Safeguarding the UK’s manufacturing jobs with climate action: carbon leakage and jobs is a September Briefing paper from the U.K. Trades Union Congress. The report estimates that between 368,000 – 667,000 jobs could be offshored from Britain if industries fail to meet climate targets and the UK falls behind other countries on climate action. The regions most at risk are the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, and West Midlands; the industries with most jobs at stake are: iron and steel , glass and ceramics, and chemicals. The report outlines the actions needed to “future proof” British jobs, specifically: 1. Public investment, which the report states is too low, stating that the UK’s green recovery investment plans are just a quarter (24%) of France, a fifth (21%) of Canada, and 6% of the USA’s plans (when adjusted for population size). 2. Clear policies on decarbonisation across the economy – aligning actual plans with targets; and 3. Rules on local content – specifically, a local content requirement for offshore wind of at least 80%, with local supply chain commitments required and stringently enforced for all energy and infrastructure projects. In addition to the call for beefed-up local content requirements, the report calls on the government to: Implement the Green Jobs Taskforce recommendations in full; Level up investments in green infrastructure, including industrial decarbonization, in line with its G7 peers, extending to 2030; Establish a Just Transition Commission, including representation from employers and unions, to oversee the workforce aspect of the transition to Net Zero; • Introduce a permanent short-term working scheme to help protect working people through periods of future industrial change.
On July 14, the Independent Green Jobs Taskforce delivered its report to the government of the United Kingdom, making fifteen recommendations on how best to deliver the green jobs and skills of the future. A summary of the report and steps taken to date appear in the government’s press release. The full Report is here, with an Annex called Sectoral Transitions to Net Zero, profiling specific sectors and occupations.
The U.K. Trades Union Congress (TUC), which participated in the Taskforce, reacted with a blog post titled, A greener economy can be positive for workers too, highlighting key recommendations – and pointing out real-world examples of best practice, including the example of collaboration between EDF and Unite, Prospect and GMB in the successful creation of transition pathways for workers at Cottam coal power station before it closed. The Senior Deputy General Secretary of the Prospect union was also member of the Green Jobs Taskforce, and summarized her thoughts in this blog: “It’s time the government moved from lofty climate change ambitions to action”, saying “ I am pleased that the Green Jobs Taskforce not only uses the language of Just Transition, but recommends the establishment of a new national body to help shape this change and ensure that no worker or community is left behind in the race for net zero. That recommendation is one of many that we on the task force have made to the government, including establishing a ‘green careers launchpad’, making sure that the curriculum reflects the green skills we will need in the future, and publishing a comprehensive net zero strategy ahead of November’s COP26 summit.”
The government will not endorse any of the Report’s recommendations immediately but they are promised to feed into the development of the U.K.’s Net Zero Strategy; in the meantime, “ a cross-cutting delivery group” has been established “to oversee the development and delivery of the government’s plans for green jobs and skills. This group will maintain the momentum generated by the Taskforce and drive meaningful action across the green skills agenda.”
The Green Jobs Taskforce was established in November 2020 , and included labour representatives from the TUC and Prospect union, along with academics, business representatives and the training sector, including Construction Industry Training Board, Engineering Construction Industry Training Board, East London Institute for Technology, Retrofit Works, Edinburgh University and National Grid.
Related reports: Unionlearn (part of the TUC) published a labour education document, Cutting Carbon, Growing Skills: Green Skills for a Just Transition in March 2020, providing discussion and case studies.
U.K. think tank Green Alliance commissioned research to measure the economic impact of nature-based investments for a green recovery, and released the results on May 4. The full report, Green Renewal – The Economics of Enhancing the Natural Environment, was written by WPI Economics, and states: “Looking at just three types of enhancement (woodland creation, peatland restoration and urban green infrastructure) we find that an expanded programme of nature restoration could create at least 16,050 jobs in the 20% of constituencies likely to face the most significant employment challenges. We present place-based analysis of the labour market and nature based solutions, which can also be found on an interactive webpage here.” The report emphasizes that nature-based interventions can create jobs in areas that need them the most – stating that two thirds of the most suitable land for planting trees is in constituencies with worse than average labour market challenges.
Jobs for a Green Recovery is a summary report written by Green Alliance, based on the economic WPI report. It emphasizes the impact of Covid on youth employment, stating that 63% of those newly unemployed in 2020-21 are under 25, argues that nature-based jobs are long-term, skilled and productive, and makes specific recommendations for the British government so that such jobs can become part of the U.K. green recovery. Green Alliance estimates that investments in nature-related jobs have a high cost-benefit ratio, with £4.60 back for every £1 invested in peatland, £2.80 back in woodland, and £1.30 back for salt marsh creation.
Jobs for a Green Recovery includes brief U.K. case studies. An interesting a related Canadian example can be found in the new Seed the North initiative, described in The Tyee here . Seed the North is a small start-up company in Northern B.C., with big ambition to scale up. Currently, the project collects wild seed from Canadian trees, uses innovative technology to encase the seed in bio-char, and then uses drone technology to plant seeds in remote forest areas. The result: increased regeneration of disturbed land, restored soil health, a statistically significant contribution to carbon sequestration, and economic benefits flowing through co-ownership to the local First Nations communities who participate.
Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet: An analysis of local government investments in coal, oil and gas was released in February by Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Friends of the Earth England Wales and Northern Ireland.
The report details the extent of fossil fuel investment by local governments in the U.K., and their progress in divestment. However, of broader interest, it summarizes the financial status of the declining fossil fuel industry, explains the process which lead to stranded assets, and describes the financial dangers for all pension funds in quite understandable terms: “pension funds exposed to the fossil fuel system in the coming decade will face a rollercoaster ride of disruption, write-downs, financial instability and share price deratings as markets adjust.” In an explanation very relevant to Canadians, whose own Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board still clings to the “staying invested and ‘engaging’” approach – the report uses the example of investing in Blockbuster videos vs. Netflix, to debunk the “engagement” approach: “The argument for ‘engagement’ tends to be one made by asset owners who employ investment managers who won’t or can’t accept that there is a technology-driven transition occurring. …. this approach of ‘we’ll decarbonise when markets decide to decarbonise’ is clearly not a risk management strategy. It is a ‘do nothing, and hope a few meetings will help’ strategy.”
Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet offers practical steps for local councillors, community members, and labour unionists. For unions, it points to the leadership of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which passed a climate action motion in 2017 which included support for divestment, based on a motion by their constituent unions representing food workers, communication workers, fire brigades, train drivers, and other transport workers. Unison, the primary union representing U.K. government workers, also passed a strong divestment motion in 2017 – meaningful because in the U.K., union members in government workplaces are usually entitled to some form of representation on their pension fund committee and board. The report urges union members to become knowledgeable about financial issues and to speak up in committee meetings – advocating for divestment and re-investment in lower-carbon, socially just funds which benefit their local communities and economies, especially after Covid. The report cites inspiring examples, such as investment in wind farms by Manchester and London Councils, the U.K.’s first community-owned solar power cooperative by Lancashire County Council, and social housing in the Forth Valley and in London Councils.
An earlier guide for unions was Our Pensions, Our Communities, Our Planet: How to reinvest our pensions for our good? published by the Trade Union Group within Campaign against Climate Change. The 6-page, action-oriented fact sheet lacks all the up-to-date statistical detail in Divesting to protect our pensions and the planet but makes many of the same arguments for divestment, and includes links to U.K. resources, as well as a model motion for local unions.
In the midst of rampant youth unemployment in the U.K., An Emergency Plan on Green Jobs for Young People was released on March 1, commissioned by Friends of the Earth U.K. and prepared by Transition Economics consultants. The report puts flesh on the bones of a youth jobs guarantee – discussing the many issues, identifying green jobs and skills related to infrastructure, and estimating the level of funding required. That level of funding is compared to the cost of youth unemployment – the “wage scarring”. Individual scarring is estimated at a loss of £42,000 – £133,000 in future wages over the next 20 years for an 18-20 year old who experiences one year of unemployment. The economic loss to the U.K. as a whole, if all currently unemployed youth stayed unemployed for 1 year, is estimated at £32 – £39 billion.
The solution proposed in the Emergency Plan is the creation of 250,000 green apprenticeships in infrastructure-related jobs, rapidly rolled-out in England and Wales at an estimated cost of £6.2 – £10.6 billion over 5 years – a “tiny” cost compared to the burden of wage scarring. The report calls for “a green opportunity guarantee” that commits to ensure that all young people are offered a job, an apprenticeship, or training, and estimates that “A government funded £40 billion-a-year green infrastructure programme would create over 1 million jobs, and deliver significant co-benefits.” The report further calls for apprentice pay rates above the minimum wage, negotiated nationally with U.K. trade unions.
The idea of a green opportunity guarantee has also been advanced in Canada – notably in July 2020 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in its Alternative Federal Budget Green Recovery Plan . The CCPA proposed a National Decarbonization Strategy with public investments in electricity generation, public transit, forestry and building and home retrofitting; part of the Strategy included “a Green Jobs Corps at a cost of $10 billion per year to create good green jobs that advance Canada’s decarbonization agenda. Among the corps’ priorities will be climate adaptation and environmental reclamation projects identified under the National Decarbonization Strategy. All youth under the age of 25 in Canada will be guaranteed either a job in the corps or access to subsidized training through the Strategic Training Fund.”
Similarly, a Submission by the Canadian Labour Congress in August stated: “Following the experience of the European Union, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should establish a guarantee that all young people under the age of 25 will receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. This could include a focus on providing decent jobs in land remediation and restoration, climate adaptation, and energy efficiency. It should also include green skills training and learning opportunities through partnerships with public education and training providers, with an emphasis on women, marginalized, low-income and at-risk youth.” A similar proposal was made by the Smart Prosperity Institute, calling for the creation of a Conservation and Adaptation corps as part of its Green Recovery proposals. Smart Prosperity stated that the federal government funded 900 green internships in 2020 through the Science Horizons Youth Internship Program for STEM students, and calls on the government to go further with a youth Conservation and Adaptation corps which “would offer the workforce needed to meet a number of environmental targets, including planting 2 billion trees, and could build the infrastructure needed to improve community resilience to climate impacts from flooding, fires and sea level rise.”
