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A New Circular Vision for Electronics - Time for a Global Reboot

By staff - Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and E-waste Coalition, January 2019

The global consumption of smart phones and other electronic devices is increasing, and bringing benefits to many people in areas as wide- ranging as health, education, finance and commerce. But there is a downside: the world is now seeing a growing tsunami of e-waste.

A new report launched by the United Nations E-waste Coalition indicates that the global economy generates approximately 50 million tonnes of e-waste every year. This is a huge amount, representing the mass of all the commercial aircraft ever produced.

Unfortunately, less than 20% of this is waste formally recycled. This results in global health and environmental risks, as well as the unnecessary loss of scarce and valuable natural materials.

But businesses, policy makers, and the public can turn this global challenge around. And the rewards will be significant. Indeed, the proper management of e-waste yields not just one, but multiple gains for development.

The new report calls for a systematic collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), academia, trade unions, civil society and associations in a deliberative process to reorient the system and reduce the waste of resources each year with a value greater than the GDP of most countries.

Read the report (PDF).

Responsible Minerals Sourcing for Renewable Energy

By Elsa Dominish, Sven Teske, and Nick Florin - Institute for Sustainable Futures, 2019

The transition to a 100% renewable energy system is urgently needed to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and increase the chance of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees. Renewable energy technologies are now the most cost competitive technologies for new installations – and recent investment in new renewable energy infrastructure globally has been double that of new energy investment in fossil fuels and nuclear.

Renewable energy technologies, electric vehicles and battery storage require high volumes of environmentally sensitive materials. The supply chains for these materials and technologies need to be appropriately managed, to avoid creating new adverse social and environmental impacts along the supply chain.

This report presents the findings of an assessment of the projected mineral demand for fourteen metals used in renewable energy and storage technologies, the potential to reduce demand through efficiency and recycling, and the associated supply risks and impacts. Solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power have been chosen for this assessment because these two technologies make up the majority of new global renewable electricity installations. Batteries have been assessed because of their importance for use in electric vehicles (EVs) and energy storage systems.

This research aims to identify the main ‘hotspots’ or areas of concern in the supply chain, including technologies, metals and locations, where opportunities to reduce demand and influence responsible sourcing initiatives will be most needed.

Read the report (PDF).

Realizing a Just and Equitable Transition Away From Fossil Fuels

By Georgia Piggot, Michael Boyland, Adrian Down, and Andreea Raluca Torre - Stockholm Environment Institute, January 2019

Meeting agreed climate goals requires a rapid decarbonization of the global energy system, which in turn necessitates a reduction in fossil fuel production. While limiting fossil fuel use will likely bring a multitude of societal benefits — related to reduced climate risks, sustainable economic growth, air quality and human health — it is important to recognize that not everyone will benefit equally from a transition to a low-carbon economy. In particular, those who rely on fossil fuel production for their livelihood, or who were anticipating using fossil-fuelled energy to meet development needs, may carry a disproportionate share of the burdens of an energy transition.

The need for a “just transition” to a low-carbon economy — namely, a transition that minimizes disruption for workers and communities reliant on unsustainable industries and energy sources — is gaining traction in climate policy and political discourse. A call for “a just transition of the workforce” was included in the preamble to the Paris Agreement, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat has prepared a technical paper on transition planning.10 In addition, several national and regional governments have recently announced new transition planning processes, including Canada, Germany, Spain, Scotland, New Zealand, and the European Union.

A central concern of just transition efforts is to ensure that low-carbon transitions address social and economic inequality. The UNFCCC calls for a transition that “contribute(s) to the goals of decent work for all, social inclusion and the eradication of poverty.” Likewise, the European Commission aims to “boost the clean energy transition by bringing more focus on social fairness.” And the Scottish Government is seeking a transition that “promotes inclusive growth, cohesion and equality.”

Key messages:

  • Governments are introducing new “just transitions” policies to help workers and communities move away from fossil fuels.
  • Most policies assume that justice goals will be achieved by helping those dependent on coal, oil and gas move into new roles; however, there is little critical reflection on what justice means in the context of an energy transition away from fossil fuels.
  • There are a number of gaps in current just transition policies when viewed through a justice lens. For example, no policies contain measures to improve the lives of people currently marginalized in the energy system.
  • Creating just and equitable transition policies requires collecting data on the current distribution of the harms and benefits of the energy system, and mapping out how this will change as fossil fuels become a less-prominent part of the energy mix.
  • By taking justice considerations into account, transition policies are more likely to limit social and political resistance, win a broad consensus, and achieve effective implementation.

