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Renewable energy jobs continue steady growth to 12 million jobs worldwide, but more government intervention is recommended

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 26, 2021

In its first annual review published in 2013, the International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA) estimated 7.3 million people were directly and indirectly employed in the industry in 2012. According to the latest newly-released edition Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2021, that number has grown to 12 million people employed in 2020. Solar PV, both large and small-scale, is the largest sector, providing 4 million jobs. Wind energy now employs 1.25 million people, with an increasing number of people in operations and maintenance and in offshore wind energy sector. Only a fifth of wind energy workers are women, compared to 32% women in the whole renewable energy sector. In addition to detailed information about jobs, skills, and demographics, the report discusses policy needs, particularly for a just energy transition, and highlights IRENA’s modeling of the employment implications of energy transition scenarios to 2050. 

The report concludes with the policy discussion of what kinds of jobs and skills will be required, the need for decent jobs, and for urgency: “A speedy and co-ordinated approach requires governments to take on a much more proactive role, acting in the public interest and safeguarding broad social imperatives. This may occur through regulations and incentives, public investment strategies, and public ownership of transition-related assets and infrastructure (both at national and community levels).”

Worker’s events at COP26: virtual and in-person

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 26, 2021

Web editor's note: Although these events have all passed, we include this as a record of the union efforts surrounding COP26.

The UN Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow begins on October 31 and runs until November 12, with the world’s media in attendance to chronicle if the high expectations are being met. A good source of news from a Canadian perspective is Canada’s National Observer, which will send reporters to Glasgow, and whose coverage has already begun, here .

Some news from a worker’s point of view:

Climate Jobs: Building a workforce for the climate emergency will be released to coincide with COP26, by the Campaign against Climate Change, a coalition of U.K. unions . As of October 26, two chapters of the new report are available for free download: Warm homes, healthy workplaces: climate jobs in buildings and Creating a green, affordable and accessible network for all: climate jobs in transport. The new report updates their 2014 report, One Million Climate Jobs.

Another U.K. organization, the COP26 Coalition, is a broader, civil society coalition which includes environment and development NGOs, labour unions, grassroots community campaigns, faith groups, youth groups, migrant and racial justice networks. Their statement of demands is here . The Coalition is organizing a Global Day of Climate Justice on November 6 – with events in Canada happening in Toronto and in Quebec City , along with a related event in Sherbrooke Quebec on Nov. 5th .

In addition, COP26 Coalition has organized a People’s Climate Justice Summit  in Glasgow, composed of 150 sessions which will focus on indigenous struggles, racial justice, youth issues, and worker and labour union perspectives. Many, but not all, worker-related sessions will be held on November 8 as a “Just Transition Hub” – a full day of sessions hosted by the Friends of the Earth Scotland, Just Transition Partnership, Platform, STUC, TUC and War on Want. The full program, with the ability to register is here : those unable to travel to Glasgow can register as “Online- only” to receive a Zoom link for a livestream of some of the sessions. The online program includes the opening panel for the Just Transition Hub: “Here and Everywhere: Building our Power”, to be led by Asad Rehman, (War on Want), Sean Sweeney,(TUED), Roz Foyer, (STUC), and Denise Christie, (FBU). Other sessions available online include “UK climate jobs rooted in global solidarity and climate justice” and “Just Transition in Latin America, from Decarbonization to Transformation”.

In-person only sessions, which tend to have a U.K. focus, include: “Lessons from the Frontline: Climate crisis resistance from around the world”; “Are green jobs great jobs, or are green jobs rubbish jobs?”; “The Lucas Plan for Climate? How workers are fighting to future-proof industry”; “Geared Up: Campaigns for Greener Transport”; “Air tight: Campaigns for home retrofits”; “Organising the unorganised: tactics and strategies for power in new industries”; and “Changing workplaces, changing jobs: organising for power in unionised workplaces” – a training session led by Prospect union. Other sessions, outside of the Just Transition Hub, ( in-person only), include “Trade Unions and Climate Action”, a training session led by the Ella Baker School of Organizing and “International Trade Union Forum on Social and Ecological Transitions: what’s next?”, reporting on the International Trade Union Forum on Ecological and Social Transitions which took place for 6 days during June 2021, with more than 140 organizations from about 60 countries.

Green investment brings greater job creation, but job quality not guaranteed

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 26, 2021

The Green Jobs Advantage: How Climate-friendly Investments Are Better Job Creators  was co-published by the International Trade Union Confederation, the World Resources Institute and the New Climate Economy, and released in mid-October. The paper reviews a dozen studies from 2009 to 2020 and compares the job creation projections in Brazil, China, Indonesia, Germany, South Africa, South Korea, the United States and globally. The analysis of these studies compares near-term job effects from clean energy versus fossil fuels, public transportation versus roads, electric vehicles versus internal combustion engine vehicles, and nature-based solutions versus fossil fuels – with the conclusion that greener investments create more jobs, dollar for dollar. The report also addresses the issue of job quality, and notes that in developing countries, many jobs are informal and temporary, with limited access to work security, safety, or social protections. In developed countries, “new green jobs may have wages and benefits that aren’t as high as those in traditional sectors where, in many cases, workers have been able to fight for job quality through decades of collective action.” One conclusion: “ Government investment should come with conditions that ensure fair wages and benefits, work security, safe working conditions, opportunities for training and advancement, the right to organize, and accessibility to all.”