The Climate Ambition Summit on December 12 marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, to be co-hosted by the U.N. and the United Kingdom and France. In advance of the Summit, the U.K. has made high-profile announcements, including A Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution (Nov. 18),which aims for the creation of 250,000 green jobs, and on December 3, an announcement that it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions “by the fastest rate of any major economy” – with an ambitious new target of at least 68% reduction compared to 1990 emissions levels, by 2030.
Green Jobs Taskforce
Receiving less attention was another announcement on November 12: the launch of a Green Jobs Taskforce. The press release announces that the Taskforce sets “ a clear ambition to support 2 million green jobs by 2030 ….. to set the direction for the job market as we transition to a high-skill, low carbon economy.” The Green Jobs Taskforce met for the first time on November 12 under the leadership of the Minister of Business, Clean Energy and Growth, and the Minister of Skills; it includes representation from workers ( the TUC Deputy General Secretary), as well as representatives from business and the skills sector. Specifically, the Taskforce is meant to “focus on the immediate and longer-term challenges of delivering skilled workers for the UK’s transition to net zero”:
- Ensuring we have the immediate skills needed for building back greener, such as in offshore wind and home retrofitting.
- Developing a long-term plan that charts out the skills needed to help deliver a net zero economy.
- Ensuring good quality green jobs and a diverse workforce.
- Supporting workers in high carbon transitioning sectors, like oil and gas, to retrain in new green technologies.”
Reaction from the Greener Jobs Alliance (GJA) points out the discrepancy between the 250,000 jobs target in the Ten Point Plan and the 2 million jobs discussed in the Taskforce announcement. GJA also calls for:
- “a skills policy that is properly funded and built on a long-term strategy of quality apprenticeships and upskilling of the current and future workforce
- co-ordinated local, regional, national and sector frameworks in the development of jobs for the future
- full union engagement in policy development and delivery to ensure a just transition at different levels and sectors of the economy
- introduction of a legal right to appoint trade union green reps in the workplace.
- restoration of support for the Unionlearn fund
- comprehensive changes to procurement and supply chain policies to ensure the potential for local employment growth is maximised, and that is based on union recognition and decent terms and conditions of employment
- a Green New Deal which supports local recovery models as part of an industrial strategy that is clearly aligned with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Agreenment – A Green Mentality for Collective Bargaining is a European project to investigate the role of social dialogue and collective bargaining in promoting sustainable development and the transition to a low-carbon economy. Labour and Environmental Sustainability : Comparative Report is their newly published overview, which is accompanied by separate, detailed reports for each of the six countries studied: France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK.. The Agreenment website has further resources and bibliographies.
Written mostly by lawyers, the Comparative Report reviews the theoretical concepts influencing labour unions’ positions on environmental issues – with a key section titled “Treadmill of Production and Just Transition: Two Contrasting Patterns?”. The Comparative Report also reviews the legal structure of collective bargaining and the forms of social dialogue in each country, and for each country, discusses topics which might be included in collective bargaining – for example, linking pay to environmental performance; health and safety considerations; inclusion of environmental issues within labour-management bodies. The conclusion:
“It is up to the social partners to promote environmental sustainability as a goal for
collective bargaining or to continue with the traditional inertia that divides labour
and environmental regulation……. Collective agreements could take a leading role in driving the just transition towards a low-carbon economy, but in practice they do not regard this mission as a priority. Environmental clauses in collective agreements are still exceptional and lack momentum.”
The U.K. Study states:
“Based on extensive review of policy documents and qualitative interviews with key informants, our research confirms that UK unions have attempted to seize upon the possibilities inherent in a voluntarist system of industrial relations, in so far as broadening the scope of what are deemed to be union issues or issues that could be negotiated or bargained with management. …. However, despite the fact that many workplace initiatives have been reported throughout the UK, relatively few comprehensive agreements on environmental sustainability have been concluded… . The authors call for “…. (1) the statutory recognition of environmental union representatives together with rights to facility time and pay (rights that unions have advocated for a long time), as well as (2) expansion of the statutory scope of bargaining to include issues of environmental nature. Finally, for Just Transition processes to be operationalized in practice, UK unions should have more input in policy development. For this to be possible, (3) social dialogue must be institutionalized in a more meaningful way at the regional and national level.”
The 10-point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution was released by U.K. Premier Boris Johnson on November 18, promising to “mobilise £12 billion of government investment, and potentially 3 times as much from the private sector, to create and support up to 250,000 green jobs.” Some of the marquee goals: to ban the sale of new gas and diesel vehicles by 2030; £1bn to insulate homes and public buildings, (using the existing green homes grant and public sector decarbonisation scheme); and a previously announced pledge to quadruple offshore wind capacity by 2030.