Read the text (PDF).

The Ruhr or Appalachia: Deciding the Future of Australia’s Coal Power Workers and Communities

By Peter Sheldon, Raja Junankar, and Anthony De Rosa Pontello - CFMMEU Mining and Energy, December 3, 2018

Australia’s coal-fired power stations will all close in the next two or three decades. We know this because the companies that operate the 23 power stations currently operating nation-wide have told us so.

Despite the empty rhetoric of some, it is unlikely that the economic case for investing in new coal-fired power stations in Australia will stack up. Those who currently own and operate coal power stations have no plans to build new ones.

The bad news is that the transition in how we produce power will bring great change to the workers and communities we have relied on to provide Australian homes and industry with reliable energy over many decades.

The good news is that we have the lead time to make smart decisions about what that change looks like—or at least, we now have the lead time after being caught unprepared by earlier closures, including Hazelwood in 2017.We have the choice to manage this structural economic change so that individuals, families and regions aren’t abandoned to unemployment, low-value jobs, poverty and associated health and social decline. Even better, we have the evidence about what works to deliver just transitions for coal power workers and communities, with skills, jobs, opportunities and hope for the future.

Communities grow around power stations and the mines that supply them. They are unique communities bonded in many cases by history, geography, difficult and dangerous working conditions and good unionised jobs. They are also uniquely vulnerable in their heavy dependence on the coal power industry.

This analysis of transitions in resource economies internationally and here in Australia provides valuable insights into the ingredients of success and the wide scope of outcomes.The Appalachian region in the United States is a heart-breaking story of industry transition characterised by short-term, reactive and fragmented responses to closures of coal mines, resulting in entrenched, intergenerational poverty and social dysfunction.

Compare this with the transition away from a heavy reliance on coal mining in Germany’s Ruhr region, where forward planning, investment in industry diversification, staggering of mine closures and a comprehensive package of just transition measures delivered a major reshaping of the regional economy with no forced job losses.

Central to these vastly different outcomes is the presence of a national, coordinated response. To this end, a major recommendation of this report is the establishment of a national, independent statutory authority to plan, coordinate and manage the transition.

In the energy debate to date, the impact of the transition on workers and communities has been almost completely ignored. This is an omission we can’t afford. After all, the costs of investing in a Just Transition need to be balanced against the costs of doing nothing and abandoning whole communities to a bleak future.

While global trends suggest that Australian export coal for steelmaking and energy production will be in demand for decades to come, coal-fired power generation in Australia is winding down. On the information available, there are no excuses for not taking action to protect the best interests of those affected.</p.

I thank Peter Sheldon and the team at UNSW Sydney’s Industrial Relations Research Centre for this important piece of work. I call on all power industry stakeholders to engage with its findings and consider how we can work together to deliver a Just Transition for coal power workers and communities.

Read the report (PDF).

Beyond Coal by 2030

By Florent Marcellesi and Joanna Flisowska - Green European Journal, November 29, 2018

The COP24 climate talks in Katowice, Poland are set to start on December 2. This year, the negotiations follow a clear warning from the global climate science community, which highlighted in the recent IPCC report that urgent steps are needed to slow global warming. Without action, the world faces the grim prospect of extreme weather events and a massive loss of species. Florent Marcellesi, Green MEP, and Joanna Flisowska, coal policy coordinator at Climate Action Network Europe, discuss COP, the energy global transition, and the gender dimension of climate change.

Green European Journal: In a matter of days, almost 200 countries will meet in Katowice, a city at the heart of a Polish coal mining region, to try and finalise the details of how the Paris Agreement will be put into force. Increasingly, the main timeline for taking steps to keep the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees, preferably to 1.5, now seems impossible. Where are we going into the talks?

Joanna Flisowska: The objective of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees was in the Paris agreement from the very beginning. But with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, we found out just how urgent it has become to act on climate change. The report brings the impact of climate change beyond the 1.5-degree mark to light and shows how disastrous and far-reaching it will be.

Florent Marcellesi: The IPCC report is a tipping point. We can now clearly say that we have to go faster and act with greater ambition for two main reasons. First, the drastic consequences if we do not. In Spain, from now to the end of the century the soil could become a desert and Spanish people could end up as climate refugees. Second, the opportunities. Achieving the 1.5-degrees limit means people living healthier lives and the creation of new and better jobs. Climate change will have negative consequences for the economy and for identity, traditions, and culture too as it disrupts ways of life. But we must turn it into an opportunity and act with commitment to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement.

