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Public energy companies necessary for a fair transition

By Dries Goedertier - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, April 19, 2021

The debacle with the reversing electricity meter [also called “net-metering” in many contexts — a billing mechanism that credits solar capacity owners for electricity they feed into the grid] shows the limits of Flemish energy policy, which places the responsibility for the much-needed energy transition in the hands of the individual as consumer, investor and entrepreneur. For a socially just and democratic energy transition, the necessary efforts of energy cooperatives will not be sufficient. Only the state can regain control of the energy sector on behalf of, and for the benefit of, society as a whole.

Flemish energy policy has recently suffered from a severe heat stroke. The Constitutional Court has put an end to the reversing electricity meter. The decision dealt a heavy blow to those families who, after the (apparently worthless) guarantees of a bunch of liberal energy ministers about the legality of this particular support scheme, decided to install solar panels on their roofs before the deadline of January 1, 2021. Many of them feel cheated and that is certainly understandable. However, a critical inquiry should not stop there. The whole debacle shows the limits of an energy policy that places the responsibility for the much-needed energy transition in the hands of the individual as a consumer, investor and entrepreneur. 

“The sun has become a neoliberal investment product,” stated Dirk Holemans (Oikos). Holemans, together with Dirk Vansintjan (Ecopower & REScoop.EU), is arguing for a shift to a collective model in which citizens pool their resources and capacities in energy cooperatives. There is indeed a lot to be said for that. After all, energy cooperatives have a lot to offer in terms of democratic, social and ecological benefits. 

If we really want to democratize the energy sector in function of social and environmental objectives, then public energy companies will have to play a major part

In my opinion, however, the admirable self-organization of thousands of citizens will not be enough to break the dominance of the current for-profit energy model. The market power of the established players is simply too great for that. Only the state has the capacities, resources and potentially democratic legitimacy to regain control of the energy sector on behalf of and for the benefit of society as a whole. 

If we really want to democratize the energy sector in the service of social and ecological objectives, then public energy companies will have to play a major part. This does not have to be at the expense of energy cooperatives, as is sometimes incorrectly claimed. I am convinced that energy cooperatives in a public-driven model of energy democracy will actually have more opportunities to unleash their potential. But in order for that to happen, we must dare to question the liberalization of the energy sector. 

Nordic and German unions collaborate, aim to be Just Transition "frontrunners"

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 18, 2021

The Road to a Carbon-Free Europe. Each country report, about 25 pages, summarizes the national climate goals and policies, especially as related to Just Transition, for Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland , Norway, and Sweden. A Synthesis Report brings together the main findings, and presents the resulting policy recommendations, jointly adopted by the Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS) and the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) in November and December 2020.

The Synthesis Report calls for holistic climate change policies to navigate the broad-based transformation of society that will result from climate change, incorporating Just Transition principles as outlined by the ILO Decent Work Agenda and its four pillars: social dialogue, social protection, rights at work and job creation. Because Germany and the Nordic countries are export-oriented economies dependent on trade, and facing similar challenges in the emissions-heavy sectors of their economies, the report sees many common opportunities for zero-emission innovations and technology.

The Road Towards a Carbon Free Society: A Nordic-German Trade Union Cooperation on Just Transition

By Dr Philipp Fink - Friedrich Ebrt Stiftung, December 2020

This project, “The Road Towards a Carbon Free Society A Nordic-German Trade Union Cooperation on Just Transition”, is a collaboration between the Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS), the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES) and the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB).

Represented by the Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS) in the project are 13 national Trade Union Confederations within NFS, from five Nordic Countries: Denmark (FH, Akademikerne), Finland (SAK, STTK), Iceland (ASÍ, BSRB, BHM), Norway (LO-N, Unio, YS) and Sweden (LO-S, TCO, Saco).

About the reports

A total of six country reports on the Just Transition path of the participating countries (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) have been formulated.

Each contains an analysis of the climate policies, economic and societal consequences, an evaluation of the respective national instruments and offers European perspectives.

The main findings of the country reports are brought together in a synthesis. It features policy recommendations that aim to help guide the transition to a decarbonised society and an economy that is just and sustainable. The reports and their results are presented and discussed in a series of events nationally as well as in terms of Nordic and European cooperation and at the international level.

Synthesis

A Just Transition towards a carbon neutral future is the most urgent environmental, social and economic issue of our times. This project aims to develop strategies and requirements from a trade union perspective on how to manage the process to a carbon free society.