The Guardian provides a factual summary of new plan; the full list of 10 areas for “increased ambition” include: advancing offshore wind; driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen; delivering new and advanced nuclear power; accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles; green public transport, cycling and walking; ‘jet zero’ and green ships; greener buildings; investing in carbon capture, usage and storage; protecting our natural environment; and, green finance and innovation. The Guardian also published a highly negative summary here , along with a kinder editorial: “The Guardian view on Johnson’s green jobs plan: the right way to start”. The editorial states “it is reassuring that Mr Johnson has chosen the path of believing in climate science and recognising that action affords economic opportunities…..That latter point is crucial. The prime minister is right to frame the response in terms of job creation. The cause of environmentalism in British politics has suffered from the misperception that it is a middle-class lifestyle affectation or a device to raise taxes. The reality is that the transition to a green economy is not a matter of choice, since the alternative is ruinous ecological calamity. “
That Guardian editorial warns of Mr. Johnson’s past pattern of lofty rhetoric lacking follow-through, and compares the pledged investment of £12bn, (much of which has been announced previously) to the €40bn green recovery package announced by Germany, the €30bn for green stimulus in France, and the $2Trillion plan promised by US president-elect Joe Biden. UNITE The Union echoed many of the same doubts in its reaction,” 10-point plan for a green revolution is “half-baked offer” “, and also in a another response regarding the nuclear energy proposals, which calls for “more flesh on the bones”.
The U.K. Trades Union Congress (TUC) reaction calls the 10-point Plan a “slow start” for a green recovery, and says “The prime minister should step up his ambition on jobs. TUC research shows that fast-tracked spending on green infrastructure could create 1.24 million good jobs by 2022.” (That research, published in June 2020, is here. The TUC also recently published Voice and Place: How to plan fair and successful paths to net zero emissions, which presents union voices and case studies from five regions: the North; the North West; the Midlands; Yorkshire and Humberside; and Wales, and sets out recommendations for national, regional and local policies.
Update: The November/December 2020 issue of the Greener Jobs Alliance Newsletter provides its own summary of the 10-point Plan, and links to reactions from other unions, including the education unions, GMB and RMT.
Three environmental groups in the U.K. have released a new report on September 29: Offshore: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition . The report summarizes the views of 1,383 workers in the North Sea oil and gas industry (representing 4.5% of the workforce), as provided in a survey conducted in the summer of 2020 by Friends of the Earth Scotland , Greenpeace UK , and the less well-known, London-based Platform. In addition to the worker’s responses, the report summarizes the economic and working conditions of North Sea offshore oil and gas workers, includes case studies of the personal experiences of eight workers, and makes recommendations for government action. In the final call to action, the three environmental groups invite energy workers, unions, and others to participate in a planned consultation process across the UK, with workshops where energy workers can draft policy demands for a transition that works for them.
Almost 35% of respondents identified themselves as union members, – the two largest unions being RMT-OILC (52.5%) and Unite (36%). In response to the report, RMT issued this press release, which states: “The skills and expertise of offshore oil and gas workers are key to a Just Transition.… To hear this strong, pro-worker, pro-trade union message from influential environmental groups is a significant moment in the debate which operators, contractors and Governments must listen to and act on. We applaud Platform, FoE Scotland and Greenpeace for taking this initiative and RMT will continue to work with them and like-minded NGOs in the fight for action to protect offshore jobs and skills from an unjust transition.”
Workers reveal an appetite for change, fueled by a desire for more job security
Selected survey results show:
- 42.8% of oil and gas workers have been made redundant or furloughed since March 2020;
- Satisfaction with health and safety standards was most commonly rated 3/5;
- 81.7% said they would consider moving to a job outside of the oil and gas industry- only 7% said they would not.
- The most important consideration for those willing to transition outside the oil and gas industry was job security (58%). Second most important, at 21%, was pay level.
- When asked what part of the energy sector they would be willing to retrain for and move to, 53% chose Offshore wind 53%; 51% Renewables ; 38% Rig decommissioning ; 26% Carbon capture and storage . 20% would also consider moving outside the energy sector.
Based on these responses, the report makes recommendations for three key areas of action: 1. Consultation with workers: “a representative section of the workforce should be involved in participatory policy-making, where workers are able to help determine policy, in addition to engagement with trade unions”; 2. Immediate government intervention and regulation to “improve job security and working conditions for workers in the oil and gas sector, to boost morale, improve quality of life, and mitigate the risk of workers leaving the energy sector altogether”; and 3. “Address barriers to entry and conditions within the renewables industry, including creating sufficient job opportunities.”
Platform is a U.K.-based environmental and social justice collective with campaigns focused on the global oil industry, fossil fuel finance and climate justice and energy democracy. Readers may remember that Platform partnered with Friends of the Earth Scotland and Oil Change International, to publish Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction , released on May 2019 and highlighted by WCR here .
On September 10, after meetings which spanned 5 months and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Citizens’ Climate Assembly issued its final, 556-page report, The Path to Net-Zero, with over 50 recommendations on how the U.K. should reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The 108 member group, ages 16 to 79, was selected to be representative of the country in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, education, rural versus urban, geography and level of concern about climate change. Their recommendations, summarized by The Guardian here and by Carbon Brief here, were built on agreed-upon principles that included urgency and fairness – “Fair to people with jobs in different sectors. Fair to people with different incomes, travel preferences and housing arrangements. Fair to people who live in different parts of the UK”. In general, participants preferred protecting and restoring nature over technological solutions, and stressed the value of ‘co-benefits’ of improved health and local community and economic benefits. Specific recommendations included measures to decarbonize transport (including a ban on SUV’s and a frequent flyer tax for air travelers) and a reduction in meat and dairy consumption by between 20% and 40%.
