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Paris Climate Agreement

No-one Left Behind: Australia’s Transition to Zero Emissions

By staff - Australian Council of Trade Unions, November 25, 2020

The ACTU and Australian unions have been engaged in Australia’s climate and energy policy development for nearly three decades. Our consistent position has been that Australia needs ambitious and coherent climate and energy policy to limit the impacts of global warming, and that we also need industry planning, support and resources to ensure that no workers or communities are left behind as we make the shift to net zero emissions.

In March 2020, the ACTU Executive, meeting in bushfire-affected southern NSW, reiterated:

“The international community, through the Paris Agreement, has committed to limiting the rise in temperatures to below 2°C above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees.

The best scientific evidence is that the world needs to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 to meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, to which Australia is and should remain a signatory.
The ACTU supports a national target of net zero emissions by 2050, and shorter term targets consistent with that trajectory, to ensure Australia meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Government and corporations must ensure secure jobs and industry policy are placed at the heart of successful planning and implementation. As a nation we must ensure we deliver justice & employment opportunities for impacted workers, their families and the communities in which they live.”

Australia has lacked coherent and over-arching national climate and energy policy since the Clean Energy Act 2011 and its associated programs was repealed by the Coalition government. Since then emissions reductions have flat-lined and it is unclear how Australia will meet even its unambitious Paris Agreement 2030 commitment. Meanwhile fossil fuel power stations have been closing over the past decade with very little notice for workers and communities and no coordinated national transition plan to address the impacts of closures. Workers across the nation are increasingly experiencing climate impacts and extreme weather events in their workplaces with Work Health and Safety legislation and programs failing to catch up.

Given this lack of coherent climate and energy policy, the ACTU welcomes the Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020, which shares the union movement’s goal of limiting global warming consistent with the Paris Agreement and achieving net zero emissions across the Australian economy by 2050.

Read the text (PDF).

Debt Relief for a Green and Inclusive Recovery

By Ulrich Volz, Shamshad Akthar, Kevin Gallagher, Stephany Griffith-Jones and Jörg Haas - Heinrich Böll Foundation; the Center for Sustainable Finance at SOAS, University of London; and Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center , November 16, 2020

The report “Debt Relief for Green and Inclusive Recovery published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation; the Center for Sustainable Finance at SOAS, University of London; and Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center proposes that low and middle-income countries with unsustainable debt burden receive substantial debt relief by public and private creditors, in order to provide fiscal space for investment in Covid-19-related health and social spending, climate adaptation and green economic recovery strategies. Private creditors participating in the debt restructuring would swap their old debt holdings with a haircut for new “Green Recovery Bonds”. 

This proposal goes further than the new common framework endorsed by the G20 and Paris Club last Friday, as it would ask for mandatory participation from the private sector. Second, it would include middle-income countries with unsustainable debt burdens. Thirdly, the proposed Debt Relief for Green and Inclusive Recovery Initiative is geared to achieving the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which the common framework is not.

Governments receiving debt relief would need to commit firmly to reforms that align their policies and budgets with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. For these countries to have continued access to international capital markets, any new debt issued by them could receive Brady-type credit enhancement – suitably adapted to current circumstances – in exchange for committing to Sustainable Development Goals-aligned spending items.

Read the text (PDF).

Read Background Briefing #2 (PDF).

Sharing the Benefits With Workers: A Decent Jobs Agenda for the Renewable Energy Industry

By staff - Australian Council of Trade Unions, November 2020

Driven by the imperative of climate change, rapid technological development and ageing fossil fuel generation, global energy markets are changing rapidly.

Australia is not immune to these changes. Our electricity and gas markets and networks are undergoing a dramatic and at times chaotic transformation with no enduring overarching national planning, policy or coordination. Despite this the renewable energy industry has experienced rapid growth over the past decade, to the point where the ABS estimates it employed nearly 27,000 Australians in 2018/19. This growth in renewable energy jobs is being replicated globally and is predicted to accelerate over coming years due to declining renewable energy technology costs, converging global efforts to slow global warming and the retirement of ageing fossil fuel plant. The future competitiveness of energy-intensive industries such as mining, metals smelting, recycling and manufacturing is also increasingly dependent upon having access to low emissions, low cost electricity.

