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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).

Take the Plant, Save the Planet (article)

By Russ Christianson - The Bullet, September 22, 2019.

It is a tragic irony that General Motors (GM) chose its hundredth anniversary in Oshawa to announce the December 2019 closure of its Oshawa assembly plant. This means the loss of over 15,000 jobs in Ontario: 2,200 GM assembly jobs, 300 salaried positions, 500 temporary contract positions, 1,000 inside and 1,000 outside supplier jobs, and a related 10,400 multiplier jobs. The closure of Oshawa’s assembly plant is estimated to decrease Ontario’s GDP by $4-billion per year until 2030, also reducing federal and provincial revenues by about $1-billion a year.1

Over the months following the November 26, 2018 plant closure announcement, GM and Unifor (formerly the Canadian Auto Workers’ union) negotiated the Oshawa Transformation Agreement (May 2019)2 that promises:

  • 300 stamping and parts assembly jobs and a $170-million investment.
  • Donating the 87-acre Mclaughlin Bay Reserve to the City of Oshawa.
  • A 55-acre test track for autonomous vehicles.

It has yet to be seen, whether GM will keep its promise. But even if they do, it will still mean losing over 13,000 jobs and a major hit to the economy.

This preliminary feasibility study offers an alternative. The Government of Canada can provide the leadership to acquire the GM Oshawa assembly plant and repurpose the production to building battery electric vehicles (BEVs). There is a strong business case for this alternative, based on a triple bottom line analysis that considers the economic, social and environmental benefits:

  • A public investment estimated at $1.4 to $1.9-billion to acquire and retool the Oshawa assembly plant for BEV production, and potentially manufacturing other products.
  • Manufacturing and selling an estimated 150,000 BEVs in the first five years of production, for total sales of $5.8-billion.
  • Estimated government procurement of one quarter of the BEVs produced in the first four years, representing about 23,000 vehicles with an estimated value of $900-million.
  • Reaching a breakeven point in year 4, and making a modest profit in year 5.
  • Creating over 13,000 jobs: up to 2,900 manufacturing-related (including 600 parts supplier jobs) and over 10,000 multiplier jobs.
  • Decreasing CO2 emissions by 400,000 metric tonnes by year 5.

Broadening Engagement With Just Transition: Opportunities and Challenges

By Robin Webster and Dr Christopher Shaw - Climate Outreach, September 2019

The idea of just transition first emerged in the 1970s, when US union leader Tony Mazzocchi1 proposed that people whose jobs were threatened by nuclear disarmament should be compensated for the loss. In the 1990s Mazzocchi broadened the argument to refer to workers in environmentally damaging jobs, whose employment is affected by new policies aiming to reduce pollution.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) now defines just transition as reducing emissions while ensuring “decent work, social inclusion and poverty eradication.” Its basic elements, according to ITUC, include public and private investment to create green jobs, advance planning to compensate for the negative impacts of climate policies and opportunities for retraining for people whose jobs are affected.

A wide range of groups - including environmental NGOs, labour justice groups and policymakers - have since adopted the idea and it is codified in international climate policy. The preamble to the 2015 Paris Agreement requires the international community to take into account “the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs” and the European Commission aims to bring more focus on “social fairness” in tackling climate change.

Just transition is an important concept; a tool for facilitating dialogue between different stakeholders and challenging the discourse of ‘jobs versus climate.’ As one report puts it, it has the potential to be “at the heart of a powerful narrative of hope, tolerance and justice; a narrative that is grounded in people’s actual lived experiences and aspires to guide collective action while simultaneously giving rise to tangible alternatives.”

It is also important from a pragmatic perspective. Recent events - including the Gilets Jaunes protest against a government proposal to raise fuel prices in France and President Trump’s championing of jobs in the US coal industry as a reason for pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement - demonstrate the need to seek social consent for the low-carbon transition, or risk it being undermined.

The term itself, however, is little used outside the policy and technical literature, and hardly used at all in the global South, where it may conflict with other strong cultural narratives - for example the need for poorer countries to develop and use more energy.10 In countries where the idea is more current, only a limited amount of research has been carried out exploring what the idea of just transition means to the communities it is meant to help.

Yet the idea of ‘social dialogue’ between governments, businesses, trade unions and civil society is at the core of just transition, according to many unions.12 Social dialogue means engaging in discussions about what transition means for people’s lives and sense of identity; for jobs, communities and place.13 If just transition is to move from pages of policy reports into reality, then attention needs to be paid to how to frame the dialogue between advocates of a low-carbon economy, and those who are likely to be most fundamentally affected.

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.