The recommendations will be tabled and debated in the U.K. House of Commons, and the six select committee chairs that commissioned the report will provide responses. A press release by the Assembly describes the process further.
A widely-reported study by economists at Oxford University seeks to identify fiscal policies which will best lead the world to post-Covid economic recovery, while also leading to a net-zero economy. Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change? was published on May 4 as a Working Paper by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University, (forthcoming as an article in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy). Lead authors Cameron Hepburn and Brian O’Callaghan are joined by economic heavy-weights such as Nicholas Stern and Joseph Stiglitz, among others. The paper states: “The climate emergency is like the COVID-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver. Both involve market failures, externalities, international cooperation, complex science, questions of system resilience, political leadership, and action that hinges on public support. Decisive state interventions are also required to stabilise the climate, by tipping energy and industrial systems towards newer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper modes of production that become impossible to outcompete.”
The authors identified over 700 fiscal stimulus policies used since the 2008 financial crisis – both climate-friendly and not – and distilled these down to 25 archetypal policies. They then surveyed the reactions of 231 senior economists and financial experts from over 50 countries to these archetypal policies, and identified the five “with high potential on both economic multiplier and climate impact metrics: clean physical infrastructure, building efficiency retrofits, investment in education and training, natural capital investment, and clean R&D. In lower- and middle income countries (LMICs) rural support spending is of particular value while clean R&D is less important.”
An informal summary of this report, written by the two lead authors, appears as “Leading economists: Green coronavirus recovery also better for economy” at Carbon Brief (May 5). Other coverage includes “Green Stimulus can repair global economy and climate, study says” (The Guardian, May 5);
Also on May 4, the Smith School released a companion Working Paper “A net-zero emissions economic recovery from COVID-19” which discusses the differences between the 2008 financial crisis and the economic damage of the Covid-19 pandemic. It builds on the paper by Hepburn et al., and makes 10 specific recommendations for a U.K. green stimulus package, with strategies clustered around:
- Large-scale investment (including Transforming energy generation, storage and distribution; transforming industrial energy usage, especially in the energy-intensive industrial sectors (steel, cement, ceramics, chemicals, pulp and paper) ; high-speed broadband internet connectivity to embed working from home practices ; investment in nature-based solutions for disaster resiliency.
- Accelerate investment in high-sustainability impact technologies
- Incentivize individual-level change – in transportation, home energy efficiency, and job training for green economy jobs
- Make Bailouts conditional on a legal commitment and a pathway and timeline to net-zero emissions, particularly for fossil fuel intensive industries such as airlines.
The paper concludes with proposals for institutional structures to implement these policies, including a Climate Change Emergency Committee and a Net Zero Delivery Body in the U.K. , and perhaps most remarkably, proposes an international Sustainable Recovery Alliance (SRA) to be launched at COP 26. The purpose: to act “As a flexible “coalition of the willing” outside of the UNFCCC architecture, the group would promote a shared vision of a sustainable recovery.”
And on May 6, the existing U.K. Committee on Climate Change issued a press release announcing its Letter to the Prime Minister, setting out six key principles to for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The principles call for fairness to be embedded as a core principle, a shift to new behaviours such as cycling and working from home, the possibility of raising carbon taxes, and, “Support for carbon-intensive sectors should be contingent on them taking real and lasting action on climate change, and all new investments need to be resilient to future climate risks.”
Absolute Zero , released by the University of Cambridge in November 2019, warns that the U.K. will not reach zero emissions by 2050 without significant changes to policies, industrial processes and individual lifestyle choices – including closing all airports in the UK by mid-century. (Perhaps the impact of this report can be seen in the U.K. court ruling on February 27 that Heathrow airport’s third runway is a legal violation of the country’s climate change commitment under the Paris Agreement.) Although Absolute Zero was released in November 2019, it was debated in the British House of Lords on February 6 , and was the subject of a Research Briefing by the House of Lords Library in support of that debate.
The prestige of the authors also may have contributed to the impact of its ideas. They are members of UK Fires (UK Future Industrial Resource Efficiency Strategy), a research collaboration between the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and Imperial College London, and funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. They contend that the UK should aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to absolute zero, rather than the “net zero” target specified in the Climate Change Act 2008 , and by the U.K. Committee on Climate Change in its report, Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming (May 2019) and its 2019 Report to Parliament of the U.K. Committee on Climate Change (July 2019) .
Absolute Zero also parts company with the Committee on Climate Change in its view that emerging technologies will not be scalable in time to meet emissions targets by 2050. It builds its analysis on “today’s technologies”, striking an optimistic tone while calling for fundamental changes in individual behaviour, government policy, and industrial processes. Some excerpts ….
“We need to switch to using electricity as our only form of energy and if we continue today’s impressive rates of growth in non-emitting generation, we’ll only have to cut our use of energy to 60% of today’s levels….
