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Our Common Home

The Common Home Plan is the first comprehensive and costed proposal for how to implement a Green New Deal anywhere in the world. That means there's a lot in it, look below to read a summary of the plan. 

We believe the Common Home Plan is the first comprehensive and costed proposal for how to implement a Green New Deal anywhere in the world. That means there's a lot in it – its over 50,000 words long (not including an additional technical report). But this will tell you most of what you need to know in 12 minutes...

What we were trying to achieve

The Our Common Home project was started because the environmental debate in Scotland has focussed on targets and these haven't been followed up with anything like enough planning to explain how the targets will be met. So the Common Home Plan is about moving on from debating targets so we can properly start discussing what we actually need to do. Its second purpose is to raise awareness of the true scale and cost of the task ahead and to do it quickly. We all need to have a more realistic understanding of how much work and investment is involved. Finally, the Common Home Plan is a blueprint for action and it would comprehensively address the environmental threats we face. People may want to propose different ways to do some of it – fine. But if targets are to mean anything at all then we need to get on with the work – and this (or a competent alternative) is the work we need to get on with. 

The causes of the crises are not individual (the things each person does) but structural (the way the economy works, how infrastructure is built, the impact of public policy). This does not mean that our individual behaviours don't have to change – they definitely do. But most of that change will happen because of structural change and not because individuals 'make different choices', as the the way we organise our economy and society stops forcing people to do the wrong things and allows them to do the right things. This is why the Common Home Plan does not emphasise individual action but collective action. Most of the largest tasks are engineering tasks and so the Plan is based on large-scale collective public action funded through public borrowing – we can no more build a new heating or electricity system house-by-house than we could have built the roads or the sewers house by house. The Plan proposes some 'market-correction' interventions (intervening in markets to influence prices so they better reflect real costs) but those are the exceptions. It emphasises direct, collective action because neither market pricing mechanisms nor expecting everyone to do it individually are capable of delivering the structural changes necessary.

The work involved in the Common Home Plan will change Scotland as fundamentally as when the Victorians built sewers and railways, or when the post-war generation built the welfare state – and it's impacts will last just as long and serve many generations of Scots to come. It has been designed so new infrastructure is 'future-proof' so this work will only be done once. So the Plan calls for the cost of getting it all done to be spread over 50 years through public borrowing. Finally, with a very few exceptions the Plan has been developed on the basis of existing technology. Too often people want to believe that 'a new technology' will come along and solve our problems. But it is far too late to wait for that – by the time a new technology is developed, tested, evaluated and deployed it will be beyond the deadlines climate science is setting. So almost everything in the Plan is based on tried and tested technologies.

A last comment; Common Weal has produced a lot of policy work on a wide range of social issues – on democratic reform and participation, on decentralisation, on an affordable housing system, on tackling poverty, on what great childcare looks like, on a different kind of economy, on setting up a reliable 'people's bank'. Every one of these is a part of the jigsaw of how Scotland can rebuild itself as a better, fairer, more successful country and they fit closely with the environmental action plan set out in the Common Home Plan. However, if all of these policies had been included in the Plan it would have become very long indeed. So the Common Home Plan isn't a 'one stop shop' for all of Scotland's problems. What it is is the foundation on which Scotland really can build a society without these problems.

How we went about it

The Our Common Home project began by setting out the seven primary global environmental threats and then assessed Scotland's current impact on each of them. This clarified all of the negative impacts Scotland has to reduce and eventually end and provided a set of big objectives. But there are different ways to meet those objectives so next was a process of option analysis where, with an enormous amount of advice from experts in each of the relevant fields, all the possible solutions were explored and assessed. This produced an outline approach which was then fleshed out and costed (a substantial proportion of the Plan has already been developed as existing Common Weal policy work).

