What Would A Fair Energy Transition Look Like?

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced last week that a federal Labor government would create a Just Transition Authority to overseee Australia’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This echoes community calls for a “fast and fair” energy transition to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

But disruptive change is already here for Australia’s energy sector. 2018 has been a record year for large-scale solar and wind developments and rooftop solar. Renewable energy is now cheaper than new-build coal power generation – and some are saying renewables are now or soon will be cheaper than existing coal-fired power.

Based purely on the technical lifetime of existing power stations, the Australian market operator predicts that 70% of coal-fired generation capacity will be retired in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria by 2040. If renewables continue to fall in price, it could be much sooner.

We must now urgently decide what a “just” and “fair” transition looks like. There are many Australians currently working in the energy sector – particularly in coal mining – who risk being left behind by the clean energy revolution.

Coal communities face real challenges

The history of coal and industrial transitions shows that abrupt change brings a heavy price for workers and communities. Typically, responses only occur after major retrenchments, when it is already too late for regional economies and labour markets to cope.

Coal communities often have little economic diversity and the flow-on effects to local economies and businesses are substantial. It is easy to find past cases where as many as one third of workers do not find alternative employment.

We often hear about power stations, but there are almost 10 times as many workers in coal mining, where there is a much higher concentration of low and semi-skilled workers. The 2016 Census found almost half of coal workers are machinery operators and drivers.

The demographics of coal mining workers in Australia suggest natural attrition through early retirements will not be sufficient: 60% are younger than 45.

Mining jobs are well paid and jobs in other sectors are very unlikely to provide a similar income, so even under the best scenarios many will take a large pay cut.

Another factor is the long tradition of coal mining that shapes the local culture and identity for these communities. Communities are particularly opposed to change when they experience it as a loss of history and character without a vision for the future.

Lastly, the local environmental impacts of coal mining can’t be neglected. The pollution of land, water and air due to mining operations and mining waste have created brownfields and degraded land that needs remediation.

What is a ‘just’ transition?

A just transition to a clean energy economy has many facets. Unions first used the term in the 1980s to describe a program to support workers who lost their jobs. Just transition was recognised in the Paris Agreement as “a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs”.

However, using the concept of energy justice, there are three main aspects which have to be considered for workers, communities and disadvantaged groups:

  • distributing benefits and costs equally,
  • a participatory process that engages all stakeholders in the decision making, and
  • recognising multiple perspectives rooted in social, cultural, ethical and gender differences.

A framework developed at the Institute for Sustainable Futures maps these dimensions.

A just transition requires a holistic approach that encompasses economic diversification, support for workers to transition to new jobs, environmental remediation and inclusive processes that also address equity impacts for marginalised groups.

The politics of mining regions

If there is not significant investment in transition plans ahead of coal closures, there will be wider ramifications for energy transition and Australian politics.

In Australia, electricity prices have been at the centre of the “climate wars” over the past decade. Even with the steep price rises in recent years, the average household still only pays around A$35 a week. But with the closure of coal power plants at Hazelwood and Liddell, Australia is really only just getting to the sharp end of the energy transition where workers lose jobs.

There are some grounds for optimism. In the La Trobe Valley, an industry wide worker redeployment scheme, investment in community projects and economic incentives appears to be paying dividends with a new electric vehicle facility setting up.

AGL is taking a proactive approach to the closure of Liddelland networks are forming to diversify the local economy. But a wider transition plan and investment coordinated by different levels of government will be needed.

We know what is coming: just transition investment is a precondition for the rapid energy transition we need to make, and to minimise the economic and social impacts on these communities.

This article was originally published in The Conversation.

Why We Should Prioritise A Universal Basic Income

Why Progressives Should Prioritise UBI Over A Job Guarantee

In 2018 there seems to be no hotter topic amongst progressives: should we have a Universal Basic Income (UBI) or a Job Guarantee? The answer is quite simple: both, obviously.

There is nothing inherent in one that excludes the other and a world in which people unconditionally have their needs met alongside a clear path through which they can contribute to their community sounds ideal.

But then comes the trickier question: which should we prioritise? The order of implementation matters and as progressives gear up for our next major fight with limited resources and political capital, this article is going to outline a some important things to keep in mind. In this article I am going to clarify some terms in the debate, highlight some differences between the two policies and then respond to some criticisms of UBI from Edward Miller’s article[1].

