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.

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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International climate agreements: useful or useless?

Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has put the status of the international processes on climate change in doubt. In this discussion Green Agenda editor Simon Copland and researcher Felicity Gray debate whether Trump’s withdrawal should mean the end of the international climate process.

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The Age of Consequences: the nexus of climate and conflict

The Age of Consequences is a documentary film exploring how climate change stressors interact with societal tensions, sparking conflict. The film unpacks how water and food shortages, drought, extreme weather, and sea-level rise function as ‘accelerants of instability’ and ‘catalysts for conflict’, with grave implications for peace and security in the 21st century

The film is being shown in Australia as part of the Transitions Film Festival. Green Agenda editor, Clare Ozich, spoke to the film’s writer, director and producer, Jarad Scott, about the rationale behind making a climate film focused on security, the concept of interconnectedness that is central to the film, and making documentaries in the time of Trump.

Green Agenda also spoke to Jarad last year about his film, Requiem for the American Dream, featuring Noam Chomsky on the principles of concentration of wealth and power. A film (and an interview) that now provides a useful background to the conditions leading to the Trump Presidency.

 

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Postcapitalism: An interview with Paul Mason

Green Agenda Editors Clare Ozich and Simon Copland spoke to Paul Mason, journalist and author of Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future.

With his bold thesis on how technological development is leading to the end of capitalism and the exciting prospect of what a postcapitalism could look like, we had a lot to discuss with Paul. As Paul puts it in the introduction to the book “The current crisis not only spells the end of the neoliberal model, it is a symptom of the longer-term mismatch between market systems and an economy based on information. The aim of the book is to explain why replacing capitalism is no longer a utopian dream, how the basic forms of a postcapitalist economy can be found within the current system, and how they could be expanded rapidly.”

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Working for the Environment

Why work and workers matter in the environmental debate                                                                                                                  

It is not hard to imagine that the world of work is a place of deep ecological impact that will be fundamentally changed by endeavours to green the economy. The implications of climate change for all workers and employers are enormous: the International Labour Organisation (ILO) suggests that 80 per cent of Europe’s CO2 emissions come from industrial production. Thus, the world of work is a critical site of ecological harm and therefore needs to be a site of deep environmentally focused transformation. Continue reading →

Art and Activism

Green Agenda is very pleased to be publishing the following speech Alex Kelly gave on 27 June 2015 to the 2970 Degrees conference held on the Gold Coast. 

Radically Re-Imagining the World as our Climate Changes

Good afternoon. It’s an honour to be here at such a dynamic event. And what a pleasure to be in such a beautiful and creative region of the country. Continue reading →

Response by David Holyoake to “It’s the culture, stupid!”

While not a direct response to Tim’s essay, the following article from David Holyoake, from a new UK arts activist collective, Forever Swarm, explores similar themes from a UK perspective. The article was first published in Voices, Global Call for Climate Action 7 April 2015.

Arts and culture – the missing link to winning the climate fight  Continue reading →

It’s the culture, stupid!

Culture is a wonderful word, isn’t it? It’s one of those words which means different things to different people and in different contexts, from opera to the microbes that turn milk into yoghurt.

For our purposes, the relevant definition from the Oxford English Dictionary is “[t]he ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society”. American artistic activist Arlene Goldbard defines it more poetically as “the fabric of signs and symbols, customs and ceremonies, habitations, institutions, and much more that characterize and enable a specific human community to form and sustain itself.” Continue reading →