The IPCC report sets out some potential pathways for the world to stabilise global warming at 1.5 degrees. These depend on an unprecedented effort to cut fossil-fuel use, among which coal is a particularly high source of carbon emissions. How can we transition from coal to clean energy sources?

Joanna Flisowska: The way forward is somewhat different depending on whether we look at the global perspective or the EU one. The EU has to consider its historical contribution to today’s climate change and must therefore reduce emissions even faster than the rest of world. According to many scientific studies, the fastest and most effective way to stay on the path to 1.5 degrees is to phase out coal by 2030 at the latest. This assessment is certainly true and is why environmentalists are emphasising that coal has to be phased out in order for the EU to reduce its emissions in a timely and cost-effective manner. Today’s reliance on coal can be overcome through renewables, investments in energy efficiency, storage, and with better management of electricity networks.

Florent Marcellesi: We are phasing out of coal for two reasons. The first is economic: coal is not profitable right now. Many plants are closing simply because it cannot compete with renewables. But second, we need to phase out coal well before 2040 for ecological reasons. The IPCC was very clear on that point and, for Europe, a coal phase-out has to mean 2030 at the latest. In some countries like Spain, coal plants must be closed even earlier by 2025.

A Just and Fair Transition: For Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities

By staff - Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, October 2018

The devastating impacts of climate change are becoming clearer each year. More frequent and intense floods, storms, fires, heat waves, and droughts are destroying communities and homes, and putting the lives and futures of Canadians at risk. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report on global warming of 1.5°C shows that our window to prevent the worst-case scenario is quickly closing.

We do know what is causing climate change and we can do something about it. We need to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions released into our environment. There are several ways in which we can accomplish this, including wasting less energy and investing in cleaner energy sources. Businesses, scientists, governments, communities, and individuals in Canada and around the world are beginning to prove that you can reduce GHG emissions, invest in reliable and affordable clean energy, create decent jobs, and have stable economies.

Although coal-fired electricity has contributed significantly to Canada’s economic past and present—and provided Canadians with affordable and reliable electricity and heat for many generations—it produces significant amounts of air pollutants and GHG emissions. It has well documented costs to human health and is a major contributor to climate change: approximately 20% of all GHG emissions in the world came from coal-fired electricity in 2013.

Recognizing these facts, and supported by commitments in the 2015 Paris Agreement, Canada and other countries are intent on replacing coal-fired electricity with cleaner sources of fuel over the coming years and decades. In 2016, Canada committed to the phase-out of traditional coal-fired electricity across the country by 2030.

Phasing out coal-fired electricity, however, will have direct and indirect impacts on thousands of workers, dozens of communities, and four provinces, including:

  • Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia;
  • Nearly 50 communities with nearby coal mines or generating stations;
  • 3,000 to 3,900 workers at coal-fired generating stations and domestic thermal coal mines;
  • Over a dozen generating stations, owned by six employers;
  • Nine mines, owned by three employers.

In reality, the phase-out of coal fired electricity generation is already underway, especially in Alberta.

The extensive personal and societal impacts of the phase-out of coal-fired electricity are reasons why the labour movement has been advocating for a just transition alongside Canada’s efforts to reduce GHG emissions. We cannot leave affected workers and communities behind during the transition to a low-carbon economy. They too must have hope for the future.

Read the report (Link).

A Guide for Trade Unions: Involving Trade Unions in Climate Action to Build a Just Transition

By staff - European Trade Union Confederation, September 2018

A guide to a ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy is published by the European Trade Union Confederation on May 15.

The 48 page document ‘Involving trade unions in climate action to build a just transition’ contains

  • Recommendations for economic diversification and industrial policy, skills, social protection and governance for a socially just transition
  • Information on how trade unions can and have been engaged in shaping national climate action
  • Examples of innovative projects that can inspire a more just transition

Key recommendations include

  • Promote economic diversification in regions and industries most affected by the transition
  • Negotiate agreements at sectoral and company level to map the future evolution of skills needs and the creation of sectoral skills councils
  • Establish dialogue with all relevant stakeholders and regional authorities to identify and manage the social impacts of climate policies
  • Promote the establishment of adequate social protection systems
  • Unions and workers should assess the risks linked to ‘stranded assets’

The guide shows that up to half of trade unions have NOT been consulted on sectoral decarbonisation strategies, but over 75% were consulted on long-term decarbonisation strategies for 2050.

