The borough of Greenwich, south east London, plans to cut car traffic by 45% by 2030 – but even that will produce less than half the greenhouse gas emissions reductions that climate scientists say are needed.
Better still would be to set carbon budgets – limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted during specific time periods – and use them as a framework for transport and other policies.
Such budgets can concentrate minds on policies to improve people’s lives, while contributing to tackling climate change at the same time. Better, cheaper public transport and support for non-car ways of travelling, e.g. bikes and walking, all help.
Transport is the second-biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Greenwich; heat, electricity and cooking fuel for homes and other buildings is the first.
In 2019, Greenwich was one of many local authorities that declared a “climate emergency” in response to school pupils’ strikes demanding action on climate, and Extinction Rebellion’s direct action campaign. Even the UK parliament claimed to recognise this emergency.
Two clouds darken the sky. A close-up one: gas and electricity bills have shot up since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and millions of families are struggling to pay. And a bigger, darker, higher one: the climate disaster, and politicians’ refusal to tackle it.
Ultimately, both these threats have a single cause: fossil fuels and the systems of wealth and power that depend on them. We need social movements to link the fight to protect families from unaffordable bills with the fight to move beyond fossil fuels, and in that way turn back global warming.
Here I suggest ways to develop such a movement in the UK, starting by demanding action on home heating.
Two linked crises
Since the government lifted the price cap on energy bills on 1 April, the average energy bill for 18 million households on standard tariffs rose to £1971 per year, from £1277. Another 4.5 million households on pre-payment schemes are paying an average of £2017 per year. And in October, bills could well rise above £3000.
There are now 6.3 million UK households (including 2.5 million with children) in fuel poverty, meaning that they are unable to heat their home to an adequate temperature. The End Fuel Poverty Coalition says that could rise to 8.5 million by the end of this year.
The main fuels for UK homes are gas, and electricity produced from gas and nuclear power. Retail prices have been driven up by a rise in gas, oil and coal prices on world markets – which started rising last year, as economies recovered from the pandemic, but shot upwards faster from March, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The war, and sanctions on Russia by western powers, could keep fossil fuel prices high for years. They have also driven global food prices upwards. This is the biggest bout of inflation worldwide since the 1970s.
In this guest post, PETER SOMERVILLE examines the UK government’s “energy security strategy”
The UK government’s energy security strategy avoids bold measures to decarbonise the economy. Its claimed aims are to “build a British energy system that is much more self-sufficient” (page 6), and specifically to “reduce our dependence on imported oil and gas” (page 5) – but it will not even do that effectively, either.
Firstly, the strategy provides insufficient support for the development of renewable energy, given the urgency of the climate and energy crisis.
In comparison, its support for so-called “low carbon” development looks both disproportionate and less certain of achieving the immediate progress that is now required. Taken together with its support for new gas projects, this is difficult to explain except in terms of the power of the nuclear and fossil fuel lobbies, which effectively remains unchallenged. The strategy doesn’t even begin to get to grips with nature-based solutions.
Secondly, the strategy has very little to say about reducing energy demand, e.g. from retrofitting, by reducing car use, by stopping airport expansion, and so on. It doesn’t mention increasing carbon tax on industry as one means to encourage a shift towards using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels.
Even that would not be enough, however. More radical ways forward need to be considered, such as new forms of public and community ownership; rapid, binding targets for phasing down and phasing out fossil fuels, cap and share schemes, and much more.
Energy rationing may sound drastic but it would be a clear way forward and may well become necessary in time. In the meantime, a windfall tax on the big energy companies and a wealth tax would be useful for meeting people’s immediate needs.
Thirdly, the strategy has nothing to say about how the impending climate crisis will affect energy security, e.g. droughts and floods affecting energy generation and supply.
The UK government claims, extravagantly, that it is aiming for “net zero”. But the devil is in the detail. Here, PETER SOMERVILLE goes through the government’s Net Zero Strategy with a fine-toothed comb – and shows how its promises are exaggerated and its numbers don’t add up. It falls to pieces in your hands
When government ministers published their Ten Point Plan a year ago, they recognised that it did not go far enough to fulfil their international commitment to reducing carbon emissions. One year on, their Net Zero Strategy (NZS) goes a little further, but still falls far short of what is required. The problems inherent in the original plan persist, namely:
A failure to recognise that the world is now experiencing a climate emergency, and therefore that more drastic action is required in the short term (before 2025) to reduce carbon emissions. The reductions up to 2025 are minimal (page 18, Fig 1, or p. 77, Fig 13.Note: all page numbers in this article refer to the Net Zero Strategy, unless stated otherwise.)
A continuing (and increasing) reliance on problematic technologies that do not currently exist at scale, particularly carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS), and direct air carbon capture.