The participating labour organisations are united in their vision that this goal can only be reached if the social costs of this transition process are socially mitigated.

This means harmonising efforts to combat climate change with the aim of ensuring decent working and living conditions.

To this end, the participating labour organisations have not only analysed their respective countries’ transition path towards a fossil free future but have also formulated joint policy recommendations for the national and European arenas, jointly adopted by the NFS and the DGB in November and December 2020.

The ensuing discussions and debate have strengthened the cooperation and dialogue between the Nordic and the German trade union movements on common challenges and solutions.

Read the text (Link).

(Working Paper #13) Transition in Trouble?: The Rise and Fall of "Community Energy" in Europe

By Sean Sweeney, John Treat and Irene HongPing Shen - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, March 2020

This TUED Working Paper explores the current crisis of local, community, and cooperative energy. Our focus is Europe where these types of initiatives have made the most progress but now find themselves facing an uncertain future. In this paper we will explain what happened, and why. The goals of this paper are twofold.

The first goal is to draw a clear line of demarcation between the bold claims being made in the name of local and community energy, “energy citizenship,” and similar concepts on the one hand, and the cur-rent reality on the other—a reality that largely confines local energy initiatives to the margins of energy systems. In the case of Europe, the distance between the claims and the reality is vast, and it is widening.

Local and community energy has attracted a lot of support and enthusiasm from activists, and it is not hard to understand why this is the case. Efforts to advance community energy are frequently carried out in the name of a commitment to social justice, advancing equality, and empowering ordinary people to take a more active role in the transition to a low carbon future. Additionally, the activists and organizations undertaking such initiatives nearly always identify with a “values-driven” mission and aim to rise above considerations of personal gain or private profit.

For a period, it seemed that such initiatives were emerging everywhere across Europe. The growth of renewable energy and the proliferation of citizen and community ownership seemed to be in-separable from each other. Spurred on by falling costs of wind and solar technologies, a radical transition in energy ownership—and a shift in control away from large energy companies to small producers and consumers—seemed not only possible, but perhaps even imminent.

But recent policy changes in Europe have placed community energy into a pattern of decline. The removal of subsidies, particularly the Feed-in Tariff, and other incentives has led to a dramatic slow-down in local energy initiatives and cooperatives. The number of households installing solar photovoltaic panels (solar PV) has slowed to a crawl as onshore wind projects have also declined. While offshore wind installations are increasing, the total level of investment and deployment of renew-able energy in Europe has fallen dramatically.

Read the report (PDF).

The Sky's Limit: Why Denmark Must Phase Out North Sea Oil and Gas Extraction

By Bronwen Tucker, et. al. - Oil Change International, September 2019

Over the past thirty years, Denmark has positioned itself as a global climate leader through its policies to support wind power, district heating, and energy efficiency, amongst other actions.5Building on this, in June 2019, the newly elected Danish government committed to a new climate target of reducing emissions 70 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, surpassing its previous goal of 40 percent by 2020.

However, Denmark’s plans to expand North Sea oil and fossil gas extraction undermine this record of climate action. This is because the potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operatingfields and mines would already fully exhaust and exceed carbon budgets consistent with the Paris goals. Simply put, we cannot afford to bring new extraction online — in Denmark or anywhere else.

This report applies these stark global carbon budget limits to the outlook for oil and gas production in Denmark. We find that Denmark’s plans to allow new North Sea oil and gas projects in the 2020s and 2030s would undermine its aspirations of climate leadership. The carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning Danish-produced oil and gas would be substantial, overtaking Denmark’s total expected domestic CO2 emissions from energy by mid-2025 (see Figure 1, with details on the domestic reduction curves in Section 1). In other words, if current plans to expand North Sea extraction are left unaddressed, Denmark will either (a) meet its domestic emissions targetsbut export oil and gas with associated emissions that overshadow this domestic progress, or (b) fail to meet its emissions targets and continue to consume more oil and gas domestically than is Paris-aligned.

Source: Oil Change International analysis based on data from Rystad UCube, Danish Energy Agency, and 92 Group.8There is a cumulative 665 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 associated with Danish oil and gas between 2019 and 2050. Of these potential CO2 emissions, 401 Mt of CO2 would come from new projects yet to be developed that would peak between the mid-2020s and mid-2030s. This means over 60 percent of anticipated emissions related to Denmark’s oil and gas extraction in the coming decades are not yet committed — the projects they are associated with will either require new licenses from the Danish government or final investment decisions (and final government approval) to be developed.

Read the report (PDF).

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