Working out how much the different parts of this Plan would cost was not a trivial task. Sadly there just aren't enough examples of large-scale shifts of the kinds being proposed to be able to say 'a country of this size has to spend this much'. This meant a number of methodologies had to be used to come up with reliable figures. The one that was used most was a 'unit price multiplied by volume' approach, finding existing case studies with big enough datasets to be able to make a reliable assessment of how much it would cost to insulate one house or replant one hectare of forest and then to multiply that by the total number of houses to be insulated or hectares to be planted. There are large enough case studies (such as a retrofit of district heating systems into existing towns) to be confident about many costs. Where there wasn't the next approach was to look for any more detailed cost projections which have been produced at a UK-level and then to scale them for Scotland. When these numbers were proportioned for Scotland the most representative proportions were chosen – for example, transport costs were scaled not on the relative populations but on the basis of length of road network. Finally in a small number of areas there is very little data at all and so informed estimates were used. The Technical Report contains details of all calculations.

Once all the individual costings were completed a total sum was identified and how this could be financed was modelled. In reality the total cost would be spread over the 25 years, but to give a simple picture it was assumed that the total would be borrowed on day one at current bond yields (how much it costs governments to borrow), added a 'risk premium' (increase the cost of borrowing a bit to be on the safe side) and modelled repayment rates over 50 years. That provided an annual financing cost. Finally the whole Plan was modelled for its economic impact. A computer model of the Scottish economy was used and the new spending was added (and the value of the oil and gas sector was set to zero). Current models of the Scottish economy are designed to assess what would happen if a single change was made and so are ill-equipped to model an entire economic transition of this nature, so the outcomes of that modelling are presented with caution. But, using the most conservative estimates to be on the safe side, it was still possible to draw some useful conclusions.

The constitutional question

The Common Home Plan is heavily based on local circumstances and this will be the basis of every Green New Deal since the solutions to issues such as electricity generation, heating supply and food systems will vary substantially according to the place for which each plan is devised. As an example, many people assume that large, densely-populated urban areas will be reliant on nuclear power – but this does not apply to Scotland because of its renewable energy potential in comparison to which nuclear generation is prohibitively expensive.

For this reason the Common Home Plan is designed to be implemented in Scotland. This is not possible with existing devolved powers and Common Weal does not believe a UK-wide approach is the best option for Scotland and believes that independence is necessary to implement it. Others will disagree, so the report is presented purely in terms of what tasks must be completed and it is then for each person to explain how it can be achieved under their preferred constitutional position, or to propose comprehensive alternatives.

How much it will cost and how to pay for it

The costs involved in the Common Home Plan are summarised in the following table:

Task

Cost (£bn)

Improving thermal efficiency of existing housing stock

40

Upgrading thermal efficiency of public buildings 

5

Support for small and medium businesses in improving thermal performance of their buildings

3

District heating ring main

9

District heating ring main to house (including boiler replacement)

25

Thermal generation and heat store to heat ring main

17

Installation of new renewable energy capacity

21

Nationalisation of existing energy capacity

10

Upgrade electricity grid and install local battery storage

4

Build electrolysis plants and hydrogen storage

10

Invest in zero-carbon travel including charging and refuelling infrastructure

10

Invest in new food distribution systems, supply-chain shortening, novel food production and import substitution

1

Establish a National Resources Agency and invest in transition to a circular economy

1

Invest in a transformation of land practices

10

Workforce training, retraining and business transformation 

1

Industrial Strategy

2

Create a research and development hub for the entire project

1

Total

170

The spending of this total of £170 billion will be phased across the 25 years of the Plan but for the purposes of modelling it has been assumed the total would be borrowed on day one and then repaid over 50 years. This results in an annual financing cost of about £5 billion. The economic modelling suggests (very conservatively) that 100,000 new jobs would be created and an additional £4 billion of tax revenue generated. The Plan also creates a number of other direct revenue streams for the public purse. For example the plan would result in the energy network being in public ownership and so its profits would return to the public. At current energy prices this would generate an additional £2.5 billion of income, meaning the full financing costs have been met with a generous surplus which can be invested in public services. There are a number of other income streams which will increase the surplus further (for example, timber produced on public land) but these are more difficult to assess reliably so have not been included.

The difference it will make to our lives

The first and most obvious outcomes of implementing the Common Home Plan are environmental; Scotland would be a close-to carbon-free economy and so go beyond 'net zero' since forestry and land management would enable large-scale sequestering of atmospheric carbon. It would end resource waste, regenerate land and soil, enable the re-establishment of wildlife populations and greatly decrease the reliance on biocides. This would all have a positive impact on Scotland's urban and rural landscape, making the nation more beautiful.

