From the TUC

Union voice: Looking ahead to 2016 in signing off my last TUC blog

15 Dec 2015, by in Environment

As the government comes under increasing pressure after COP21 to reverse some £7 billion of cuts to the green economy, new data shows its emerging power: 233,000 employees in 96,510 businesses providing renewable energy and low carbon goods and services. The first report in a new official series shows green businesses generated a £45 billion in turnover in 2014 (about 195,000 per employee), compared, for example, with £69.5 billion for the motor industry

Business isn’t happy with the government’s about turn on the green economy. It’s all very well making its voice heard at global talks, yet, as Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said after the Paris Agreement:

“More needs to be done at home. The Government must provide a stable environment that enables investment in cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy generation, including renewable technologies and new gas plants. As other nations start to play a greater role and increase their ambition, the UK needs a level playing field for carbon costs, so that our energy intensive industries can compete effectively in a global, low carbon market place.”

What goes around comes around? Ten years ago, in autumn 2005, the TUC and CBI hosted a joint conference on energy and climate change policy. A sustainable energy policy – opportunities for UK industry featured keynote speeches from the CBI’s John Cridland, Brendan Barber and DTI Secretary Alan Johnson.  The same stars with different voices may be in fresh alignment.

As the former TUC General Secretary said at the time:

“decisions facing Government at the end of its 2006 Energy Review will have far reaching implications for the future of UK industry, employment and economic prosperity. …Energy policy has become one of the defining issues of our time; and it’s inextricably linked to perhaps the biggest issue of them all. The challenge posed by climate change. Indeed, the decisions we take now will shape our economy and our environment for decades to come.”

It’s a bit like sharing a canoe with George Osborne rowing in the opposite direction. At a rough estimate, his austerity measures have cut almost £7 billion from the green economy strategy the government inherited partly from itself:

  • Cuts to home insulation (eg £700m from the Renewable heat Incentive Scheme designed to wean households off gas fired boilers), and an 87% planned cut in support for solar power wind power and other clean energies.
  • £4 billion from renewable energy projects by removing their climate change levy exemptions.
  • £1 billion from low emission vehicles by changing the rules of vehicle excise duty.
  • £ 1 billion from cancelling the UK’s carbon capture and storage programme, stranding our heavy industries like steel, chemicals and cement with nowhere to store emitted carbons.

These cuts have alarmed investors and the industries affected (motor manufacture, construction, energy project developers, the renewable energy sector, energy efficiency installers etc), and environmental organisations including Friends of the Earth.

So my final thoughts for 2016 in signing off my last TUC blog:

For a Just transition: The closure of Kellingley Colliery this week, the last of the UK’s deep mines, recalls the economic blight still scarring our former mining villages. Consider how Sports Direct treats the workers at its giant warehouse on the site of the former Shirebrook pit, and you have the model of what a just transition to a low carbon future cannot look like.

Trade unions were looking for affirmative support from the Paris climate change agreement for new investment strategies based on the principles of a Just Transition and decent work. We have to argue for investment into the heart of communities, many within the so-called Northern Powerhouse, facing the greatest changes in the shift to a zero carbon world.

So, we call for decent work: We need to build on the pillars of the Decent Work Agenda set out by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in October 2015: social dialogue, social protection, rights at work and employment. These are “indispensable building blocks of sustainable development and must be at the centre of policies for strong, sustainable and inclusive growth and development.”

Build alliances: In 2016, trade unions have an opportunity to strengthen links with industry and environmental organisations who share the belief that we must get the UK back on the green economy track.

Zero carbon Britain in 2050: In the year ahead, pressure will grow on the government from a new campaign led by former energy secretary Ed Miliband, but with cross party support, for the UK to adopt a zero carbon budget by 2050, one that is closer to the long term aim of the Paris Agreement. We should support that initiative. And the government must provide by June 2016 a coherent response to the 2030 carbon targets set by the Committee on Climate Change.

Faze out fossil fuels: The Paris Agreement sends a powerful signal to investors that emissions will fall this century. That fossil fuels are on an irreversible trend of downward emissions. Unions should consider these carbon truths in contemplating their positions on major new infrastructure that will lock in carbon emissions for their lifetimes: shale gas fracking; unabated gas power stations; major airport expansion; and when new oil and gas subsidies are won from cuts to renewables and energy efficiency.

Support steel and our energy intensive industries: The government will also have to deal with industry’s objections to the green cuts, not least the CCS lobby aligning the power and heavy industry sectors like steel, cement and chemicals, who believe that carbon capture technology is curcial to the future for our domestic energy intensive industries.

Unions find their voice: Now that governments have concluded the Paris Agreement, it’s up to us to  align our union voice with all who are convinced that the future lies in green jobs, green infrastructure, a just transition and decent work, so we can play our leading part in the transformation that lies ahead.

…but I’ll still be tweeting @GreenUnions

3 Responses to Union voice: Looking ahead to 2016 in signing off my last TUC blog

  1. John
    Dec 16th 2015, 2:57 am

    Thankyou for your final TUC Touchstone ‘Green & Clean’ energy blog Peter. Your article this evening (my time) just shows how completely out of touch Cameron & Osbourne really are on this now very urgent issue of Climate Change & the whole environment. (I still have in my mind that infamous quotation from Cameron ” The greenest government ever”, I believe said in 2010).

    I wish you all the very best seasons greetings. Thankyou for all your past articles, they were indeed valued and appreciated.

  2. Philip
    Dec 16th 2015, 9:26 am

    Hey John, thanks for your kind words. After some kind of pause, we will be open for blogging in the New Year!

  3. John
    Dec 16th 2015, 7:31 pm

    My apologies Philip I misspelt your first name in my earlier comment. I am of that that age now where I am very good on remembering fotos, faces, etc, but terrible with names!! Sorry. Anyway, look forward to the new year with more Touchstone blogs. Thankyou.