Aviation workers oppose UK Government’s fossil fuel plans

16 Aug, 2023

Aviation workers in Safe Landing have put together this statement to oppose the decision by the UK Government to award 100 new licences for oil and gas exploration.

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We, workers in the aviation industry, condemn the UK government’s plans for new licences for North Sea oil and gas exploration and are campaigning for them to be reversed. We demand the issuing of oil and gas licences ends now, as part of a rapid shift away from fossil fuels.

It is damning that, in the midst of burgeoning extreme weather events globally, Rishi Sunak and co. have declared their intention to violate the UK’s legally binding climate commitments, by announcing plans to “max out” the country’s fossil fuel reserves. Even if the “carbon capture and storage” technology being promoted by the UK Government as some kind of magic compensatory solution was not underdeveloped and itself energy-intensive, it would not – as a technology to mitigate carbon emissions – justify a major expansion of fossil fuel exploitation and therefore emissions.

Trade unions must oppose these plans

Sadly, the great bulk of mainstream political leaders (in the UK and elsewhere), right across the spectrum, are displaying a distinct lack of leadership on issues of decarbonisation. The UK Labour Party’s position of “honouring” whatever licences the current Conservative government grants is a comprehensive abdication of responsibility. It means not only continuing with this climate vandalism in the future, but encouraging the vandals to push ahead now, safe in the knowledge that nothing will be done to reverse it. Labour Party-affiliated trade unions and members who are seriously concerned about climate change must pressure their leadership to change course.

More broadly, we call on all UK workers’ organisations to oppose the government’s plans, working and taking action with fossil fuel campaigners. We call attention to the eloquent statement from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) group of civil service union PCS (who are also an aviation union).

We urge all aviation and other unions to take such a stance, and support members organising within them to achieve that. Safe Landing members took part in the recent push at Unite the Union’s Policy Conference to commit the union to campaigning for “No new fossil fuels” (see our report here).

The role of aviation

The actions of business leaders within our aviation industry are playing a significant role in the push to expand oil and gas extraction. In June the International Energy Agency projected thatbased on current government policies and market trends”, global oil demand would rise 6% between 2022 and 2028, with the increase “supported by robust demand from the petrochemical and aviation sectors”.

Aviation workers, along with workers in other high-emitting sectors, have a crucial role to play in the campaign to change government policies to challenge these disastrous “market trends”.

Part of our fight to transform aviation is seeking to curb our employers’ voracious demands for fossil fuels. We point out the contradiction of an aviation industry leadership that peddles rosy scenarios about the transformative role of “sustainable aviation fuel” while in reality pushing demands for oil. Meanwhile, there is no plan to achieve even the minimal measures for the demand management of passenger numbers nodded to in the industry’s supposed “Sustainable Aviation roadmap” (for instance a Frequent Flyer Levy) – let alone a realistic discussion about the destructive consequences of sustained business-as-usual expansion. The climate crisis has already demonstrated very clearly this summer how its effects will directly impact our industry and its workers – as we’ve been raising the alarm about for some time.

Among other measures to promote the reorganisation of aviation on a genuinely sustainable footing, we call for taxation of aviation fuel. It is absurd that there is a 0% tax rate on kerosene (the primary fuel for aviation) while petrol and diesel for both public transport and private cars are taxed at nearly 50%. While there is extensive debate, in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis, about taxes and charges on car-users, a billionaire can fly into a city on their private jet and fill up their tank tax-free. This grossly unequal and unfair arrangement also means the government denying itself many billions in revenue that could be used for loss and damage funding as well as green, clean and socially useful job- and service-creation.

Such investments – for instance in renewable energy, home insulation, heat pumps, public transport and regenerative agriculture – would not only decarbonise our economy, but also reduce our reliance on expensive imported fossil fuels, mitigate the cost-of-living crisis and provide high levels of long-term secure and sustainable employment for workers in the UK.

The Culzean project in the British North Sea

Solidarity with oil and gas workers

Neither in aviation, nor fossil fuel extraction, should we swallow industry leaders’ narratives about their plans benefiting society or even the interests of workers in those industries.

We stand in solidarity with workers in the North Sea industry, and the communities that depend on them. But as in aviation, a really sustainable future for these workers and communities depends on a well-planned, speedy transition away from carbon-intensive activities. Reckless expansion, followed by an inevitable crash, is all too likely to unfold at workers’ expense – particularly when the initiative is left in the hands of employers who are simultaneously obstructing the necessary climate transition and already attacking workers’ rights.

We welcome the Our Power report, which sets out demands for a just transition in the energy sector, developed by discussion and deliberation among its workers. In the energy industry, as in aviation, adequate solutions must involve an expansion of democracy – stronger public regulation, in some cases public ownership, accountability of leaders and managers and above all a strong voice for workers at the table, through strengthened unions, spaces in which workers can learn about, deliberate on and develop plans for the transition, and a transformation of governing institutions to reflect and express workers’ voices.

Our Power: Offshore Workers' Demands for a Just Energy Transition - Friends of the Earth Scotland

Read the “Our Power” report here

A global issue

Our solidarity is not limited to within UK national borders. We oppose further fossil fuel extraction because we stand in solidarity with workers and communities in the Global South who are already suffering the impacts of climate change most severely and will do so further.

Meanwhile, the UK and other longer-developed rich countries, which bear a far larger responsibility for historic fossil fuel extraction and use, cannot plausibly ask countries that are only just starting to exploit their fossil fuel reserves to stop or slow-down while we accelerate. The UK government’s policy will feed a destructive cycle undermining efforts to tackle climate change globally.

Safe Landing member Michael Wanjuzi explains:

“As an aviation worker, climate change activist and a citizen of Uganda, it’s troubling to see a country like the UK – which has a high historical, economic and moral responsibility to show leadership when it comes to phasing-down fossil fuel use – making plans to increase, not decrease fossil fuel extraction. In Uganda, we have a very problematic project called the ‘East African Crude Oil Pipeline‘ [EACOP] which is set to open and cause significant pollution and emissions from our country. Climate calamities are causing havoc in the Global South, but how can climate advocates in Uganda effectively argue against such projects whilst other, wealthier countries like the UK plough on with fossil fuel projects regardless of the climate impacts to other countries! Shame upon you.”

We encourage all aviation industry workers opposed to the government’s decision to:

• Share and circulate this statement. You can retweet it here.
• Sign and share this petition on the Parliament website to oppose new oil and gas extraction projects.
• Use this easy online campaigning tool to send emails to BA and Virgin CEOs and senior managers asking them to end their frequent flyer reward programmes.
• Raise this issue in your trade union, political party or other organisation. Get in touch with us for help with how to do that.
• Get involved with Safe Landing. Join our mailing list and Telegram channel. Sign up here. And feel free to drop us a message with ideas or to discuss what you can do.
• Come to our ‘Climate Conversations’ event on 28th September to learn more and practise having useful and effective climate conversations with people at work in aviation.

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