“The two big challenges we face with an all electric future are flying and shipping. Although there are lots of new ideas about electric planes, they won’t be operating at commercial scales within 30 years, so zero emissions means that for some period, we’ll all stop using aeroplanes. Shipping is more challenging: although there are a few military ships run by nuclear reactors, we currently don’t have any large electric merchant ships, but we depend strongly on shipping for imported food and goods….
“Absolute Zero creates a driver for tremendous growth in industries related to electrification, from material supply, through generation and storage to end-use. The fossil fuel, cement, shipping and aviation industries face rapid contraction, while construction and many manufacturing sectors can continue at today’s scales, with appropriate transformations……
“Committing to zero emissions creates tremendous opportunities: there will be huge growth in the use and conversion of electricity for travel, warmth and in industry; growth in new zero emissions diets; growth in materials production, manufacturing and construction compatible with zero emissions; growth in leisure and domestic travel; growth in businesses that help us to use energy efficiently and to conserve the value in materials…..
“Protest is no longer enough – we must together discuss the way we want the solution to develop; the government needs to treat this as a delivery challenge – just like we did with the London Olympics, ontime and on-budget; the emitting businesses that must close cannot be allowed to delay action, but meanwhile the authors of this report are funded by the government to work across industry to support the transition to growth compatible with zero emissions.”
The UK Fires collaboration officially launched in October 2019. It is building on previous related research, including the April 2019 report Steel Arising which it highlights on the UK Fires website. Steel Arising envisions greening of the UK steelmaking industry by “moving away from primary production towards recycled steel made with sustainable power.” It states: “Not only will this create long-term green jobs, it will lead to world-leading exportable skills and technologies and allow us to transform the highly valuable scrap that we currently export at low value, but should be nurturing as a strategic asset. With today’s grid we can do this with less than half the emissions of making steel with iron ore and with more renewable power in future this could drop much further.”
The U.K. has a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. A new report, Building the Net Zero Workforce , forecasts the likely employment and skills impacts of that goal for the energy industry, assuming that it will require a 50% increase in low carbon electricity generation; installation of low carbon heating systems in approximately 2.8 million homes; installation of 60,000 charging points to power 11 million electric vehicles (EVs); and development of carbon capture usage and storage technology as well as hydrogen networks – all by 2030.
To accomplish all this, the report projects that the energy industry will need to recruit for 400,000 jobs between 2020 and 2050 – 260,000 in new roles, and 140,000 to replace those who will be leaving in what is an anticipated retirement crunch. The report forecasts both time dimensions and regional needs, concluding that jobs will be available in all regions of the U.K. and for a diverse range of skills, “from scientists and engineers, to communications professionals and data specialists.” More specifically, “The roles included in this analysis are those involved in the operation, generation, transmission, distribution and retail of energy in the UK, as well as those in the supply chain related to building, upgrading, maintaining or operating infrastructure required to reach net zero.”
The report emphasizes the role of young people and a need to encourage women in STEM professions. In general, there is a need for training and re-training for the emerging technologies such as AI. The report notes, without details, that : “ By investing in retention and retraining, and working collaboratively with government and unions, the sector can help ensure a fair energy transition, one in which workers of all ages and backgrounds and from every community in the UK can play their part.”
The report was written by an independent research company, Development Economics, under a commission by National Grid, a U.K. organization which owns and operates electricity transmission in parts of the U.K., and invests £7.5 million per year in training.
England’s National Health Service (NHS) is the country’s largest employer with 1.3 million staff, and its operations are responsible for approximately 4-5% of England’s carbon footprint. On January 25, the Chief executive officer of the NHS announced a new campaign to tackle the global climate change health emergency through a greener health care system. A website for the new campaign, “For a Greener NHS”, focuses on a goal of a net zero national health service, with an Expert Panel to compile experiences and make recommendations in an interim report due in summer 2020, and a final report scheduled for Fall 2020. In the meantime, the Greener NHS campaign will encourage such initiatives as switching from coal or oil-fired boilers to renewable heat sources for buildings; switching to less polluting anaesthetic gases and better asthma inhalers in treatment; and introducing technological solutions to reduce the number of patient visits and travel miles.
Another part of the initiative is a grassroots campaign for front-line workers, supported by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change – which includes representative bodies covering over 650,000 NHS staff, including the union UNISON . The NHS press release quotes UNISON: “Involving staff is crucial if the NHS is to help the UK meet its emissions targets in good time. They know more than anyone how the health service ticks and so are best placed to make practical green suggestions to get the NHS to where it needs to be.” Examples of existing staff-oriented programs are described in case studies : reducing the use of disposable plastic gloves; an electric bike courier system for delivery of medical and laboratory samples; and a sustainable travel initiative to encourage staff use of transit, shuttle buses, bicycles and walking for journeys to work.
