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Equity, Climate Justice, and Fossil Fuel Extraction: Principles for a Managed Phase Out

By Gregg Muttitt and Sivan Kartha - Oil Change International, April 28, 2020

The Paris Agreement goals require most fossil fuel use to be ended within a generation. This paper looks at where and how to equitably phase out oil, gas and coal, and proposes five principles to help democratic actors work through the equity issues that arise from winding down fossil fuel extraction.

Equity issues have long been debated within international climate politics, focused on fairly distributing reductions in territorial emissions and fossil fuel consumption. There is a growing recognition among scholars and policymakers that curbing fossil fuel supply (as well as demand) can be a valuable part of the climate policy toolbox; this raises the question of where and how the tool should be applied.

This paper explores how to equitably manage the social dimensions of a rapid transition away from fossil fuel extraction. Fossil fuel extraction leads to benefits for some people (such as extraction workers) and harms for others (such as pollution-affected communities). A transition must respect and uphold the rights of both groups, while also staying within climate limits, as climate impacts will fall most heavily on the world’s poor.

This paper begins by reviewing how extraction affects economies and communities and the different transitional challenges they face. Based on that review, it then examines three common equity approaches — economic efficiency, meeting development needs, and effort-sharing. Drawing lessons from the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches, the paper proposes five principles as a basis for equitably curbing fossil fuel extraction within climate limits:

  1. Phase down global extraction at a pace consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C;
  2. Enable a just transition for workers and communities;
  3. Curb extraction consistent with environmental justice;
  4. Reduce extraction fastest where doing so will have the least social costs;
  5. Share transition costs fairly, according to ability to bear those costs.

Key policy insights:

  • Fossil fuel extraction is unlikely to be a viable path to development because the Paris Agreement goals require most fossil fuel use to be ended within a generation;
  • Extraction should be phased out fastest in diversified, wealthier economies that can better absorb the transitional impacts;
  • Governments of extracting countries should enact ambitious industrial policy to diversify their economies, alongside economic and employment policies to enable a just transition;
  • The costs of a just transition should be borne by those most able to bear it: poorer countries can reasonably demand financial support.

Download (PDF).

Resilient Societies or Fossil Fuel Bailouts?

By staff - Oil Change International - April 22, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis poses a threat to people’s health, their jobs and their lives, and like all crises, exacerbates already existing inequalities. Trillions in public finance will be needed to get through the current pandemic. This briefing outlines why continuing to rely on fossil fuels, in particular oil and gas, is not compatible with long-term recovery. It does not make sense to use the COVID-19 stimulus packages to try to revive a sunsetting industry which will not deliver on economic recovery, only to shut it down a few years later to meet climate goals.

Governments now face a choice: fund a just transition away from fossil fuels that protects workers, communities, and the climate — or continue funding business-as-usual toward climate disaster. Governments should invest in a green recovery that protects and creates long lasting jobs, resilient economies and accelerates climate action. This briefing details why this is the most effective route for recovery and lays out the dos and don’ts for governments in their response to the current crisis.

Key Recommendations (DO’s):

  • Ensure national and international equity and a just transition is at the heart of any government response to the current crisis.
  • Protect workers and communities affected by the crisis, including those in the oil and gas sector, and create long-lasting green jobs by investing in resilient infrastructure and emerging low carbon industries that will continue to create jobs for decades.
  • Ensure Green New Deal frameworks provide the basis for stimulus packages to help rewrite the social contract in a people-centered response to the current crisis. 
  • End fossil fuel subsidies and finance and ensure any carbon price reflects climate and equity imperatives in order to ensure renewables remain competitive and incentivize efficient energy use in light of low oil prices while supporting a just transition.
  • Introduce oil and gas production caps as a first step to limiting emissions. The world is running out of storage capacity and production limits are needed to ensure a managed decline of the industry.
  • Make decision-making processes and response measures transparent in order to allow public scrutiny.
  • Bring the oil and gas industry into public ownership in the right circumstances, as it may be the most straightforward path to ensure a just transition for workers and communities and a managed phase-out.
  • Link any support provided to the industry to a requirement to align with climate goals and plan for a managed decline.
  • Ensure the polluter pays principle is upheld. Broadly speaking, over the past few decades, the financial rewards of the industry have been privatized, while the risks have been socialized.

