CCS and a Just Transition - Video Transcription

Leslie Mabon: [00:00:23] So, just to continue from what we heard about previously, I'm going to speak a bit more about some of the societal dimensions of carbon capture and storage. As it says on the slide, my name's Leslie Mabon and I'm from Robert Gordon University. And, hopefully, I'd like to bring some interesting and personal insight to this because personally I'm very concerned about climate change, about environmental change. It's something I have engaged with a lot in my own time and through social media I see all kinds of things about climate breakdown, and climate meltdown, and extinction rebellion and all the rest. And I get on my bike and I go to work and I come in to a workplace where we have model oil rigs, where we have programmes in subsea drilling, and where we have, and I kid you not, we've got a Star Trek-style holodeck that can simulate all kinds of drilling, it can simulate all kinds of oil and gas simulations. It can't simulate CCS. And I tell the anecdote to sort of illustrate that in places like the Northeast, and places that are similar to it, that rely quite heavily on carbon-intensive industry, there's a real tension that needs to be balanced here: there's a lot of legitimate concerns that people can have about what responding to our climate change imperatives mean for them. And so the purpose of this work package has been to think about, well, what are some of the things that are people's concerns? And what, if any, might the role of CCS be in providing that bridge and doing some of that transition work. And so what I'm going to summarize over the next 15 minutes or so are some of the findings not just from Aberdeen in the Northeast, but also from the Netherlands and from Norway, particularly the work that my collaborators here, Heleen de Coninck, and Floris Swennenhuis and Jan-Justus Andreas have done and also Todd Flach from Bellona who's not listed there. While this slide is up, I want to give a particularly big shout out to Floris. Floris did a power of brilliant work in the Netherlands with stakeholders in Rotterdam in this kind of area, understanding how they see CCS and how they see climate change, despite being trained as a chemist. So Floris, in a year, has learned what it took me about 10, 15 years to do in social science. Had this been done the other way around and had I tried to do chemistry I would most likely have blown myself up. So I just wanted to acknowledge how grateful I am particularly to Floris for his contributions across the piece. 

 

Leslie Mabon: [00:02:59] And so, as I say, the focus here has been on: what role, if any, do citizens, stakeholders in regions like Aberdeen and in similar places think that CCS might have in helping to achieve this environmentally sustainable future. And there's a word, there's a phrase up there, that I'd particularly like to draw your attention to, and that is the idea of a just transition. So this is something, again, that's got a lot of traction politically recently. And as an environmental social scientist, one of my concerns is people picking up phrases and words, and just picking them up and using them without understanding the history. And so I think it's worth just pointing out what, within this project, we understand that just transition to mean, and what some of the more recent understandings are. So I suppose our concern for the just transition is in the sense it was more traditionally understood by largely trade unions, but not exclusively. As regards: what are the implications for workforces and for people in carbon-intensive regions whose jobs, whose livelihoods, maybe rely on some of these industries, and how does one ensure that they are not left behind as we move towards a more sustainable future. You'll also see more recently a lot of environmental groups, quite rightly, maybe speaking in a wider sense about a just transition at a global level - about low- to middle-income countries, and how people are not left behind in a broader sense. That's maybe something slightly different and I'll come back to that at the end. But I just wanted to be clear about what it is within this project: we're focusing, maybe, on this narrower idea of a just transition in terms of workers and workforces. 

 

Leslie Mabon: [00:04:48] So the data that we collected and gathered here came from interviews with relevant stakeholders and also focus- and discussion groups in the northeast of Scotland. Also in Rotterdam and in the Rijnmond region of the Netherlands, and in Norway: in Oslo and in Bergen and places like that where people who have relevant and useful things to contribute were consulted. So I'm going to say a bit first of all about the northeast because it's the area that I was involved in and what I know best, but then I'll broaden out and talk about what the implications of this might be for elsewhere in the UK and Europe more widely. So, I think one of the really challenging things - and this came across when we spoke to a range of people in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire - a really challenging thing to get round is this question of who benefits from from CCS. And so, when you go on Twitter - and Twitter is a brilliant barometer of how polarized and how much discussion there is in the northeast of Scotland - you take any environmental issue in the northeast, in Aberdeenshire, you will get Peter Strachan, my colleague, making six retweets about how good offshore wind is; you'll get Dick Winchester replying, asking how many jobs there are for Scottish manufacturing; and then you'll get Leslie Mabon, who will retweet something about a just transition and the need to look at the workforce in Aberdeen and thereabouts. 

 

Leslie Mabon: [00:06:21] But I think what you see there is there are a lot of different pathways and perspectives, and there are a lot of different views on what kind of society we're aiming for. And this came across a lot in the interviews as well, and that's I think a key question has to be be addressed and grappled with, is in whose interest is CCS deployment going to happen? That's not just for the northeast but it could be elsewhere as well. Is it perceived as being something that's done to the profit of a private developer, or rather is it framed and perceived and developed in a way that can provide a gentler and more sustainable transition for an economy that is quite reliant on oil and gas and related infrastructure.