Read the report (PDF).

Green Conflict Minerals: The fuels of conflict in the transition to a low-carbon economy

By Clare Church and Alec Crawford - International Institute for Sustainable Development, August 2018

The mining sector will play a key role in the transition toward a low-carbon future.

The technologies required to facilitate this shift, including wind turbines, solar panels and improved energy storage, all require significant mineral and metal inputs and, absent any dramatic technological advances or an increase in the use of recycled materials, these inputs will come from the mining sector. How they are sourced will determine whether this transition supports peaceful, sustainable development in the countries where strategic reserves are found or reinforces weak governance and exacerbates local tensions and grievances.

Through extensive desk-based research, a mapping analysis, stakeholder consultations, case studies and an examination of existing mineral supply chain governance mechanisms, this report seeks to understand how the transition to a low-carbon economy—and the minerals and metals required to make that shift—could affect fragility, conflict and violence dynamics in mineral-rich states.

For the minerals required to make the transition to a low-carbon economy, there are real risks of grievances, tensions and conflicts emerging or continuing around their extraction. In order to meet global goals around sustainable development and climate change mitigation, while contributing to lasting peace, the supply chains of these strategic minerals must be governed in a way that is responsible, accountable and transparent.

Read the report (Link).

The Sky’s Limit California: why the Paris Climate Goals demand that California lead in a managed decline of oil extraction

By Kelly Trout, et. al. - Oil Change International, May 22, 2018

This study examines the implications of the Paris Agreement goals for oil production and climate leadership in California.

California’s leaders, including Governor Jerry Brown, have been vocal supporters of the Paris Agreement. Yet, California presently has no plan to phase out its oil and gas production in line with Paris-compliant carbon budgets. Under the Brown administration, the state has permitted the drilling of more than 20,000 new wells, including extraction and injection wells.

We provide new data findings related to:

  • The climate implications of ongoing permitting of new oil wells in California;
  • The ways that a managed decline of existing wells can prioritize health and equity; and
  • Elements of a just transition for affected workers and communities.

We recommend that the state take the following actions:

  • Cease issuing permits for new oil and gas extraction wells;
  • Implement a 2,500-foot health buffer zone around homes, schools, and hospitals where production must phase out;
  • Develop a plan for the managed decline of California’s entire fossil fuel sector to maximize the effectiveness of the state’s climate policies; and
  • Develop a transition plan that protects people whose livelihoods are affected by the economic shift, including raising dedicated funds via a Just Transition Fee on oil production.

As a wealthy oil producer, California is well positioned to take more ambitious action to proactively phase out its fossil fuel production and has a responsibility to do so in order to fulfill its commitment
to climate leadership. By taking these steps, California would become the first significant oil and gas producer globally to chart a path off fossil fuel production in line with climate limits.

Download (PDF).

Ecosocialism or Bust

By Thea Riofrancos, Robert Shaw, Will Speck - Jacobin, April 20, 2018

At this past February’s “Alternative Models of Ownership Conference” hosted by the Labour Party in London, party leader Jeremy Corbyn asserted the centrality of energy policy to his vision of socialism: “The challenge of climate change requires us to radically shift the way we organize our economy.” He outlined a radical vision of an energy system powered by wind and solar, organized as a decentralized grid, democratically controlled by the communities that rely on it, and — crucially — publicly owned.

Corbyn’s declaration laid out an exciting and ambitious vision of how socialists can press on climate change. But it also served as a reminder that socialists need to get serious about the politics of energy — lest disaster capitalism continue to shape energy policy. We must get involved in concrete campaigns to transform how energy is governed and push for a just transition to renewable sources. The terrain of energy politics is multifaceted, comprising the production, transformation, distribution, and consumption of energy. Energy sources such as coal, oil, natural gas, biomass, hydropower, sunlight, and wind each entail distinct social and environmental costs related to their extraction or capture, and their subsequent transformation into usable electricity. Electrical grids connect energy production and transformation to its sites of consumption. Grids encompass both the high-voltage transmission of electricity from where it’s generated to population centers, and the direct distribution of that electricity to homes and businesses. In the US, beginning in the early 1990s, energy deregulation encouraged a separation in ownership between energy generation and its distribution, resulting in an increasingly complex set of state-level markets of competing energy providers, which in turn sell energy to the private, public, or cooperatively owned utilities.

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