Key Pitfalls to Avoid (DON’Ts):

  • DON’T bail out oil and gas companies or increase fossil fuel subsidies.
  • DON’T bail out other polluting industries, such as the aviation and shipping industries.
  • DON’T continue the construction or operation of fossil fuel infrastructure at the expense of the health of workers and communities.
  • DON’T roll back existing policies or regulations, or extend licensing agreements.
  • DON’T delay responses to the climate crisis amid the flurry of immediate priorities. If anything, the current pandemic has shown that a crisis demands a timely response to prevent it from escalating further.

While the fossil fuel sector may struggle to return to business as usual, without policies aimed at emerging from the crisis with a cleaner energy system, surviving companies may be in a position to capitalize on rising oil prices as the cycle turns. There are currently no safeguards against a future price spike and subsequent return to the volatile boom-bust cycle. This briefing advises governments to adopt recovery measures that will ensure a just transition off oil and gas, accelerate climate goals and build resilient societies, and center people instead of corporate executives and shareholders — all while tackling today’s parallel health, economic, and climate crises at once.

Read the report (PDF).

The Future of Alberta's Oil Sands Industry: More Production, Less Capital, Fewer Jobs

By Ian Hussey - Parkland Institute, March 2020

Major restructuring and consolidation of the Alberta-dominated Canadian oil and gas industry has been taking place since 2014 (Hussey et al. 2018), when the lower-for-longer oil price scenario in which the province still finds itself began.

This report explores the employment, capital spending, and operational spending implications of the ongoing restructuring and consolidation of the industry. More specifically, the report explains that oil sands industry maturation—which was significantly advanced over the latest commodity cycle—means there has been a recent shift in the industry from its growth phase (2000–2018) to its mature phase (2019 onward).

Read the report (Link).

Scotland's Just Transition Commission Interim Report

By Jim Skea, et. al. - Scottish Just Transition Commission, February 2020

1.1 The Just Transition Commission was established by Scottish Ministers to advise on how just transition principles can be applied to climate change action in Scotland. Our remit is to prepare practical recommendations within two years of our first meeting, meaning our final report is due to be shared with Ministers by January 2021. We have been asked for recommendations that will help support action to:

  • maximise the economic and social opportunities that the move to a net-zero economy by 2045 offers
  • build on Scotland’s existing strengths and assets
  • understand and mitigate risks that could arise in relation to regional cohesion, equalities, poverty (including fuel poverty), and a sustainable and inclusive labour market

1.2 This report has been prepared as a result of a request from the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change, and Land Reform asking for interim advice to inform the updated Climate Change Plan. We hope this document can be helpful in this regard.

1.3 We held our inception meeting at the start of last year, when we agreed a work plan and an approach to collecting evidence. Since that initial meeting, we have travelled the country speaking to a range of stakeholders regarding the challenges and opportunities of transitioning to a net-zero economy. This has included a variety of activities, such as consideration of written evidence, discussions with experts, engagement events and site visits.

1.4 While we have been carrying out this programme of work, we are very aware that public concern over the impact and response to climate change has never been higher. There have also been important changes on the policy front. With this in mind, there are a number of developments that we can point to as being broadly positive in terms of delivering a just transition to a net-zero economy in Scotland.

Read the report (Link).

Taking the High Road: Strategies for a Fair EV Future

By staff - UAW Research Department, January 2020

The American automotive industry is constantly evolving and, throughout the union’s history, the United Auto Workers (UAW) has fought to ensure industry changes result in quality jobs that benefit workers and the economy.

The auto industry is facing a new shift in technology with the proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs). This shift is an opportunity to re-invest in U.S. manufacturing. But this opportunity will be lost if EVs or their components are imported or made by low-road suppliers who underpay workers. In order to preserve American jobs and work standards, what is needed is a proactive industrial policy that creates high-quality manufacturing jobs making EVs and their components.

Read the text (PDF).

Blueprint for Europe's Just Transition: The Green New Deal for Europe (Edition II)

By various - The Green New Deal for Europe, December 2019

Europe today confronts three overlapping crises.

The first is an economic crisis, with rising levels of poverty, insecurity, and homelessness across the continent. The second is a climate and environmental crisis, with severe consequences for Europe’s front-line communities and even more perilous ones on the horizon. And the third is a crisis of democracy. Across the continent, people are disconnected from the locus of political decision-making not only in Brussels, but also in the communities where they reside.

These crises are products of Europe’s political decisions, and they are closely bound together. The promotion of extractive growth has driven environmental breakdown, and the devotion to budget austerity — over and above the democratic needs expressed in communities across Europe — has constrained our capacity to respond to it.