A failure to explain clearly how expected future carbon savings have been calculated, particularly in industry, buildings and transport.
A neglect of issues relating to agriculture, food, land use and energy storage.
An emphasis on constructing new nuclear power plants, with a new (from 2022) Future Nuclear Enabling Fund of £120 million, but – as the UK FIRES commentary on the government’s plan shows – with no net increase in nuclear power capacity likely until after 2030. In the meantime, construction work adds significantly to carbon emissions.
An emphasis on GDP growth, despite the strong correlation between such growth and increasing carbon emissions.
A lack of clarity about how specific policies could achieve intended emission reductions, e.g. on hydrogen.
A failure to curb the expansion of aviation to 2030 and beyond (an expansion that is encouraged rather than hindered by the latest spending review’s decision to cut air passenger duty).
A failure to take account of other government programmes that increase rather than reduce emissions, e.g. increased spending on roads (£27 billion) and defence (£24 billion) up to 2024.
The government has already committed to invest £25.5 billion for a Green Industrial Revolution (£12 billion under the Ten Point Plan, £9.7 billion for 18 deals at the Global Investment Summit in October 2021, and £5.8 billion on other sustainable projects since the Ten Point Plan). Together with £40 billion for the new UK Infrastructure Bank (p. 206), and leveraging £90 billion of private investment, this funding is expected to support 440,000 jobs in 2030 (pp. 16, 17 and 49).
The NZS describes three future scenarios, but arguably only Scenario 1 (high electrification) is really worth considering.
□ Even Scenario 1 has serious limitations. For example, as with the other scenarios, it takes no direct account of uncertainty about future technology costs and availability (p. 316). So much for the precautionary principle, one might argue.
The campaign for a National Care Service in Scotland: a contribution to a discussion. By HILARY HORROCKS (Edinburgh trades union council delegate)
Health is a devolved matter in the not-so-United Kingdom, and that has allowed successive Scottish governments to bring in progressive measures that are missing in England, such as abolition of prescription charges for everyone and free personal care for the elderly.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) government certainly sought to distance itself from Westminster during the first stages of the Covid pandemic, when it seemed to follow scientific advice more carefully, and kept the public better informed with daily briefings by the First Minister.
Between the first and second waves of Covid last year the virus was just about eliminated in Scotland – but like Westminster, the government at Holyrood failed to use the summer to bring in mitigating measures to reduce infection. So in the autumn, the return of schools and universities, coupled with the loosening of restrictions, led to a rise in cases similar to England’s.
Mask wearing has remained a legal requirement in Scotland, including for all secondary school pupils, and is generally well observed – but cases remain worryingly high, particularly in poorer areas.
Here, as in England and Wales, the terrible toll of deaths in care homes at the beginning of the pandemic brutally exposed the disastrous policy of freeing up NHS beds by transferring elderly hospital patients to care homes with no proper testing.
By STUART CARTER (mental health worker and long-time union activist)
Three quarters of us will need some form of social care during our lifetime. In September the government claimed they were tackling the crisis in social care, by increasing National Insurance contributions by 1.25 % from 1 April 2022, thereby raising an extra £12 billion a year. They also made some changes to the thresholds for receiving free social care or having to make contributions to your social care.
Governments have been talking about social care reform for the past 20 years but have done next to nothing. The Dilnot report, commissioned by the coalition government in 2011, made some proposals similar to the present ones but more generous and far-reaching – but it was quietly ignored.
Successive governments have buried their heads in the sand.
Meanwhile cutbacks, especially in local authority budgets, have seen spending per person on social care drop 7.5% in real terms in the decade up to 2019/20. Progressive privatisation, that began in the 1970s, has resulted in 90% of social care now being delivered by the private and independent sector.
Increasingly, healthcare is viewed as a commodity to be bought and sold on the market, that is controlled by private companies seeking profit.
Council-run care homes and council employed home helps are things of the past. However the COVID pandemic, which has killed 40,000 nursing and care home residents, has focused public attention on the state of social care.
Social care workers
One and a half million people work in the social care sector providing residential or home care. The average wage is £9.50 an hour and the majority of workers are on the minimum wage. There is no standardisation of training, terms and conditions are poor and there is a very low level of union organisation.
There is a great deal of instability, with many care homes going bust each year or being taken over by bigger companies. In home care, the workers are given limits on time they can spend with each client and many don’t get paid for their travel time between visits.
An investigation by GARETH DALE and JOSH MOOS of the UK government’s “Jet Zero” policy for aviation. It first appeared in the Ecologist, and is republished here with thanks
In the brave new geography of heat domes, torrential floods and woodland infernos, old-style climate denialism is as good as dead. From the ashes, we see its resurrection in new, sustainable-branded forms.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the UK government’s Jet Zero consultation, due to conclude this month. The wager is that aviation can be massively expanded even as its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions taper to zero.