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#MeToo And The Challenges Of Solving Sexual Violence: An Interview With Dr Tanya Serisier

In a wide-ranging interview, the feminist academic Tanya Serisier, spoke to Green Agenda editor, Simon Copland, about the #MeToo movement; the history of campaigns against sexual assault; issues related to the politics of consent; and the challenges and complexities of solving sexual violence.

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The City And The Commons

Responding to Tim Hollo’s article Towards Ecological Democracy, Natalie Osborne explores the implications of these ideas for cities, arguing that urban commoning demands what will be, for many of us, a radical reimagining of land, boundaries, and notions of property and ownership that directly challenge capitalist modes of relations.

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An Ecological Human Settlement Theory

Responding to Tim Hollo’s article Towards Ecological Democracy Steven Liaros suggests cities as a space in which we can achieve ecological democracy. But doing so will require significant changes to the way we live in urban settlements.

Introduction

In Towards Ecological Democracy, Tim Hollo calls for the re-framing of the Greens political project around the principle that ‘everything is connected’. He argues that:

“We urgently need to articulate and build “ecological democracy” as something distinct [from social democracy and liberal democracy] – a radical political vision of deep interconnection and interdependence and of resilience in diversity. It is an enabling and nurturing politics for people and the planet, supporting people and communities to find their own way together.”

Green Agenda - Ecological Democracy - Girl - Spider WebThis article supports the call to reframe green politics and seeks to expand on Hollo’s suggestion that the concept of The Commons could be a guiding principle for an ecological democracy. Hollo draws on David Bollier and describes ‘The Commons’ as much more than a pasture open to all as suggested by Garrett Hardin in The Tragedy of the Commons. Instead, it is the combination of a resource, plus a community that shares that resource, plus the set of social protocols for managing the resource.

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Understanding Gaza: What, Why And How To Respond

From Friday, 30th of March this year, Palestinians in Gaza began holding weekly demonstrations. Though the protests have received some coverage in Australia, and some response from the Left, many have not understood the significant of the events, or how we can productively relate to them.

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Green Agenda | Towards Ecological Democracy

Towards Ecological Democracy – Part 2

This is part two of Tim Hollo’s essay, Towards Ecological Democracy. To read part one, go here.

Be part of the conversation! We’d love to hear your thoughts on Tim’s ideas. We’re looking for comments and responses covering any parts of Tim’s essay. Your response can be long or short, critical or positive. If you’d like to respond, get in contact here. 

“Connecting everything”: implementing ecological democracy

If that’s the conceptualisation of the new politics, what might it mean in practice, and how can we make it happen?

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Green Agenda | Towards Ecological Democracy

Towards Ecological Democracy – Part 1

Be part of the conversation! We’d love to hear your thoughts on Tim’s ideas. We’re looking for comments and responses covering any parts of Tim’s essay. Your response can be long or short, critical or positive. If you’d like to respond, get in contact here. 

Introduction

In 2018, the issues that the Greens have made our focus for a generation –environmental destruction, corrupted politics, overwhelming corporate power, and permanent war – are more urgent than ever. At the same time, the cultural dominance of neoliberal capitalism is collapsing, with the ideas it is based on facing a crisis of legitimacy, and the institutions that hold it in place looking increasingly shaky.

Yet the Greens political project appears stalled, not just in Australia, but around the world. The huge steps of a decade ago have not been lost, but neither has the pace picked up to match the urgency of the crises we face.

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Can Art Really Make A Difference?

Can Art Really Make A Difference?

Can art really make a difference? In this article republished from The Conversation, Associate Professor Joanna Mendelssohn argues that in the creation of art, we can challenge assumed knowledge and power and “awaken the conscience of the world”, acting as witnesses to crimes against people and the environment, and enabling others to view the world differently.
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Refugee Justice in the Global Crisis: Where to from Here?

Pessoptimism, noun, the inextricably intertwined feelings of hope and despair, of desire and knowledge, under the current untenable political conditions

Stephen Wright describes aptly the state of refugee justice in Australia today as a symptom of much broader malaise:

‘The existence of the detention centre on Nauru is a critical marker of the failure of our ability to maintain a commons, and of the failure of the Left’s imagination. The self-immolations of Hodar Yasin and Omid Masoumali are not just the suffering of offshore detention made visible. They are our commons burning.’1 Continue reading →


  1. Stephen Wright, ‘On Setting Yourself on Fire’, Overland, Summer 2016, winner of the Overland/NUW Fair Australia Prize.