A Just Transition

scientists are saying that global warming, as evidenced by melting polar ice
caps, is worse than predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and that global emissions must peak
by 2015 if climate chaos, and resulting human social chaos, is to be avoided. Government
policy needs to be driven by this science, not by political and economic
expediency, no matter how challenging the transition to a clean energy economy
might be. The Garnaut Review needs to rise to this challenge if it is to drive energy
futures towards sustainability.

Yet as the global
warming threat grows, many Australian political leaders remain under the spell
of the coal industry and its ‘greenhouse mafia’. Indeed, despite the obvious
risks some are still advocating new coal-fired power stations and a massive
increase in coal-exports. The federal and state governments are gambling that carbon
capture and storage (CCS) technologies will save the industry, even as growing numbers
of experts note that this technology is likely to be too little, too late and
too risky to be commercialised and installed widely enough to make a difference
in the short window of opportunity needed for action. They are throwing
billions of dollars in subsidies towards CCS and the mythical ‘clean coal’
at the behest of the industry.

investment and incentives for markets for renewable energy and energy
efficiency technologies in which Australia could be a world leader
are being seriously frustrated.

climate change means our dependency on coal as an export earner and as a
domestic fuel must be phased out over the next decades, rather than ramped
up. This will mean a huge change in the
national economy, and for coal-affected regions such as the Hunter and Latrobe Valleys. The challenges associated with
this change are significant, but not insurmountable. Indeed, a transition to clean, renewable
energy promises to revitalise Australian manufacturing and create thousands of
new jobs in many rural, regional and urban communities.

organizations and labour unions refer to the process of economic restructuring
from non-sustainable industries to a sustainable economy as a ‘Just
Transition’. A just transition links ecological sustainability with issues of work,
equity and social justice. A just transition process recognises the needs of
both current and future generations for safe, secure and satisfying jobs.
Participants in a just transition seek to build collaborations rather than
conflict, and in particular, to avoid a false ‘jobs vs the environment’
conflict. A just transition is needed to ensure that the costs of change do not
fall on vulnerable workers and communities

The Canadian
Labour Congress
(CLC) was a pioneer in the theory and organizing around the
just transition concept and noted in their report, Just
Transition for Workers During Environmental Change
(2000), that:

"Just transition will ensure that the
costs of environmental change will be shared fairly. Failure to create a just
transition means that the cost of moves to sustainability will devolve wholly
onto workers in targeted industries and their communities."

The CLC also noted in this report
that Green job creation – secure, stable, quality jobs which are clean, healthy
and stress-free – is the flip side of a just transition.

The Australian
Council of Trade Unions in their 2007 position paper on global warming also noted that a just transition is
needed to deal with the challenges of climate change, and this requires new partnerships
of the labour movement and other sectors, including government, industry, local
communities and training providers to retrain and re-skill workers into jobs
in the renewable energy industry.

policy recognises the tremendous potential of renewable energy to create additional
jobs in development, installation and operation phases:

the share of renewable energy in the total energy mix is possible without
damaging existing industry and with continuing growth in high quality jobs, as
the EU experience demonstrates. (1)

A just transition to a renewable energy economy is possible, based on
currently-available low-risk energy efficiency and renewable energy
technologies (solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and biomass) with gas as a
transitional fuel. Research shows that these technologies can meet energy
needs in Australia
and the developing countries of our region (2). Renewable energy systems are more
resilient and flexible than big centralised coal-fired power stations which
require massive investment in a single piece of infrastructure that creates a
supply, rather than demand-driven energy market. Renewables’ flexibility comes
through the technologies being decentralised to multiple sites where solar,
wind and geothermal resources are available – often in rural communities where
investment and economic revitalisation is urgently needed.

investment towards energy efficiency and renewable energy industries would
revitalise Australian manufacturing industry and create many more new jobs than
in current fossil fuel industries per dollar invested. Installation of solar
hot water systems and insulation in households and workplaces would cut carbon
emissions, create jobs and reduce energy bills, and particularly assist low-income

A report, A
Bright Future: 25% Renewable Energy for Australia by 2020
, commissioned by the Australian
Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace and the Climate Action Network Australia
(CANA) found that a 25% renewable energy target by 2020 would deliver 16,600
new jobs to Australians, as well as generating $33 billion in new investment
and enough renewable electricity to power every home in Australia.

