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Advancing Equity in California Climate Policy: A New Social Contract for Low-Carbon Transition

By Carol Zabin, Abigail Martin, Rachel Morello-Frosch, Manuel Pastor and Jim Sadd - UC Berkeley Labor Center, September 13, 2016

California’s leadership role in climate policy has once again been confirmed by the passage of Senate Bill 32 (Pavley, 2016), which commits the state to the ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030—staying the course to an 80-percent reduction by 2050. A central issue in the SB 32 political debate, as well as the many related policies that preceded it, is the impact of climate policy on equity: how to ensure that low-income and working-class Californians do not dis-proportionately bear the costs and are included in the benefits of California’s transition to a low-carbon economy. This report presents a Climate Policy Equity Framework to assist California decision-makers interested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in ways that promote economic, social, and environmental equity. We suggest that policymakers, regulators, community groups, advocacy organizations, and business interests should develop a “social contract” to manage a transition to a low-carbon economy that both maximizes the benefits of low-carbon economic development and minimizes the risks to working people and disadvantaged communities. This social contract can strengthen the broad political coalition needed to stay the course on the state’s ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals, particularly in the face of accelerating greenhouse gas emission reductions and a legal challenge to the constitutionality of California’s cap-and-trade system. The Climate Policy Equity Framework can then guide policy development and program implementation to reflect and support the social contract.

But what is climate equity? How can it be defined in a way that promotes both good jobs and prioritizes those communities that are hardest hit by climate change, multiple environmental hazards, and socio-economic stressors? What key criteria can then be used to develop and assess policies such as renewable portfolio standards, incentives for energy retrofits, cap and trade, transit-oriented development, low-carbon fuels and vehicle deployment, and much more? And finally, when faced with trade-offs between different equity criteria or tensions between environmental justice and labor interests, how can decision-makers maximize equity outcomes?

To answer these questions, this report proposes a “Climate Policy Equity Framework” that operates at three levels to:

  • Articulate equity principles and goals to guide policy design;
  • Present key criteria to analyze how close a particular climate policy or program comes to meeting these equity goals; and
  • Propose indicators that point the way to mechanisms and strategies to advance climate equity.

We then apply these equity criteria to assess progress on environmental justice, economic equity, and public accountability goals, using the limited data currently available. Our assessment highlights positive developments, remaining challenges, and the data gaps that must be filled to facilitate more complete assessments in the future. We also apply the criteria and indicators to two specific climate policy arenas—energy efficiency and renewable energy—to illustrate how to improve the equity outcomes of specific climate policies and programs. Finally, we present a preliminary set of recommendations to illustrate some concrete opportunities for equitable climate initiatives.

Read the report (PDF).

Beyond a Band-Aid: A Discussion Paper on Protecting Workers and Communities in the Great Energy Transition

By Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D - Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Labor Network for Sustainability, June 10, 2016

This discussion paper presents a strategy for protecting workers and communities that may be threatened by the current and future transformation of the U.S. energy system. It is derived from the recognition that recent technological developments have made solar and wind energy, in combination with efficiency, cheaper than continued reliance on fossil fuels. An economical transition to an energy system that is nearly emissions-free is possible. The transition will provide enormous benefits, both in terms of climate protection and to workers and communities. The new energy system will be cleaner, and more resilient. Air pollution will decline. Solar and wind energy require essentially no water at a time when stress on water resources is becoming an ever larger economic and ecological issue.

Notwithstanding these benefits, significant issues of justice will be raised by the transition to a clean energy future. Even though large numbers of new jobs will be created, there is no guarantee that workers and communities which lose existing jobs will have them replaced by new ones. Indeed, unless proactive policies are in place, many current workers in fossil fuel industries will become unemployed. The communities they live in will be disrupted by loss of tax revenues.

Too often these downsides are disregarded because they seem insignificant compared to the benefits of energy transition and climate protection. But no job is insignificant if it is your job; and it will be of little comfort to low-income households if utility bills go down on average, but theirs do not.

Some proposals for transitioning to clean energy include assistance programs for workers who lose their jobs. But often these are little more than extended unemployment compensation and training for jobs that may or may not exist. Often they would be both too little and too late – more like putting a Band-Aid on an accident victim than a well-considered plan to keep people from getting run over. And they disregard some of the most devastating impacts of energy system change, like the loss of the local tax base that often funds critical community services like libraries and parks and provides supplemental money for schools and for fire and police departments.

“Beyond a Band-Aid: A Discussion Paper on Protecting Workers and Communities in the Great Energy Transition” proposes direct investments in local economies dependent on fossil fuel jobs before devastating economic disruption begins. And it proposes a strategy to protect low-income consumers from the effects of that tax increase. However, this discussion paper does not cover the more general longstanding problem of energy affordability for low-income households. Tens of millions of households face high home energy bills, often exceeding 10 or even 20 percent of income. IEER has examined this issue in detail in an energy justice study specific to Maryland and proposed a three-pronged solution that is broadly applicable: limiting bills of low-income households to 6 percent of gross income, increasing energy efficiency, and providing universal solar access to low-income households.