British medical associations and organizations are also acting at the societal level. In January, the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an editorial: “Investing in humanity: The BMJ’s divestment campaign” , which calls on individuals and organizations to act immediately, stating: “Divestment offers health professionals and medical organisations, for the duty is both individual and collective, an opportunity to influence politicians and industry towards behaviours that are better for the planet and people’s health.” While urging divestment, the BMJ states: ” we will not accept advertising or research funded by companies that produce fossil fuels. We will also explore how else our business might be dependent on fossil fuel companies and take steps to end any such reliance. The BMA has no direct holdings in tobacco or fossil fuel companies.” (Note that The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. also announced in February 2020 that it will ban any fossil fuel advertising. ) According to a press release from the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, six constituent groups of the Alliance have announced an intention, or are already divesting, from fossil fuels: the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Faculty of Public Health, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and in January 2020, the Royal College of Physicians . The Canadian Medical Association has also divested from fossil fuels.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC), the labour union central in the United Kingdom, published A just transition to a greener, fairer economy in July. According to the accompanying press release , the document sets out principles “to take the whole trade union family towards that new economy.” (This seems to be a reference to the divisive nature of the Just Transition debate during the 2018 TUC Congress, reported by the WCR here ).
These excerpts from A just transition to a greener, fairer economy summarize the main demands:
“Companies and organisations moving to a lower carbon model should put in place Transition Agreements – agreed with unions – that cover a range of issues, including the overall number of jobs or workers employed, pay and conditions, job security, working time, job descriptions, duties assigned to job roles, training and skills, apprenticeships, retirement policy, monitoring and surveillance, performance management, health and safety implications and equal opportunities. Companies should also work with unions to identify and deliver best environmental practice at a workplace level.”
….”we’re calling for a cross-party commission on long term energy strategy, involving affected workers, unions, industries and consumers, to set out the path towards clean, affordable and reliable energy. The commission should study the social impacts of the transition, its regional impacts and necessary mitigation measures. Investment – in infrastructure, in new skills for workers, and in services such as public transport – is vital.”
…“Government has a key role in making this happen, as a funder and procurer of new energy and broader infrastructure. When government invests in new infrastructure it should use its procurement powers to ensure that jobs generated benefit workers in the local community and throughout the supply chain. It must also insist that jobs created provide workers with trade union recognition, and that employers have fair recruitment, industrial relations and pay policies for all workers. Companies winning government contracts must adhere to agreed standards of corporate behaviour; for example, contracts should not go to companies based in tax havens and companies must be registered in and pay tax in the UK.”
Trades Union Congress passes resolutions on Just Transition, endorses Student Strike on Sept. 20
The 151st Congress of the Trades Union Congress was held from September 8 to 11, 2019 . Understandably, debate about Brexit loomed large over the meetings, but there were several motions related to climate change, most notably Composite Motion 02 Climate crisis and a Just Transition, which was approved on September 10, and resolves: “that the TUC calls for a 30-minute workday campaign action to coincide with the global school strike on 20 September. 2. to campaign for national and regional Just Transition Commissions including full union and education representation to develop, monitor and implement the process.” An article in The Guardian also summarizes the Congress vote; the TUC press release on student strikes is here; the University and Colleges Union position on the student climate strike is here;
Other climate change related motions at the TUC Congress: “Buses and a green transport system” moved by ASLEF ; “Public ownership of energy” moved by Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union ; and Securing Green UK Jobs, moved by GMB.
New training module on Just Transition available
Discussions and panels were held at the Fringe Meetings , most notably by the Greener Jobs Alliance , which used the occasion to launch their new, free, online Just Transition Training Module . Other Fringe sessions included: How Can We Grow The UK’s Aviation Sector whilst Meeting Climate Change Targets?; Action on the Climate Emergency: How Should Trade Unions Respond?; sponsored by the Campaign Against Climate Change, Trade Unionists And Climate Strikes: Responding to the Climate Emergency.
Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction was released on May 15 by Oil Change International, in partnership with Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland. The press release summary is here . The report examines the offshore oil and gas industry in the U.K., with special attention to the transition for workers and communities currently dependent on oil – making it highly relevant to Canadians, especially Newfoundlanders. Sea Change argues that with the right transition policies, clean industries could create more than three jobs for every North Sea oil job at risk, which can enable an “equivalent job guarantee” for every oil worker.
The report contrasts two pathways available for the U.K. and Scotland to stay within Paris climate limits: 1. Deferred collapse, in which the countries “continue to pursue maximum extraction by subsidising companies and encouraging them to shed workers, until worsening climate impacts force rapid action to cut emissions globally; the UK oil industry collapses, pushing many workers out of work in a short space of time.” Or 2. Managed transition: in which countries “stop approving and licensing new oil and gas projects, begin a phase-out of extraction and a Just Transition for workers and communities, negotiated with trade unions and local leaders, and in line with climate change goals, while building quality jobs in a clean energy economy.”
To achieve the clearly superior “managed transition” pathway, the report recommends that the U.K. and Scottish Governments:
- Stop issuing licenses and permits for new oil and gas exploration and development, and revoke undeveloped licenses;
- Rapidly phase out all subsidies for oil and gas extraction, including tax breaks, and redirect them to fund a Just Transition;
- Enable rapid building of the clean energy industry through fiscal and policy support to at least the extent they have provided to the oil industry, including inward investment in affected regions and communities;
- Open formal consultations with trade unions to develop and implement a Just Transition strategy for oil-dependent regions and communities.