A Just Transition to a Greener, Fairer Economy

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trades Union Congress, July 2019

The trade union movement recognises that there is overwhelming scientific evidence of the need to decarbonise our economy. Energy-intensive industries, including the energy, transport, manufacturing and construction sectors, will be key to achieving this transition, but this is a project that will require change right across our economy, and trade union members have the expertise to deliver it. The voices of workers who are at the forefront of dealing with the challenge of climate change must be at the centre of achieving a successful transition to the economy we will need.

Such a change, if left to solely to the market, could have massive economic and social consequences, in terms of jobs, skills and knowledge lost and communities destroyed. We need a different approach to the failed neoliberal approach of the 1980s, which left workers behind, and communities devastated.

The international trade union movement has called for a ‘just transition’ to a greener economy, where new jobs that are just as good in terms of pay, skills, pensions and trade union recognition replace those that are lost. Following union pressure, the concept of a just transition was included in the preamble to the 2015 Paris Agreement and in the Silesia Declaration at the climate talks in 2018.

The move to a low-carbon economy has implications and potential opportunities for industrial policy and the quality of employment. However, the opportunities will not be realised unless the workers most affected have a seat at the table where key decisions are taken. They should be able to contribute to solutions, not be told after decisions have been made.

Read the report (PDF).

Solidarity for Climate Action

By staff - Blue Green Alliance, July 2019

Americans face the dual crises of climate change and increasing economic inequality, and for far too long, we’ve allowed the forces driving both crises to create a wedge between the need for economic security and a living environment. We know this is a false choice—we know that we can and must have both, and we need a bold plan to address both simultaneously.

Many solutions are already being put into place across the country. For example, tradespeople built the Block Island offshore wind project off the coast of Rhode Island, autoworkers are on the factory floors building cleaner cars and trucks in Michigan, and previously unemployed workers in St. Louis and Los Angeles are gaining access to high-skilled jobs in energy efficiency retrofitting, pipefitting, and transit manufacturing, while mine workers are extracting palladium to be used in catalytic converters. These are all good, union jobs building a clean energy and climate-resilient economy today.

At the same time, not enough of the new jobs that have been created or promised in the clean energy economy are high-quality, family-sustaining jobs, nor are these jobs in the same communities that have seen the loss of good-paying, union jobs.

Wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, and sea-level rise driven by climate change are hurting communities across the country and will only worsen if we don’t take decisive action. Lower income workers and communities of color are hit the hardest and are less able to deal with these impacts as wages have fallen and their economic mobility and power in the workplace has declined.

It is critical that working people are front and center as we create a new economy: one that values our work, our families, our communities, and our environment. It is with that imperative that we call for a new plan to create jobs and protect the environment for the next generation. This plan must respond to the climate crisis on the scale that science demands, while simultaneously addressing inequality in all its forms.

Read the report (PDF).

Just Transition at the Intersection of Labour and Climate Justice Movements: Lessons from the Portuguese Climate Jobs Campaign

By Chrislain Eric Kenfack - University of Alberta, 2019

In the current context of climate change and its accompanying adverse effects on natural, human and social systems, the imperative of transitioning to low- and preferably post-carbon societies has become a non-negotiable reality if we want to avoid reaching the point of no return in terms of environmental and climate catastrophe. Such a transition requires that the interests and needs of workers and their communities be taken into consideration to make sure they do not bear the heaviest part of the burden in terms of loss of jobs and means of survival, and that they are prepared to face the new, post-carbon labour environment.

The concept of Just Transition was coined to describe both the socio-political project put forward by trade unions in response to climate change, and the recognition by climate activists that the livelihoods and security of workers and their communities must be ensured during the transition to a post-carbon society. However, just transition movements are divided between two quite different orientations, which are labelled “affirmative” and “transformative.” On the one hand, affirmative just transition advocates envisage a transition within the current political-economic system. Transformative just transition activists, on the other hand, envisage a post-capitalist transition.

This article, drawing upon an extensive case study of the Portuguese climate jobs campaign, goes beyond showing how these orientations shape the positions taken by union and climate activists. The article also analyses how the conflicts and cooperation between these key actors can shed light on the possibilities and/or limitations of just transition as a framework for the collective action needed to achieve rapid, deep decarbonisation of economies in the Global North context.

Read the report (PDF).

18 Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make the Climate Mobilization Work

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, 2019

The Green New Deal projects a broad vision of creating a climate-safe America through an economic and social mobilization on a scale not seen since the New Deal and World War II.

That mobilization can provide a historic opportunity to create millions of good, high-wage jobs, virtually eliminate poverty, provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security, and counteract systemic injustices. So far discussion about the Green New Deal has rightly focused on values and goals. But there are many practical problems that will have to be solved as well.

The LNS discussion paper 18 Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make the Climate Mobilization Work lays out how the Green New Deal can realize its goals.

Read the report (PDF).

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