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International Oil Companies: The Death of the Old Business Model

By Paul Stevens - Energy, Environment and Resources, May 5, 2016

The future of the major international oil companies (IOCs) – BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total – is in doubt. The business model that sustained them during the 20th century is no longer fit for purpose. As a result, they are faced with the choice of managing a gentle decline by downsizing or risking a rapid collapse by trying to carry on business as usual.

Most commentary on the IOCs’ problems has focused on the recent fall in oil prices and the growing global commitment to tackle climate change. Important though these are, the source of their predicament is not confined to such recent developments over which they have no control. Their problems are more numerous, run deeper and go back further. The prognosis for the IOCs was already grim before governments became serious about climate change and the oil price collapsed.

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Alpha, Arch, Peabody Energy: Bad Business Decisions are the True War on Coal

By staff - Public Citizen, May 2016

Over the past year, three of the United States’ major coal companies filed for bankruptcy: Alpha Natural Resources in August 2015; Arch Coal in January 2016; and Peabody Energy in April 2016.3 Although these companies and their trade association allies have often blamed environmental regulations for their precarious financial state, the truth is that debt-fueled acquisitions hobbled their finances at a time when market conditions were rapidly souring. Namely, Alpha Natural Resources, Peabody Energy, and Arch Coal bet big on future Chinese coal demand growth in 2011, going into debt to finance major expansions into metallurgical coal production during the year it was at peak price, only to see markets decline soon after the transactions were complete. At the same time, top executives were awarded record financial compensation, while slashing employee benefits and laying off workers.

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The Green Jobs and Employment Policies in Transition Process to Green Economy: Evidence from British Labour Force Survey

By Ayhan GÖRMÜŞ - Çalışma ve Sosyal Güvenlik Eğitim ve Araştırma Merkezi, 2016

Climate change and its effects on environment and economy have become one of the most debated issues academically and institutionally. In this respect, it is expected that transition to green economy will reverse or mitigate the negative effects of climate change on environment and general economy. However, specific analyses of effects of climate change on labour market are limited numbers in academic debates. In this context, this paper explores relationship between jobs in green industries and socio-economic circumstances to contribute to academic debates. For this purpose, British Labour Force Survey data set is analysed by using logistic regression modelling to examine the part of those who are employed by green industries. The research results suggest that a range of workplace characteristics, flexible work and work-status nominators have effect on jobs in green sectors. Also, the paper suggests that British green sectors offer good prospects for creation of better jobs.

Read the text (Link).

Permanent trust funds: Funding economic change with fracking revenues

By Devashree Saha and Mark Muro - Brookings, April 19, 2016

The recent boom and bust of unconventional oil and gas development, or “fracking,” has reopened serious questions about resource management in many U.S. states. While the oil and gas boom generated revenue, jobs, and economic development, the recent bust has adversely impacted state budgets due to declining industry investments in exploration and production and job cuts.

The boom-bust cycle of unconventional oil and gas development highlights the need for strategic management by state governments of fracking-related revenues, not only to minimize the less desirable aspects of the boom-bust cycle but also to enhance long-term prosperity. States can address these challenges by imposing a reasonable severance (extraction) tax on their oil and gas industry and channeling a portion of the revenue into permanent trust funds. In doing so, states can convert volatile near-term revenues from unconventional oil and gas development into a longer-term and continuous source of investment funds for building sustainable and dynamic economies.

To that end, this report advances five elements of good fund governance and management that states should consider in the design and implementation of permanent trust funds:

  • Establish an effective governance framework
  • Define the fund’s revenue source, deposit, and withdrawal rules
  • Design the investment strategy
  • Seize the opportunity to invest fund earnings to economic transformation
  • Formulate explicit disclosure and transparency standards

Read the text (Link).

What Keeping Oil in the Ground Can Do for Economic Inequality

By Yessenia Funes - Yes! Magazine, March 15, 2016

Our lifestyle is inextricably linked to fossil fuels. We pay the industry to heat our homes and power our cars. Though driving might be optional where public transit is available, heat is not during harsh winters. We know about the effects on the climate of burning oil, gas, and coal for energy, but we don’t know what turning our backs on them will do to our economy. Some worry that closing our oil refineries and shutting down our mines would throw the market into a dangerous vortex. That doesn’t need to be the case. A successful energy transition could actually benefit the economy and reduce inequality.

The economy relies on a number of things, including spending, manufacturing, trade, and personal income. The availability of fossil fuels has largely driven these for 150 years. “[Oil] is the world’s first trillion-dollar industry in terms of annual dollar sales,” environmental author Jack Doyle wrote in 1994. In North Dakota, a major oil- and gas-producing state, an oil boom created the $53.7 billion gross domestic product the state sees today.