Section 2 of this ACTU report briefly summarises the extent and types of employment in Australia’s renewable energy sector, and the characteristics of those jobs. It explores the industry’s growth prospects and the current status of deployment of large- and small-scale renewable energy technologies. The changing drivers for new investment in renewable energy projects are discussed including the growing influence of voluntary purchasers of, and investors in, renewable energy who will be looking to ensure renewable energy projects deliver maximum community benefits and good quality jobs.

Section 3 outlines why unions have had concerns about the quality of renewable energy jobs and why the industry needs to pay more attention to this aspect of its social licence. In large part the union movement’s experience has been that many new renewable energy jobs have been short-term, insecure and poorly paid, compared with the permanent, secure, well-paid and unionised jobs in coal, oil and gas that often underpin regional economies. It explores some of the structural and operational challenges that need to be overcome to make the renewable energy industry an industry of choice for workers. Particular attention is paid to the current practice of outsourcing construction of renewable energy projects to labour hire contractors, which is where many of the poor employment practices occur, and to ensuring project developers are maximising local job creation through procurement, hiring and local content planning.

Section 4 provides some examples of both best and worst cases of labour standards in the industry and highlights some issues particular to the small scale solar industry.

The report concludes in section 5 with an agenda developed by Australian unions to improve the quality and security of jobs in the renewable energy sector so that a low carbon future delivers secure and sought-after jobs for the current and future generations of Australian workers. This best practice agenda, if adopted, will establish Australia’s renewable energy industry on solid foundations to support the growth and competitiveness of the industry and will ensure the benefits of renewable energy projects are more fully shared with workers, their families and communities through guaranteed local jobs and stronger employment conditions.

Australian unions are ready and willing to work in partnership with Australia’s renewable energy industry, governments and the energy sector to ensure a successful energy transition that creates good quality jobs across the country and a bright future for the industry. We look forward to working with the renewables industry, renewable energy purchasers and investors and governments to achieve this vision.

Read the text (PDF).

A Great Victory Has Been Won over Fossil Capital

By Ulf Jarnefjord - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 28, 2020

On Monday, September 28, 2020, Sweden’s largest oil refinery, Preem, decided to withdraw its application for an expansion of its refinery in Lysekil on the Swedish west coast.

After massive protests from the climate and environmental movement for several years, Preem announced that they had withdrawn their application to expand the oil refinery in Lysekil. This is a great benefit for the climate, for democracy, for the environmental movement, and for everyone’s future. The message is that activism pays off.

It would have been completely irresponsible to further expand fossil fuels when we are in a climate emergency, and time is running out quickly for the small carbon budget that remains. We have just 7 years to limit emissions in line with the 1.5-degree target.

In the days before the announcement, Greenpeace had blocked the port of Lysekil with its ship Rainbow Warrior, to prevent an oil tanker from entering the port and unloading its cargo. Climate activists from Greenpeace also climbed and chained themselves to the cranes at the crude oil terminal.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg has Tweeted that Preem’s decision to suspend the expansion of the oil refinery in Lysekil is a “huge victory for the climate and the environmental movement,” since otherwise it would have been impossible to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The youth organization Fridays For Future emphasizes that it is not time to pay tribute to the oil giant: “This decision is not because Preem has suddenly acquired a moral compass. Preem is still an oil company and we should not allow them to use this decision as a way to paint themselves green and appear responsible. We will ensure that this becomes a turning point for the fossil fuel industry in Sweden and serves as an example when Preem starts planning new environmental crimes.”

If we are to succeed in reducing emissions and meet our commitments in accordance with the Paris Agreement as quickly as necessary, there is also no choice between “better” and “worse” fossil fuels. We must invest all our resources in completely dismantling the entire fossil fuel economy, quickly. It is not possible to consider heavy oil as a useful residual product when we know that the oil must remain in the ground.

Not Zero: How ‘net zero’ targets disguise climate inaction

By staff - Act!onAid, et. al., October 2020

Far from signifying climate ambition, the phrase “net zero” is being used by a majority of polluting governments and corporations to evade responsibility, shift burdens, disguise climate inaction, and in some cases even to scale up fossil fuel extraction, burning and emissions. The term is used to greenwash business-as-usual or even business-more-than-usual. At the core of these pledges are small and distant targets that require no action for decades, and promises of technologies that are unlikely ever to work at scale, and which are likely to cause huge harm if they come to pass.

This joint briefing highlights concerns that many governments and corporations are jumping on the bandwagon and declaring “net zero” climate targets.