In researching this essay, we read the government’s Jet Zero documents and interviewed aviation industry insiders and spokespeople. We found that of the three key terms – jet, zero, and consultation – two are misleading to the point of outright deception.
What struck us first is the scope of the so-called consultation that informed the Jet Zero documents. It has centred on a wilfully naïve borrowing of promises from the aviation sector, in particular the industry organisation Sustainable Aviation, mediated through government-industry partnership bodies.
Largely frozen out are climate scientists and the environmental groups and NGOs that seek to protect the interests of Earth and its inhabitants. The government has even ignored a key recommendation of its own advisory body, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), that continued expansion of the aviation industry is, under all scenarios of technological advance, incompatible with its 2050 net zero target.
The aviation industry’s principal goal, its own continued growth, has been adopted by the government as its own. Aviation expansion is fundamental to Britain’s future, declared the Aviation minister, Liz Sugg, in the 2018 report on The Future of UK Aviation. Airport expansion, stated a follow-up report in 2020, is indispensable to the government’s agenda of “global connectivity.”
The same document projects that by 2050, passenger miles flown will be twice the 2017 figure and six times the 1990 figure, while aviation GHG emissions in the period from 2017 to 2050 will remain constant.
TERRY BROTHERSTONE reviews Crude Britannia: How Oil Shaped a Nation, by James Marriott and Terry Macalister (London, Pluto Press, 2021)
Even Alok Sharma – Boris Johnson loyalist, former Tory cabinet minister, now president of the COP 26 UN climate summit in Glasgow in November – says he recognises it: the planet is in the last-chance saloon. Indeed, the scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warn, the clock – to borrow George Orwell’s opening to 1984 – has already struck thirteen. “Human activity,” reported The Guardian,“is changing the Earth’s climate in ways unprecedented in … hundreds of thousands of years”: some potentially disastrous consequences are “inevitable and ‘irreversible’”.
Only the worst effects can now be alleviated, and that only by decisive action drastically to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Without a serious move to end reliance on fossil fuels, human society as we know it faces extinction. And, argues this book, Britain is a nation the modern existence of which has been shaped by oil. What hope is there for the future?
The publication of Crude Britannia: How Oil Shaped a Nation is timely indeed. That James Marriott and Terry Macalister had fun researching it resonates in their writing, but it must have been hard work too. It took them about three years longer than planned, when the instability that afflicted Britain in the years following the 2007-09 financial crash prompted their project. The effects of austerity; the near-miss 2014 Scottish independence referendum that raised the now immanent possibility that the 314-year-old union with England could end, and with it the fragile constitutional underpinnings of the United Kingdom; “Brexit”; growing fears of climate catastrophe … it all made the nation look unprecedentedly insecure.
Experts in their different ways in the central socio-economic role of oil in the modern world, Marriott and Macalister decided to investigate the part it had played in holding the Britain of recent decades together – and is now playing in tearing it apart. They would travel the country, researching its post-World-War-II relationship with the industry. Then, as they were reaching their journey’s end, the Covid-19 pandemic dealt the final blow to what to them – children, as they introduce themselves, of the years in which oil replaced coal in the engine-room of British prosperity and sustained the underlying certainties of the country’s political economy and social life – had seemed an “era of optimism”. They “had spent [their] lives writing on the oil and gas industry and its impacts around the world”, and now wanted to understand “what was its role … in Britain’s turbulence?”
Marriott and Macalister make an ideal pair to ask the question, and they have devised an entertaining, instructive and original way of starting serious debate about answering it. The delay in their publication plans, moreover, means that their book has arrived at an opportune moment. The protest movement is gathering momentum, notably in London against the Science Museum’s acceptance of Shell’s “greenwashing” sponsorship for its “Future of the Planet” exhibition and, in Scotland, against further North Sea oil exploitation, in the first place of the Cambo field, west of Shetland. And planning is well underway for major demonstrations at the COP 26 summit that the smooth and well-travelled (although never-quarantined) Sharma is scheduled to chair in Glasgow in November – described by Kevin McKenna in TheHerald (Glasgow) recently as an exercise in entrusting “our climate recovery … to the sector chiefly responsible for creating it … the planet’s chief pollutant: global capitalism.”