But booms often have downsides. When the journal Energy Economics compared six states that produced the vast majority of the West’s crude oil and natural gas, it saw per capita income decrease by as much as $7,000 in counties whose incomes relied most on such development. Also, the crime rates and percentage of adults without a college education increased in those counties. The study offers possible explanations, including an increasing reliance on nonlocal workers and changing wage structures.

The oil and gas industries are the largest industrial sources of volatile organic compound emissions—2.2 million tons a year. These chemicals cause smog, which can increase the risks of asthma and premature death. The industry also produces cancer-causing pollutants: benzene, ethylbenzene, and n-hexane, which are emitted during the refinement process.

Low-income communities of color disproportionately bear this health burden and are also least likely to have access to health care, including preventive medicine, checkups, and prescription drugs. The inequality of care only widens the income gap by adding more financial pressures to an already stressed group.

What about jobs? Extractive industries currently employ nearly 200,000 Americans and pay some employees as much as $42.90 an hour. These jobs are a valid concern. The U.S. unemployment rate is finally down to about 5 percent. Surely we don’t want all those people put out of work.

That won’t happen if we launch the renewable energy sector in sync. Economists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) have studied this topic since the early 2000s. Their research shows how a transition to renewables can lead to a post-carbon world and a fairer economy.

Retraining Investment for U.S. Transition from Coal to Solar Photovoltaic Employment

Edward P. Louie and Joshua M. Pearce - Energy Economics, 2016

Although coal remains the largest source of electricity in the U.S., a combination of factors is driving a decrease in profitability and employment in the coal-sector. Meanwhile, the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry is growing rapidly in the U.S. and generating many jobs that represent employment opportunities for laid off coal workers. In order to determine the viability of a smooth transition from coal to PV-related employment, this paper provides an analysis of the cost to retrain current coal workers for solar photovoltaic industry employment in the U.S. The current coal industry positions are determined, the skill set evaluated and the salaries tabulated. For each type of coal position, the closest equivalent PV position is determined and then the re-training time and investment are quantified. These values are applied on a state-by-state basis for coal producing states employing the bulk of coal workers as a function of time using a reverse seniority retirement program for the current American fleet of coal-powered plants. The results show that a relatively minor investment in retraining would allow the vast majority of coal workers to switch to PV-related positions even in the event of the elimination of the coal industry.

Read the report (PDF).

The Cost of Coal: Impact of Russian coal mining on the environment, local communities and indigenous peoples

By Natalia Paramonov - EcoDefense, December 2015

In four hours of flight from Moscow, in the middle of the country, lies the coal heart of Russia.

Coal mining and burning are generally known to be polluting atmosphere with loads of CO2 and causing climate change. But people of Kuzbass have little concern about global problems. They get used to open-cut mines operating and huge trucks roaring right out of their windows. Shot operations destroy houses, and spoil piles grow up around. Air and rivers are contaminated with coal dust, and fertile land is being devastated.

These particular problems can be discovered only by visiting surroundings of Novokuznetsk. Bad news about violations over environmental rights in Kemerovo Oblast would never reach Moscow themselves. They are hidden behind companies' ambition to get coal at any cost.

Number of official statistics provides evidence for contamination of air, water, and soil, high mortality and sickness rates in Kemerovo Oblast. Local authorities and regulatory bodies, however, prefer to avoid looking into particular cases. There is Kemerovo Oblast with a range of general environmental problems, but there are no particular people whose violated rights need to be protected. This way, there are no victims and no need to pay out compensations or think about mine reclamation.

This report begins with statistic data which reflect environmental conditions in Kuzbass, followed by testimonies of the local residents. Interviews with those suffered from coal production but unable to get it acknowledged and fully compensated by the state are enclosed in the appendix.

Behind every figure of the official statistics presented below, there are lives of people who live in Kuzbass and battle for their rights.

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Maryland's Clean Energy Future

By various - Labor Network for Sustainability and Synapse, October 14, 2015

This report presents a Clean Energy Future (CEF) plan that reduces Maryland’s net emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) 80 percent below the 2006 level by 2050 – while adding more than ten thousand jobs per year. With a state strategy to encourage and expand the growing industries of the future, Maryland’s employment gains could be considerably greater.

Maryland has often been told that doing its share to save the earth’s climate will threaten its workers’ jobs. “Maryland’s Clean Energy Future: Climate goals and employment benefits” refutes that claim. This report lays out a climate protection strategy that will produce an estimated 10,000 more jobs per year over business as usual projections through 2050. Almost two-thirds of the jobs created will be in the high-wage construction and manufacturing sectors.

The report also indicates that Maryland can use the burgeoning state and national demand for clean energy to create good, stable jobs in a growing climate protection sector: manufacturing jobs, jobs for those who have been marginalized in the current labor market, and jobs for skilled union workers in the construction trades. Maryland needs a robust job creation and clean industry development strategy to realize that potential.

Read the report (PDF).

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