These announcements might sound like they signify ambitious climate action. But unfortunately, the “net” in “net zero” is being used to green-wash weak climate targets, and could end up driving huge land grabs, particularly in the global South.

Instead of accepting “net zero” targets at face value, civil society and media must scrutinise these announcements to assess whether they signify real climate action.

Read the text (PDF).

‘Troubling Incrementalism’: Is the Canadian Pension Plan Fund Doing Enough to Advance the Transition to a Low-carbon Economy?

Transition from Crisis

By staff - Victorian Trades Hall Council, August 2020

With workers and unions leading the transformation of the economy, we will not only help to avoid the worst effects of climate change, it will lead to a more just society in which workers have a much greater share of the wealth they create. This is a moment in time in which we can reduce inequality, increase control over our own working lives, and have our economy work in the interests of everyday people. Without workers and unions playing this leading role, we risk either climate and economic breakdown or a transformation that is authoritarian, gives priority to the interests of capital over workers, and replicates the economic, social and political injustices that characterise the world today.

There are few more important issues facing workers in Victoria than how our economy is restructured and rebuilt in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis to reduce the risks of climate change and to manage the effects of the warming that is already locked in to the climate system.

Climate change affects all workers, but in different ways. Health professionals like nurses, and emergency services workers like fire fighters and paramedics, are on the frontlines of the response to extreme weather and disasters and at the same time managing the pressures of other crises, like COVID-19. Public sector workers must manage everything from fire reconstruction work to welfare support to coordinating pandemic responses, often after years of federal funding cuts. In drought-affected communities, local workers can be hurt by the economic decline caused by lack of water, which has also led to closures of businesses such as dairy farming. Construction workers and farm workers must deal with the increasing number of hot days, often resulting in a downturn in industry productivity.

COVID-19 and its economic fallout have demonstrated that in times of crisis it is far too often women who disproportionally bear the brunt, both in job losses and also as frontline workers acting in response. It has also shown us that crises – whether climate or health related - exacerbate existing inequities, meaning those in insecure work, the low-paid, the disabled, migrant workers and First Nations communities are disproportionately affected. For instance, the link between insecure employment and the spread of the virus is now acknowledged by health authorities and the Victorian Government: workers without paid sick leave are more likely to go to work while sick. This tells us that in preparing for the challenges and likely crises of the future, including those climate-related, the elimination of these inequities and inequalities must be given high priority.

All of us will have to learn how to cope with a changing climate. But managing the economic restructuring that will be necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change will be particularly important for workers and unions. Workers and their unions know only too well what happens when individual firms or industries are restructured without workers or unions having a proper say: it’s workers who pay the price.

Read the text (PDF).

Jobs in a net-zero emissions future in Latin America and the Caribbean

By Catherine Saget, Adrien Vogt-Schilb, and Trang Luu - International Labor Organization, July 29, 2020

A green and inclusive recovery is essential to help confront the climate crisis and build a better future. If we do not act now, the same vulnerabilities that exposed workers and enterprises to the pandemic will expose them to the climate crisis. The ILO estimates that 2.5 million Latin American and Caribbean jobs could be lost to heat stress alone by 2030, affecting particularly outdoor workers in construction and agriculture, and street vendors. The IDB projects that by 2050, climate change damages could cost US$ 100 billion annually to the region.

But the future is not set in stone. As the global economy gradually restarts following the COVID-19 lockdown, now is the time to craft a more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable future. Progress is already being made. The IDB is working with countries to create strategies to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The ILO is also helping countries, their workers and enterprises prepare for the consequences on domestic labor markets. In recent years, with Getting to Net-Zero Emissions and Greening with Jobs, our institutions have shown that a green economy comes with job creation and other development benefits.

For this report, we have joined forces to identify where jobs can be created in Latin America and the Caribbean while transitioning to net-zero emissions. We have found impressive potential in sustainable agriculture, and in other sectors including forestry, renewable energy, construction, and manufacturing. This collaborative effort is the first to document how shifting to healthier and more sustainable diets, which reduce meat consumption while increasing plant-based foods, would create jobs while reducing pressure on the region’s unique biodiversity.

Read the text (Link).

Pipe Dreams: Why Canada’s proposed pipelines don’t fit in a low carbon world

By Axel Dalman and Andrew Grant - Carbon Tracker - July 2020

Carbon Tracker’s modelling shows no new oil sands are needed in a low carbon world.

Prospective pipeline projects represent a significant expansion of capacity, with taxpayer support. However, new pipelines are surplus to requirements under Paris Agreement demand levels.