A radically new approach is necessary to reverse this destructive trend — and to deliver environmental justice in Europe and around the world. We call this approach the Green New Deal for Europe, and the following report is a comprehensive policy pack-age charting a course through Europe’s just transition.

Read the report (PDF).

Putting the "Justice" in "Just Transition": Tackling Inequality in the New Renewable Econom

By staff - Maritime Union of Australia, et. al., November 2019

The Victorian Trades Hall Council and its affiliates are committed to leading the construction of a new economy that is environmentally sustainable, economically and socially just, and democratic.

This is why we are proud to support this report, and why we will campaign to ensure its ideas and strategies for a just transition and for a new offshore wind industry with good terms and conditions of employment are implemented.

For over 150 years the Victorian union movement has led efforts to improve the lives of working people. Our campaigns for industrial rights have been matched by a commitment to broader social, political and economic rights. We know that the threat of climate change is best met in ways that are deeply engrained in our movement – solidarity, collective action, respect for workers, a commitment to decent jobs and economic and social justice.

We know, too, that unions must lead in the restructuring of the Australian and global economies that is necessary if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. As unionists we know only too well what happens when economic restructuring occurs without unions to represent the interests of workers. This country has a bad track record when it comes to industry restructuring, with many instances of workers just being given help to write CVs and no effort put into the development of new employment opportunities. The privatisation of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria shows what happens when industries are profoundly restructured without proper consideration of workers’ interests – whole communities are affected for decades.

This is why the proposals put forward in this report are so important. Using the prospect of the Star of the South project in Gippsland to develop a framework for the creation of an Australian offshore wind industry, the document focuses on ensuring that benefits flow to local communities and workers, while not ignoring the opportunities for Victoria and the nation more generally.

The scale of the Star of the South project is impressive. It should help in the transition when brown coal companies make decisions that affect the Latrobe Valley without consulting workers. It would deliver major benefits to Gippsland, a region that has powered our State for generations. But those benefits will only be fully realised if the Victorian government can undertake the comprehensive planning needed to ensure that workers and unions are placed front and centre so that the potential jobs are maximised and a just transition is prioritised. Making sure it is done well is exactly what Australia needs to break through the scepticism and doubt that a truly fair and sustainable economy is possible.

Trades Hall commends Putting the Justice in Just Transition to all who have an interest in building a sustainable, prosperous and just Gippsland, Victoria and Australia. We ask that you join with us in making it happen.

Read the report (PDF).

California Offshore Wind: Workforce Impacts and Grid Integration

By Robert Collier, et. al. - UC Berkeley Labor Center, September 2019

This report presents research findings on offshore wind development, pursuant to a Proposition 84 Sea Grant from the California Ocean Protection Council to the UC Berkeley Labor Center and Energy & Environmental Economics (E3). Our study addresses two separate but complementary questions for California in the years and decades ahead: 1) what benefits would the emergence of a major offshore wind power sector create for California workers and communities, and what policies might optimize these impacts; and 2) would offshore wind power be a competitive source of renewable energy in comparison to other clean energy sources? These questions are discussed in two sections: Workforce Needs and Policies for Offshore Wind (Chapters 1-6) and Integrating Offshore Wind in California’s Grid: An Assessment of Economic Value (Chapters 7-11).

The urgency of these questions derives from the fact that recent studies by the California Energy Commission (CEC) and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) indicate that the state will require two to six times more renewables capacity by 2045 than is installed today. However, California’s planning processes have only recently begun to consider offshore wind as a component of this future energy supply.

The exponential development of offshore wind power around the world and its projected growth on the East Coast of the United States shows that offshore wind could serve an important role in California’s clean energy supply. Globally, offshore wind capacity now tops 22 gigawatts (GW), a tenfold increase over the past decade, with about 20 percent of that installed in 2018 alone. This total is projected to reach between 154 GW and 193 GW by 2030, with at least half expected to be in Europe and much of the rest in China.3 In the United States, several Northeastern states have made offshore wind a cornerstone of their future clean energy portfolios, with about 22 GW of new capacity mandated by 2035.

California differs from the East Coast and much of Europe in that the state’s deep coastal waters will require its wind turbines to be on floating platforms rather than on structures fixed to the seabed. This floating technology has been successfully demonstrated in multiple locations worldwide, with larger-scale commercial projects being planned and contracted for deployment in the near future. While the cost of floating offshore wind today is higher than fixed-bottom offshore wind, the technology is well understood and its cost is expected to decline rapidly with commercialization and greater scale of deployment.