The second impact is economic. The Plan would result in the rapid growth of a wide range of industry sectors in Scotland – particularly the production of wood-based construction materials, a large land management industry, significant increases in food production and processing and the establishment of a lot of light industry. On top of this there will be a substantial increase in component supply and heavy manufacturing to create supply chains particularly for district heating, hydrogen production and the energy system. Hydrogen itself will become a large industry in Scotland with the potential to lead Europe and become its largest hydrogen exporter. There are a number of other smaller industry sectors which would emerge.

The third impact is social. The Plan would result in a substantial shift from low-productivity industry sectors to high-productivity ones and, along with a large volume of new job creation, would result in a sharp decline in inequality and poverty. Indeed, shortage of labour supply is likely to be a much bigger problem than lack of available employment. Along with proposed steps such as exploring a Universal Basic Income scheme and much more access to sharing economy provision, poverty would be structurally eradicated. There will be other direct social impacts; people will have greater time for democratic and community participation, consumption-based drivers of poor mental health (feeling bad about yourself because advertising makes you feel like you've 'failed') would be very substantially tackled and so on.

Finally there will be a substantial impact on our individual lifestyles. People will have warmer homes at less cost, gain access to better quality food, be protected from the impacts of pollution, have easier access to a fast and efficient transport system, be able to own land and so on. The goods that people use will be of a higher quality but will cost them less over all because many more products will be borrowed, rented or leased, they will last much longer and be entirely repairable. Spending will shift from shopping to participation, relaxation and socialising, improving quality of life.

The ten parts of the Common Home Plan

The Plan then gets into the nitty-gritty of what has to be done. This is divided into ten sections – buildings, heating, electricity, transport, food, land, resources, trade, learning and us (a section about our lifestyles and our behaviours). Some of them are very technical (electricity), some of them require a lot of explanation of why a specific option was chosen from the possibilities (heating), some involve a lengthy list of actions (resources) and some just take more describing (us). So there's a lot in them – but what follows will give you a reasonable summary of what's in the whole Plan.

Buildings

All new-build houses would be required by building regulations to be as draught-free and well-insulated as a 'Passivhaus' and to be constructed from mainly renewable or recycled materials. A National Housing Company should be set up with a big team who would be trained to get every house in Scotland 90 per cent heat-efficient (with any where this is technically difficult to achieve getting to at least 70 per cent efficient). There will be no extra cost to the individual household for getting this work done because it will be paid for collectively – it is estimated it will cost an average of £15,000 per house. All the materials needed must be wood-based and so the flourishing of a lot of light industries to manufacture these materials from Scottish timber must be quickly encouraged or created. Commercial buildings would be expected to achieve the same heat performance but only small businesses would be subsidised.

Heating

Heating is the most difficult part of the domestic economy to make renewable (air travel is hardest over all) – there just isn't any easy or inexpensive option. The Plan analyses those options in detail (mainly hydrogen, electricity with or without Air Source Heat Pumps or a District Heating Scheme) and concludes that they'll all involve spending very large amounts of money and cause major disruption but that a district heating system produces by far the most stable outcome, is most future-proofed and would provide the lowest-cost heating to households. Ring mains heated with large-scale renewable sources (particularly solar thermal, geological heat recovery, biomass and industrial heat recovery with hydrogen and electric top-up for peak periods) would be built round every town and city and then the hot water would be connected to individual houses via sub-grids. In the house the current gas boiler (in the vast majority of cases) would be swapped for a 'heat exchanger' which takes heat out of the sub-grids and uses it to heat the house and the house's hot water. While it is a very big task, this ought to be possible for any house currently connected to the gas grid – and those which are not on the gas grid would have an off-grid renewable system fitted based particularly around bioLPG and biomass. This will cost about £10,000 per household (as well as another £25 billion for ring mains and renewable heating) but as with housing it will be paid collectively so there will be no additional cost to the household. All the work would be planned by an Energy Development Agency and implemented by a National Energy Company.