Canadian authorities face the challenge of trying to reconcile their natural resources development plans with their positioning on climate. Canada has previously having shown leadership on climate change issues, but its government support for pipelines – which are reliant on the failure of the Paris Agreement – risks damaging its credibility.

Key Findings:

Our research has previously shown that no new oil sands projects are needed in a low carbon world. All unsanctioned oil sands projects are uncompetitive under both the International Energy Agency’s 1.7-1.8°C Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) and c.1.6°C Beyond 2 Degrees Scenario (B2DS).

All proposed new pipelines from Western Canada, in particular Keystone XL and Trans Mountain expansion, are surplus to requirements in a Paris-compliant world. Pipeline capacity may have proved a constraint in recent years, but under SDS, all future oil supplies from Western Canada can be accommodated by upgrades and replacements to existing pipelines, local refining and limited rail freight.

Even if discounts for Canadian crude narrow, new oil sands projects remain uneconomic. Western Canadian heavy oil trades at a steep discount to international benchmarks due to quality and transport challenges, averaging $25 below Brent over the last decade. Even if greater pipeline capacity reduces this to $10 in the future, in line with levels seen during previous periods of unconstrained supply, new projects still remain uneconomic under the SDS. Indeed, even if Canadian heavy oil were to trade at parity with Brent, which is extremely unlikely due to its lower quality, there would still be no new oil sands production under the B2DS and just 120,000 bbl/d would enter the market in the SDS – a level which would be covered by existing rail capacity.

Investors in oil sands face depressed cash flows in a low carbon world of falling oil demand and weak pricing, but will be forced to produce or pay the price due to inflexible “take-or-pay” transport fees for excess new pipeline capacity.

While take-or-pay contracts spread the impacts, pipeline investors still face financial risks as upstream production weakens. Uncontracted capacity will probably remain unused by producers, and contracts may cannibalise tariffs from other pipelines. Even take-or-pay commitments are subject to counterparty risk in a falling oil market.

The Canadian government’s stakes in Keystone XL and Trans Mountain could well prove to be a drain on the public purse. Under the SDS, government tax revenues and the value of the assets are unlikely to reach the levels anticipated at the time of sanction.

Canada’s leadership position on climate change may be undermined by its support for projects reliant on the failure of the Paris Agreement.

Read the report (Link).

A Fair Climate Policy for Workers: Implementing a just transition in various European countries and Canada

By Pia Björkbacka - The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK, June 26, 2020

Both the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the target of carbon neutrality by the year 2035 set out in the government programme of Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin refer to a just transition for workers towards a low-carbon society. Such a just transition has long been sought by the trade union movement and is an important condition for achieving ambitious climate policy objectives.

The programme of the Marin government states that the government will work with labour market organisations to harmonise economic and labour market policies. Achieving climate objectives will also require co-operation with the social partners, and sectoral assessments in particular.

A just transition has been selected as one approach to reaching the target of a carbon neutral Finland by 2035. The government will pledge to implement emission reduction measures in a socially and regionally equitable way that involves all sectors of society. The government programme envisages establishing a round table on climate policy in Finland under the committee on sustainable development. Bringing together the various actors in society will ensure that climate measures serve the general interests of society and enjoy broad public support.

(Government Programme of Prime Minister Marin 2019)

The implementation of climate policy is causing restructuring in various sectors, meaning that climate policy decisions and actions also have social implications.

The European Commission has estimated that mitigating climate change will create more jobs in the European Union than it will cost (European Commission, 2019), but the changes will be sectoral. Even though labour market restructuring – which is also guided by climate policy - is creating new employment opportunities, it also brings fears of unemployment.

Realising employment opportunities requires substantial investment in employee skills and innovation. It is very important for the benefits and costs of low-carbon restructuring to be evenly shared across various sectors, occupations, population groups and regions. Successfully transitioning to a carbon-neutral society will not only require emission reduction measures and business and energy policies, but also employment, social welfare, education and regional policies.

The principle of a just transition will seek to meet these challenges. This means implementing emission reductions in a way that is fair to workers. It is about creating new, decent and sustainable jobs, in-service training for new employment, and security of earnings. The goal of a just transition is to increase the participation and commitment of workers in deciding policies for mitigating climate change nationally, regionally and within businesses, thereby promoting a smooth transition to a carbon-neutral society.

Read the text (PDF).

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