 

Leslie Mabon: [00:07:06] Following on from that, there's also something that came across, and I think it's quite important. It touches on some of the points that Kirsty made during the Q and A previously about the sort of respect for workers within oil, gas and related industries. I don't want to keep going back to social media, because I do spend far too much time on it. But one does see in some of the key opinion shapers that we have, there's a tendency, I think, to paint the extractive industries, the infrastructure that comes with them, and the role they have in the future as pariahs. There's maybe something slightly different, though, about the people that work within these industries themselves, who are reliant on these jobs and who might have very legitimate concerns about what the future holds for them, about what Scotland, the UK and Europe meeting its climate change objectives might mean for their jobs. People are very, very proud of what they've achieved in the oil and gas industry you talk to people [unclear], you get wonderful stories. If you ever come to Aberdeen, even the pub at the railway station has got a graphic of an oil platform. It matters to people's sense of who they are. And again, whether there's a way CCS can be framed and can tap into that and think about the respect we have for the workers whose skills it maybe relied on, is something perhaps to to look at. 

 

Leslie Mabon: [00:08:26] Lastly, and I'll just skim over this because I don't want to repeat what Keith has spoken about already, is this idea of infrastructure reuse. So the big thing now that we have is decommissioning. RGU has launched a decommissioning masters. I think Aberdeen might have one as well. But the underlying point is that now - you maybe couldn't have had these discussions just five years ago in the northeast - but people are starting to think, well, what's going to happen next? What's going to happen with this infrastructure next? Where are we going next? We're starting to have these discussions immediately. Boom. People think decommissioning. There's maybe a space there to slot in some of the things we saw earlier about pipelines etc: thinking, well, here is something else that we might be able to do with this infrastructure. These discussions are now happening in a way that we perhaps hadn't seen before. 

 

Leslie Mabon: [00:09:15] I'm going to broaden out here a little bit and just say something more about what the wider implications of what we found are. So one of the most, I think, rewarding and insightful things I did during this project was I came to the Netherlands and I joined the end-of-project workshop in Rotterdam, which I have to say was hugely embarrassing because, out of politeness, everybody else there was Dutch but they spoke in English for my benefit. Which was very impressive, but also I felt like "just don't, don't talk in English on my behalf, guys - I can catch up later." Anyway they did. And, both with the northeast of Scotland and also with Rotterdam as well, something I think was striking, is the expectation that local, regional governments have in setting out pathways for a just transition, and in perhaps communicating and engaging with local level citizens, stakeholders and workforces on what CCS is and explaining why it's relevant. I guess it's perhaps challenging a little, in that a lot of the policy and a lot of the investment etc, by virtue of the nature of CCS, has to come from the national level. But there is a pathway here to thinking about, well, what is the role for local government within this. So, in Rotterdam in particular, there was a couple of people who were in the workshop and they said "well, we know we need Rotterdam city to explain how this fits with their vision." You know, where the Rotterdam city has to come out and has to come and tell the citizens because this is the level of government that the citizens listen to first and foremost. I don't mean any disrespect to those of us who represent national levels that are in the room. But this is what came out: there's maybe a role for local government, thinking, well, what role do local and regional governments have in helping to weave this narrative of CCS at the local level. 

 

Leslie Mabon: [00:11:05] Also, and this is the classic get-out-of-jail-free card for a social scientist: our findings are not transferable to other contexts. I do not want to say that here. What I do want to say, though, is that I think there's a real need to be very careful, and not to make assumptions on a narrative and a framing that will make CCS make sense in one carbon-intensive region will mean it can necessarily be deployed everywhere. So, again, when we look especially at Rotterdam and also in the findings from Norway, there's maybe a lot more going on, in terms of other pathways for the economy and for local jobs than you might have in somewhere like Aberdeen. There's other things that people can can readily come to mind in terms of manufacturing and innovation. The role for CCS might not be perceived as being as great, or as significant, within that. So there's a need, then, to think about: what are the specific elements of an area where CCS might be seen as having a role in making this just transition happen. 

 

Leslie Mabon: [00:12:08] Related and linked to that is the fact the infrastructure itself is very site-specific. So, we saw it was set out very clearly in the first session: how the infrastructure that we have already in the northeast, if we manage it correctly and play our cards right, would lend itself very, very nicely to making something like CCS make sense. Again, that's not necessarily going to be the case for everywhere, so there's a need to understand clearly, and properly, and early what the factors are that make it likely to get consensus and buy-in at the regional and local level for moving CCS forward. 

 

Leslie Mabon: [00:12:44] So, just to wrap up for the last couple of minutes then. And this is the wider work, and again I don't want to repeat: I think Keith has touched on a lot of this already. But whilst the findings here are maybe quite specific to the regions in which we've worked, the hope is that ACORN can become something that can become an open hub in future, and where it could connect potentially to to other projects. Where it's something that could potentially symbolize and represent CCS across Europe more widely. 

 

Leslie Mabon: [00:13:17] So just to wrap up, I wanted to finish with that idea that when we talk about a just transition here we're talking particularly about the people, the industries, and also quite specifically the places that are very reliant on things that are perhaps not compatible with a one point five degree pathway, or our obligations under the Paris Agreement. CCS, if framed, governed and managed correctly in the public interest, is something that has the potential to fill this gap. The challenge, I think, from the work that we saw, is, how does one build understanding of that at the local level, where people are perhaps more disconnected from its management and deployment? And how does one create a coherent and consistent narrative, that balances up the jobs, the employment, the local economy, sense of identity, but also our environmental obligations. That is not an easy task. I do not know the answer to it. If I did I probably wouldn't be doing what I am now. So I will stop there and I will look forward to taking any questions that you might have in the discussion. Thank you.