and mechanical ventilation systems are designed, commissioned and installed properly, and that householders are supported to use them effectively. Similar efforts are needed to develop appropriate skills and training for passive cooling measures, water efficiency, property-level flood resilience and Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS).”

The Paper Trail of Government Reports:  The Construction Sector Deal  referred to is a 2018 policy paper, part of the larger Industrial Strategy exercise, which includes a “People” section , which describes very specific proposals to improve training and apprenticeship programs under the industry-led Construction Industry Training Board (which was itself reviewed in 2018).  The 2018 Construction Sector Deal built upon Construction 2025,  which was a vision paper of government and industry working together, released in 2013.

A different perspective from the government-industry reports appears in an article by   Linda Clarke, Colin Gleeson, and Christopher Winch in 2017, “What kind of expertise is needed for low energy construction?” which appeared in the journal Construction Management and Economics.  The authors, from ProBE , the Centre for the Study of the Production of the Built Environment at University of Westminster,   sketched out the essence of the problem, stating: “There is a lack of the expertise needed for low energy construction (LEC) in the UK as the complex work processes involved require ‘energy literacy’ of all construction occupations, high qualification levels, broad occupational profiles, integrated teamworking, and good communication.”  Their proposed prescription for low energy construction  was “a transformation of the existing structure of VET provision and construction employment and a new curriculum based on a broader concept of agency and backed by rigorous enforcement of standards. This can be achieved through a radical transition pathway rather than market-based solutions to a low carbon future for the construction sector.”

Position paper committed to centrality of unions in Just Transition and green industrial policy

New Economics Foundation 2018just_transition_briefing_coverWorking Together for a Just Transition  is a brief new position paper by the U.K.’s New Economics Foundation (NEF), in association with the London Office of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung . The report was  released on November 14, to launch a new, multi-year “programme of work” on just transition. Some highlights: Low carbon industrial policy, if done well, offers “an opportunity to deliver pioneering models for wider systemic reform – power, democracy and ownership – that would perhaps be impossible without that sense of urgency.”  The report cites the Scottish Government’s  Just Transition Commission, established in September 2018, as “an exciting model” which the U.K. should follow.  Further,  “NEF and FES are strongly committed to the centrality of the union movement in delivering a stronger, fairer and more sustainable economy . We believe that unions must be actively involved in shaping a programme of green industrial strategy, retraining and shaping. Individual and collective power in the workplace is a vital means to securing other ‘good job’ characteristics, and greater ownership by employees and meaningful corporate governance are central parts of the economic rebalancing that is essential for the UK’s long-term prosperity.”

Regarding the Just Transition project as a whole,  New Economics Foundation  states: “Our interest is in the practicality of change: the policies, processes, narrative and investment needed to accelerate the UK’s progress on ​just transition’, here and now. Over the coming months and years we will be working at local and national levels to explore what is needed to build common cause and provide the right mixture of incentives and critical challenge to all parties to help unlock a new momentum for a ​just transition’ for the UK. “

Controversial motion on Just Transition passed at 2018 TUC Congress

Delegates gathered in Manchester U.K. for the 2018 Congress  of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Britain’s central labour body, in early September, marking its 150th anniversary by returning to the city in which it was founded.  Speeches and debates covered a broad range of issues, notably Brexit , and diversity and equality among union members .

Greener Jobs Alliance briefing coverThe Greener Jobs Alliance Congress Briefing  lists and summarizes the six motions which relate to climate change, energy, and Just Transition, including one which has proven controversial.  Motion 07,   Just transition and energy workers’ voice  was presented by GMB  (which includes workers at the Hinkley Point nuclear facility amongst its members); the motion was adopted with minor amendments.  It states that “Congress notes that ‘just transition’ is a much-used but often ambiguous term and there is no shortage of voices who believe they are qualified to say what energy workers and communities want and need”,  the motion continues with …   “Congress believes that the views of the workers affected, as expressed through these trade unions, should be paramount and central to development of all TUC policies on energy, industrial strategy and climate change, and that the TUC should develop a political and lobbying strategy led by the voices and experiences of energy unions and their members.”  “These unions” referred to in the motion are GMB,  Prospect, UNISON and Unite.

But the Greener Jobs Alliance Briefing calls for a “full spectrum” of unions in the Just Transition debates, stating: “we have a duty to express our concern that this motion limits input on TUC policy from other unions, making ‘energy unions’ views ‘paramount’. Although the proposed conference on Just Transition is long overdue, when it comes to fighting climate change, every union should have a voice: in the fire and rescue services, food manufacturer, rail transport, public services, the NHS. No less than nine unions have motions or amendments on climate change and a just transition at TUC 2018.”  The Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union group expressed similar “deep concern” in its blog, saying that the motion “carries the risk of moving backwards from last year’s progress on climate policy (2017 climate motion).”  Finally,  the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) labelled the motion as “divisive”, according to a  UK DeSmog blog  (Sept. 27) .  That same blog notes that the U.K. Labour Party has picked up on the TUC’s motion in its Environmental Policy statement,  Green Transformation , which states that the Labour Party will “work closely with energy unions to support energy workers and communities” through the transition to a low-carbon economy.