Offshore Oil and Gas in Newfoundland: In Newfoundland, the importance of the offshore oil industry is evidenced by the fact that a snap election was called shortly after the province reached agreement with the federal government on royalty payments on April 1. The two governments announced agreement on a “renewed Atlantic Accord” – including the “Hibernia Dividend Backed Annuity”, valued at $2.5 billion for the province, according to a CBC report . This is new money that comes from Ottawa’s 8.5 per cent stake in the Hibernia offshore project, and will be paid out in annual installments over 38 years. According to the Q1 2019 Company Benefits Report , Hibernia operations employ 1,458 workers, of which 90.8% are Newfoundlanders.
The federal and provincial governments are also closely intertwined in a new consultation process which was launched for the Regional Assessment of Offshore Oil and Gas Exploratory Drilling East of Newfoundland and Labrador in April, along with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. The provincial Minister is quoted in the federal press release: “Our government is committed to working collaboratively with our federal partners to ensure responsible development of our oil and gas industry. The Regional Assessment is an important step towards exempting routine, low impact activities, such as exploration wells, where potential impacts and standard mitigations are well known, from federal assessment. This is another step we are taking to achieve the vision we set out in Advance 2030 to benefit all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”
The Advance 2030 document, released in 2018, is subtitled: A Plan for growth in the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industry, and is based on the government’s commitment “to resource development as a key economic driver and to positioning the industry for continued growth.” In releasing the Advance 2030 report, the government announced some long-term targets, including the direct employment of at least 7,500 people in operations, drilling of over 100 new exploration wells by 2030, and doubling oil production by 2030. That same Liberal government was returned to power as a minority government on May 16, and compiles news of oil and gas development here .
The government of the United Kingdom became the first national government to declare an environment and climate emergency. on May 1 when it passed a motion by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (and Ireland followed suit with its own vote in Parliament on May 10) . Many agree with the headline from Common Dreams, “Activism works: UK Parliament makes history in declaring climate emergency”, reflecting on the huge impact made by the April demonstrations of the School Strikes and Extinction Rebellion in the U.K.
On the heels of the symbolic victory of the climate emergency declaration, on May 2 the U.K. government’s Committee on Climate Change delivered its long-awaited landmark report, requested by the U.K., Scottish and Welsh Governments in 2018. Net Zero: the U.K.’s contribution to stopping Global Warming calls for net zero emissions by 2050, with Scotland to target net-zero by 2045 and Wales to target a 95 per cent reduction by 2050 relative to 1990. The net-zero target would cover all greenhouse gases, including international aviation and shipping, and allow for the use of emissions credits. The Committee estimates the cost at equivalent to 1-2% of GDP each year, made possible by the rapidly falling cost of new technologies – and balanced by the benefits of a cleaner environment and improved health. In calling for more ambitious targets than the existing one of 80% emissions cut by 2050 (set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act), the Committee states that “Current policy is insufficient for even the existing targets”, and calls for “clear, stable and well-designed policies to reduce emissions … across the economy without delay”.
Links to the research reports supporting the Committee’s report are here . The Guardian released a brief overview in “‘This report will change your life’: what zero emissions means for UK . More substantial reactions come from: Carbon Brief, with a detailed summary; and from The Grantham Institute “What is Net Zero?” , and a political wish list in “Urgent response needed from U.K. government on Net Zero Emissions” .
The Greener Jobs Alliance , a coalition of U.K. unionists and environmentalists, also summarizes what the new report may mean, acknowledging that “The 2050 target date for zero emissions will disappoint many demonstrating across the UK.”, but focusing especially on the breakthrough of the Committee’s call for Just Transition. The GJA states: “It should now reinforce this message by setting up a Just Transition Advisory Group, with union representation from the industrial, energy, public and voluntary sectors….” and “….the absence of a strategic advisory role for unions in the work of the committee is no longer tenable.”
Below is the GJA overview of what the Net Zero report will mean for workers, as published in their news release:
- Up to one in five jobs across the UK will be affected by a Zero Carbon Britain strategy.
- Major moves away from fossil fuels – with job losses across oil and gas extraction, power and heating industries, as well as job losses in supply chains for these sectors.
- Some gas fired power stations could be needed, but they will need to run using hydrogen or Carbon Capture & Storage. All coal-fired stations close.
- Huge job growth is expected in sectors like renewables, electric vehicles, home insulation and domestic heating.
- Employment in offshore wind, for example, is predicted to quadruple to 27,000 jobs by 2030. The big prize comes when all three main parts of a wind turbine – the tower, the cell at the top and the blades – are made in the UK. The UK is currently a big importer of renewable technology. The UK has to develop full supply chains across the renewable energy sector.
- By 2025 at the latest all new cars and vans should be electric, or use a low- carbon alternative such as hydrogen. The automotive industry must transition to electric vehicles, with major implications for jobs, skills and investment.
- No new homes should be connected to the gas grid after 2025.
- Retrofitting homes with energy efficiency measures and installing low-carbon heat into new and existing homes will require new skills. This programme could generate many more high-skilled jobs in the installation and construction industries.
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. ”
Progress 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.
Green 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.”
On 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’.
The 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.”