Read the report (PDF).

Colorado’s Just A Transition Away from Coal Energy

By Benjamin Stemer - Global Green, August 20, 2019

Over the past few decades, global concern surrounding the rapid change in our Earth’s climate has consistently risen, to the point that many U.S. states are taking independent and decisive action for the welfare of the environment, their citizens, and the global population as a whole. Colorado is just one example of this trend which favors a reduction on energy produced from coal, and an increased emphasis on renewable alternatives. On May 28th 2019, Colorado signed into law the “Just Transition from Coal-based Energy” which incentivizes the early termination of coal plants, while simultaneously providing financial support for any citizens who may be negatively impacted by the early closing of these coal plants. 

With an issue as complicated and misunderstood as climate change, finding and implementing realistic and timely solutions for our climate crisis has proven to be extremely difficult. However, Colorado is not intimidated by the scope and seriousness of this subject and, as a result, they have moved beyond simply discussing this issue through the passing of their decisive policy titled the “Just Transition from Coal- based Energy”. According to the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, with the introduction of this bill, Colorado is setting a strong example for other states to follow (1). This new law creates a Just Transition Advisory Committee, which consists of directors from the Department of Labor and Employment, the Colorado Energy Office, The Department of Local Affairs, representatives from the Governor’s office and the State Senate, as well as 12 local representatives, including three coal workers, three coal community representatives, two members from disproportionately impacted communities, and two experts on economic development and/or workforce retraining. The purpose of the Just Transition Advisory Committee is to create a plan that will provide benefits for impacted workers, make grants available for communities heavily reliant on the coal industry, and offer additional support for anyone impacted by the early closing of coal plants all across Colorado. One highlight of this bill is that any costs associated with supporting impacted workers and communities will be paid for through a process of voluntary securitization of investor-owned coal plants (2). If you’re like most people, you might not have any idea what the process of securitization entails, so let me explain.

The Just Transition for Coal Workers Can Start Now. Colorado Is Showing How

By Rachel M. Cohen - In These Times, July 24, 2019

This past May, Colorado’s Democratic governor Jared Polis signed a series of new environmental bills into law, with the enthusiastic backing of the state’s labor movement. Legislation ranged from expanding community solar gardens to establishing a “Just Transition” office for coal-dependent communities.

Organized labor in Colorado hasn’t always been an ally in the fight against climate change, but beginning in 2018, a Democratic messaging bill that called for 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 forced local unions to start having some tough conversations.

“Republicans controlled the Senate, so the bill had no chance of passing, but it forced the conversation on our end as to what do we need to do to get behind these bills in the future, instead of just blocking them or delaying,” explained Dennis Dougherty, the executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, which represents approximately 165 unions representing more than 130,000 workers. “It was really the first time we asked ourselves, well what’s our game plan?”

In February 2018, Colorado activists launched a state-based affiliate of the Peoples Climate Movement, a coalition of community, faith, youth and environmental groups focused on promoting an equitable response to climate change. Dougherty, who worked for years as a federal mediator before joining the labor movement, soon became co-chair of the Colorado coalition. “This was the first time labor has really stepped out in leadership on climate,” he told In These Times.

What followed were a series of organized talks between unions and environmental groups. With resources from its parent organization, the Peoples Climate Movement Colorado even hired a skilled facilitator from the Institute for the Built Environment at Colorado State University to help guide its conversations. The work culminated in a Climate, Jobs and Justice Summit last September.

Democrats won a majority of seats in the state Senate after the 2018 midterms, giving them trifecta control over Colorado politics, and the ability to pass many climate-related bills this year. Those bills included two pieces of legislation advocates hope can serve as a model for climate, jobs and justice organizing in other states.

One is HB-1314, which establishes a Just Transition Office in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The first-of-its-kind office, which will have both a dedicated staff and an advisory committee of diverse stakeholders, is charged with creating a equitable plan for coal-dependent communities and workers as the state transitions away from fossil fuels. The goal is to mitigate the economic hardship that will accompany this energy transition. A draft plan is due by July 2020, and by 2025, the state will start administering benefits to displaced coal workers, and provide workforce retraining grants to coal-transitioning communities like Pueblo, Larimer, Delta, Morgan and others.

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