Electricity

Scotland produces something like as much as it consumes in renewable energy, but it tops this up at peak times with nuclear and gas-powered electricity. To get rid of that altogether the total amount of current renewable generation capacity needs to be doubled (very approximately – the detailed numbers are in the report) and there needs to be a way to store excess electricity for when it is needed. But since a lot of extra electricity is needed to decarbonise transport this will need to be doubled again (this is one of the problems with electric heating – that could require the amount of electricity to be doubled yet again). This will put extra stress on the electricity grid so it must be updated to implement more smart-grid technology and local battery storage for 'power smoothing' (this is dealing with the daily ups and downs in usage at peak periods). There then needs to be longer-term energy storage to make efficient use of renewable energy and the best way to do this is going to be to develop a large-scale hydrogen generation and storage industry. When there is spare electricity it will be used to make hydrogen and then when the electricity is needed the hydrogen will be used to power turbines that generate that electricity. The renewable energy will mostly come from onshore and offshore wind but some will also come from solar (the Plan does not include any marine energy for domestic use so that can be developed to create a hydrogen export industry). The demand for hydrogen is not just for energy storage but also to top up heating and for large vehicle transport – the Plan calculates that Scotland will need 800,000 tonnes a year. This is done in 'electrolysis' plants (electricity is passed through water, splitting it into hydrogen and oxygen). At an industrial scale this technology is improving rapidly; if it was based on the biggest existing electrolysis plant Scotland would need 600, but that is still a comparatively small-scale demonstration plant and they will become much bigger. All of this work will be done collectively by the National Energy Company and planned by the Energy Development Agency, with the grid and existing generation capacity gradually taken into public ownership. This will create a strategically-integrated all-public energy system in Scotland.

Transport

Of everything covered in the Plan transport is the issue where technology is progressing most rapidly and so is hardest to make detailed plans for. This is explored in detail but the conclusion is fairly straightforward – small vehicles are almost certain to become battery-electric powered and larger vehicles will be hydrogen fuel-cell powered (the role of autonomous vehicles is much less certain). This means the immediate priority is to produce a core electric recharging infrastructure and a hydrogen refuelling network (estimated to require between 20 and 30 large refuelling depots across Scotland). There will then need to be investment in converting trains, busses and ferries and commissioning new ones. The difficulties of air transport are discussed and while there is unlikely to be a technical solution in the near future, some work-arounds are proposed – for example, offering families which take summer holidays by hydrogen ferry extra days of holiday entitlement to cover the longer journey times.

Food

All food growing in Scotland should move to an 'agroecology' model where land is allowed to regenerate itself with every harvest – and this will require the support and retraining of farmers. This is a very big task and is likely to increase the size of the workforce. Our diets should change so we eat eat less meat but that the meat we do eat is of a higher quality. Long supply chains (where food that used to be produced locally is hauled around the world on carbon-emitting ships) must be shortened so much more of the food we eat is not only grown but also processed much more locally. To support that 'externality taxes' (see Trade below) should be developed so that food which is produced responsibly is not undercut by food which is produced irresponsibly. This must be accompanied by a legal 'Right to Food' and exploration of a 'food budget' or Universal Basic Income so all additional public revenue from externality taxes is returned to consumers and low income households in particular are protected from the impact of any food price rises. Scotland should become less reliant on importing foods produced unsustainably in other parts of the world by developing new technologies such as 'vertical farming' and more grow-your-own should be encouraged, for example by providing more allotments.

Land

Scotland's land must be managed to much higher-quality standards and this will require the training of 20,000 professional land managers. Much of the Common Home Plan (or any realistic Green New Deal for Scotland) isn't possible without essential land-based supply chains feeding new industries with the materials they need, so a national planning system should zone land for specific uses such as forestry, agriculture, energy and rewilding.  The regulation and monitoring of this activity must be much stronger to ensure it is achieving the right quality standards. A programme of land taxes, Compulsory Sales Orders and Compulsory Purchase Orders should be used to diversify land ownership with land then sold off in smaller units to local communities, new land-based industries and small investors. A target of 50 per cent reforesting in Scotland should be set based on best practice in woodland management for both short-term crops and long-term environmental regeneration. The pace at which these new timber crops will be required means that much will initially have to be done by a National Land Agency which should begin widespread reforesting very quickly based on best practice in new plantation management. A Rural Industrial Strategy should encourage supply chain industry development for the construction, food and retail sectors and these new manufacturing industries should be based where renewable energy and raw materials are available. Scotland's landscape will be a dominated by woodland, pasture and agriculture with renewable energy and light industry mingled across the country. Fishing quotas should be allocated on environmental performance criteria.