Macalister, now Senior Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge and a freelance journalist, was for some years Energy Editor at The Guardian – a position in which he clearly formed working relationships with key figures in the oil industry, access to whom adds important insights to Crude Britannia. Interviewees include senior politicians such as Michael Heseltine and “Green Deal” Corbynite, Rebecca Long-Bailey; and chief executives such as Royal Dutch Shell’s Bernardus (or “Ben”) van Beurden, and John, Baron Browne of Madingley. Browne was British Petroleum’s chief executive from 1995 until 2007, and his shape-shiftingly image-conscious, but never less than ruthless, career punctuates the story at key moments. His 41 years with BP ended following the revelation that he had lied about his personal life in a sworn court deposition. Now a cross-bench peer, he emerges as one of the key business figures in the “new Labour” years. His ultimately unsuccessful attempts to rebrand BP as “Beyond Petroleum” with a sun-god logo, dovetailed well with premier Tony Blair’s short-lived “third way”, capitalism-with-a-human-face ideology.
RITCHIE HUNTER writes about Liverpool City Council and the electronic arms fair due to take place at the Exhibition Centre in Liverpool in October
During the slave trade, Liverpool Council spent thousands of pounds fighting the abolition movement and conferred the freedom of the borough on those who were the ‘spin doctors’ of the day.
This was in a city where thumbscrews, branding irons, and fetters for use on slaves, with devices for opening their mouths when they refused to eat, could all be seen for sale in ships chandlers’ windows.
Fast forward to today and Liverpool City Council have decided not to cancel the arms fair planned for October, even though they own the venue.
This is the resolution passed by the Council on 21 July 2021:
With the COP 26 international climate talks coming up in Glasgow in November, the UK government’s greenwash machine is going into overdrive.
The prime minister has set the tone with a “ten point plan” on climate – denounced as empty rhetoric by researchers (e.g. here and here) – which in turn is linked to the government’s new target, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 78% of 1990 levels by 2035.
That target is linked to the sixth carbon budget for 2033-37, proposed by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) that advises the government.
The CCC has warned that the government is on track to miss the targets for fourth budget (2023-27) and the fifth budget (2028-32), and often made valid proposals for decarbonisation measures. For this it has been praised by Labour politicians, some environmentalist organisations and some climate scientists.
But looking coherent, compared to the government, is a very low bar to jump over. The CCC’s carbon budgets are not a realistic guide to the UK playing its part in tackling climate change – and are used by government ministers and other politicians to obstruct and delay effective action.
The way the CCC budgets are calculated would allow the UK economy to emit at least twice as much greenhouse gas as any amount that could possibly be described as its fair share.
To preface Peter’s arguments, here are a few words about what carbon budgets are, and why they matter.
■ Global carbon budgets are measurements of the amount of carbon dioxide that scientists estimate can be put into the atmosphere, before global warming breaks certain barriers. The budgets are often stated in gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions (GtCO2). The barriers are usually stated as global average temperatures, measured in degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.
■ Global carbon budgets are the products of scientific research. There are some good visualisations on the Global Carbon Project web site (go here and scroll down to “The carbon budget for 1.5°” and “Remaining carbon budget to 1.5° and 2°”).
■ In reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the budgets are set out in tables that provide scientists’ best estimates of the remaining carbon budget available, to keep global temperatures to certain levels. The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees, published in 2018, said that, to limit warming since 1850-1900 to 1.5°, the remaining global carbon budget is 840 GtCO2, for a 33% chance of hitting the target; 580 GtCO2 for a 50% chance; and 420 GtCO2 for a 67% chance. The scientists also provided estimates for a range of other temperatures and likelihoods. You can see the key table (Table 2.2 in chapter 2) here.
■ There are uncertainties in climate science. These figures shift, as research teams refine their estimates. In the IPCC sixth assessment report, due out next year, the budgets are likely to be smaller than in previous reports.
■ Carbon budgets deal with CO2 emissions, that account for about three-quarters of the global warming effect. Scientists have developed budgets for other greenhouse gases, that collectively account for the other one quarter. Methane and nitrous oxide are the most important ones.
■ Global carbon budgets are worked out by science, but national carbon budgets are set by politics. They reflect what countries’ politicians decide is (i) a reasonable global budget to aim at, and (ii) their country’s fair share of that budget.
■ The CCC takes as a starting-point scientists’ global budgets that give humanity a 50% chance of hitting the 1.5 degree target (see the Sixth Carbon Budget report, pages 367-371) – which is itself a political decision. But it is not easy to see how it does the sums.
■ Researchers who have done their own sums say that the CCC is allowing the UK a share of the global budget that is disproportionate, and unfair to nations of the global south – in other words, stealing from the global budget.
■ A key research paper by scientists at the Tyndall Centre argued last year that the UK’s carbon budget for the rest of this century should be no more than half the figure the CCC is working with – that is, carbon emissions cuts have to be twice as stringent.