A just transition needs government interventions – setting environmental goals and
establishing regulatory frameworks, market incentives and regional development
support. Research (3) on successful green industrial restructuring processes in Europe have identified key policies as including:

  • A clear
    decision to end investment in the affected area or industry
  • Clear
    environmental targets
  • Availability
    of satisfactory technological alternatives to the technology being phased out
  • Political
    leadership that promotes innovation, partnerships and the diffusion of
    alternative technologies for new industries, research and development, tax
    relief, and infrastructure investments
  • A high degree
    of political integration among different government sectors
  • Funding for
    compensation to minimise social and regional disruption caused by change,
    including income support for low-income households to meet increased costs
  • Establishment
    of Regional Economic Development Funds to facilitate investment in new
    industries and jobs in targeted areas.

This is all
possible in Australia’s
coal communities. Active government intervention
that anticipates and plans for change, provides education and training, and invests
in infrastructure for industries of the future in coal communities will offer
pathways to sustainability, rather than leaving coal communities’ environments
degraded and economies locked into dinosaur technologies.

communities need alternative employment opportunities in well-paid, secure and
satisfying jobs. Workers in transition between jobs need redundancy
entitlements, income maintenance and opportunities for retraining tailored to
individual skills, needs and local opportunities. Workers who relocate to seek
work elsewhere should receive relocation assistance. Research shows that
workers with less formal education, older or disabled workers need special
targeted support.

The Garnaut
Review has the opportunity to identify energy policies that can respond to the
global warming threat and drive a just transition to a sustainable energy
economy. The Review needs to support:

  • A legislated
    target to reduce Australia’s
    greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2020
  • An Emissions
    Trading Scheme (ETS) that reduces emissions in line with a 40% national reduction by
    2020, with all technologies and participants in a carbon emissions trading
    scheme treated equally (i.e. there should be no free allocations of
    carbon credits or ‘grandfathering’ within this system)
  • Use of ETS revenue
    to support the deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency
    technologies in coal communities, and to compensate low income consumers for
    higher energy prices.

A shift to a
renewable energy economy would revitalise Australian manufacturing industry and
create thousands of new jobs, including in coal communities. Renewable energy
and energy efficiency technologies could be boosted if governments:

  • Set a national
    target for energy efficiency to stabilize growth in energy consumption
  • Set mandatory,
    enforceable minimum energy standards for domestic and commercial buildings
  • Establish a
    national program for retrofitting solar hot water systems to all houses,
    schools and workplaces
  • Set an energy
    performance standard for residential and commercial lighting
  • Accelerate the
    Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) program
  • Set a national
    target for renewable energy of 40% by 2020
  • Establish a
    national feed-in tariff to encourage development of solar photovoltaic and
    solar thermal power
  • Develop
    innovative financial packages (e.g. no interest loans) to support consumers to install energy
    efficiency and renewable energy technologies
  • Initiate major
    re-fits of public housing with energy efficiency and renewable energy
    technologies to reduce energy bills for low income families
  • Redirect all
    public subsidies that encourage the use and production of fossil fuels towards
    implementing energy efficiency programs, deploying renewable energy and
    supporting the upgrading of public transport infrastructure
  • Provide
    renewable energy and energy efficiency expertise, technologies, goods and
    services to less developed nations to support their transition to the
    post-carbon world.

A moratorium
on new coal-fired power stations and on extensions to existing coal fired power
stations, and a phased withdrawal of existing coal-fired power stations –
beginning with the most polluting – is needed, matched by a shift in investment to alternative clean
energy technologies

security can be achieved in Australia
and globally by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy, with gas
as an interim fuel. A switch to clean
energy-based economy in the Hunter Valley and other coal communities, and in Australia’s
global energy markets, can provide thousands of new Green jobs while protecting
local and global environments. Green-labour alliances can inspire the broad-based
community campaigns needed to make a just transition to renewable energy and
new Green jobs.


(1) Australian
Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) (2007) Principles and Policy on Global
Position Paper
. Melbourne, Australia:
ACTU, p. 6.

(2) Teske,
S., Zervbos, A. & Schäfer, O. (2007) Energy
(R)evolution: A Sustainable World Energy Outlook
International, European Renewable Energy Council; Mallon,
K., Bourne, G. & Mott, R. (2007) Climate Solutions: WWF’s
Vision for 2050
World Wildlife Fund.

(3) Binder, M.,
Janicke, M. & Petschow, U. (Eds.) (2001) Green Industrial Restructuring:
International Case Studies and Theoretic Interpretations,
Berlin, Germany,

See also:

have also been developed for 10 global regions, based on the
International Energy Agency’s breakdown of world regions, as used in the
ongoing series of World Energy Outlook reports, including China, East Asia,
South Asia, Europe, North America and OECD Pacific (Japan, South Korea,
Australia and New Zealand).
A Clean Energy Scenario specifically for Australia is forthcoming.

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ILR Press.

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