Resources

There is no such thing as 'waste' – that is just a way to describe a failure to use resources well. An economy which does not produce waste at all but continually reuses and recycles its resources is known as a 'circular economy' and Scotland must move rapidly to a zero-waste, circular economy. There is a lot in the main Plan about how to do this but it involves many steps. Before manufacture we must reduce how much we're consuming in the first place, design products so that the least material is used (dematerialisation) and make sure that what is produced is easy to repair and can be recycled at the end of its life. To consume less we will share more, with many of the things we use irregularly (like tools or special clothing) being borrowed from 'tool libraries' and 'share shops' and many of our household goods being leased rather than owned. Then we will reuse much more – for example by standardising all containers so they can be reused by different producers and by simply banning many single-use products altogether. Then we will emphasise repairing and upgrading existing products and finally we will have much more 'remanufacturing' (rebuilding new products with the components from existing products). Only after all this will recycling be used and, with 'producer responsibility' laws where manufacturers have responsibility for the entire lifecycle of what the produce, manufacturing will be set up to use these new recycled supply chains. A National Resources Agency will be set up to ensure this transition happens and it should create a consistent national waste collection service as part of the move to zero-waste. Scotland should then invest heavily in an advanced organic materials industry mainly based around wood and this must replace plastic in many applications.

Trade

For many this will be the most controversial aspect of the Plan. It looks at the impact Scotland's trade has (particularly the nature of its imports) and argues that Scotland can't turn a blind eye to the impact of our lifestyles simply because that impact happens in other countries (very often poorer countries in the global south). It calls for a debate over 'externalities'. These are the costs which a new product creates which someone has to pay – but not the manufacturer (such as mitigating flooding which results from industrialised farming or all the costs of dealing with climate change because of the carbon emitted while a product was produced and transported). 'Externality taxes' mean that the product is made to reflect its true cost much more accurately and this means that products produced in the right way become more competitive and products produced in the wrong way become less competitive. The Plan suggests Scotland should explore replacing VAT with a sales tax which is calculated based on the externalities of the product (as assessed by a National Consumer Agency) – but the money raised must be recycled back to the consumer, most effectively through using it as the basis for a Universal Basic Income. Scotland should have a very serious debate about developing a 'Green Import Substitution Industrialisation' strategy – though people must be aware that some of this may clash with existing free trade deals.

Learning

There are four kinds of learning needed to deliver the Common Home Plan. First there has to be a lot of workforce training and retraining to provide the workforce required to deliver the plan. Second there has to be organisational learning in businesses, charities and public bodies. A Transition Support Agency should be set up and free audits offered to all businesses to provide them with a plan for how to adapt their activity to minimise their environmental impact. Third is to implement a proper programme of environmental education into the school curriculum. A Commission should be set up to redesign the curriculum to ensure future generations have the understanding, awareness and skills necessary to change lifestyles in ways which will be needed in the future. Finally, there must be support for adults who want to develop the new skills they will need to contribute to change.

Us

This section has been left to the end of the Plan specifically because the Plan emphasises collective action over individual action. But that does not mean lifestyles don't have to change because they do. Most of the changes we need to make will be the result of the structural changes called for throughout the Plan. In particular, investment in the circular economy will reduce the need for consumption (people will become used to borrowing tools and other items they use rarely from 'share shops' and consumer goods will be manufactured to a higher quality and will be repairable). This will shift spending away from consumption and onto participation, socialising and relaxation. Advertising and marketing will be much more strictly controlled and in a number of areas will be banned altogether. A National Consumer Agency should be set up to assess the products for sale in Scotland to ensure they meet circular economy criteria. Between them all of these steps will enable us to improve the quality of our lives while protecting the world's environment at the same time. Finally, government, politics and the media have to change to stop focussing on growth as the primary measure of success – quality of life is what politics should instead be emphasising and indicators should measure progress towards that.