COP26: Trade Unions Must Fight for a Socialist Transition to Renewables

By Chris Baugh - The Bullet, October 26, 2021

The UK government is hosting the 26th United Nations Climate Change “Conference of the Parties” (COP26) in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed in 1988. Its latest report to the UN in August of this year contains even starker warnings for the Earth’s climate than previously, unless decisive action is taken to cut greenhouse emissions. Without this, there is little prospect of keeping an average global temperature increase below the 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius target in the 2015 COP21 Paris Agreement.

This was the first time an agreement had been reached on target reductions but it excluded major polluting industries like aviation and shipping and was devoid of any mechanism for implementing the targets. This reflects the global capitalist consensus that it is market mechanisms that will make the adjustment from fossil fuels to a zero carbon economy. This is despite the warning of Lord Stern who famously described climate change as “the biggest market failure in human history.”

Articles in the pages of The Socialist and Socialism Today have pointed out that it is capitalism’s insatiable pursuit of profit that has led us to this situation. Capitalism has shown itself unwilling and an actual impediment to the action on the timescale and scope required. An article published by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) gives recent evidence of how renewable energy companies are “party to a race to the bottom, capitalist dynamic.”

It cites the use of forced Uyghur labour in China-based solar companies and the ‘off-shoring’ of manufacturing for the Scottish wind industry. The large wind and solar companies prop up a market architecture that is sucking in huge amounts of public money to guarantee profit margins. The report is quoted as saying “these companies have not just gone over to the political dark side, they helped design it.”

While richer governments of US and Europe talk up their climate commitments, the solutions proposed will not fix the climate crisis. UK plans to transition to renewable energy are reliant upon an unprecedented wave of resource extraction from ‘Global South’ countries. Intensifying the mining of so-called transition metals and minerals used to produce green technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicle batteries, is devastating communities from Chile to China.

Britain’s oil and gas workers want a green transition – but the industry doesn’t

By Erik Dalhuijsen - The Guardian, October 23, 2021

I’ve worked in oil for decades, and seen what happens when jobs dry up with no plan B. Now industry leaders must face reality too.

Moving to a green energy system and a zero-emissions society without leaving people behind is an enormous challenge. Many oil and gas workers are actually ready for the change, but the oil and gas industry itself is slowing the process, holding back real progress.

Having worked in the oil industry in Aberdeen and abroad for decades, what I have seen feels like the industry applying all of its power to self-preservation, in the face of the immutable truths that fossil fuels will one day run out and that we must keep what of them remains in the ground.

Oil and gas workers need alternatives and fast. I have seen what happens in communities where oil and gas jobs dry up with no plan B in place. When the price of oil crashed in 2014, thousands of people in the region lost their job. I know former colleagues who used to work on multimillion-pound projects and are now unemployed or working in shops on the minimum wage.

I know that moving from oil and gas to renewables is possible. My skills helped me understand and troubleshoot the emissions models that underpin sustainable development plans. My skills allowed me to evaluate and optimise integrated renewable supply systems, and also decarbonise sewage treatment processes. Many people in the oil industry – including those who work offshore – have even more skills that can be transferred into the renewable energy sector, such as working on offshore wind farms.

But it still feels like the industry is refusing to adapt, all the while pretending to be leaders in “energy transition”. In the hope of selling more gas, the industry is pushing dirty (blue) hydrogen based on the yet-untested promise that carbon capture and storage will be able to remove any emissions at scale.

Our Oil Jobs Need Good Replacements: For a clean energy future, workers hear promises but not plans

By Norman Rogers - United Steelworkers Local 675, October 23, 2021

Just days after the latest oil spill off the Huntington Beach coast, Gov. Gavin Newsom came to Orange County. In response to renewed calls to ban offshore drilling after about 25,000 gallons of crude oil poured into the Pacific Ocean, the governor commented, “Banning new drilling is not complicated. The deeper question is how do you transition and still protect the workforce?”

I belong to the workforce Newsom speaks of. I’ve worked at a Los Angeles oil refinery for over 22 years as a member of United Steelworkers Local 675. USW represents thousands of workers across Los Angeles, Kern and Contra Costa counties who run refineries, oil wells, pipelines and terminals. Over the last 100-plus years, our workers have shown up and labored without fail through earthquakes, riots, world wars, fires and most recently the pandemic. We supply fuel for plane trips, backup generators for hospitals and materials for syringes that have been crucial as we contain the coronavirus crisis.

Even before the renewed calls to halt drilling, we have felt like our jobs are threatened. When we watch football, we see repeated ads for hybrid and electric cars and now electric trucks like the Ford F-150 Lightning. In California, every new car sold after 2035 is to be an electric vehicle.

The writing is on the wall. As California pursues our goal of cutting emissions 40% by 2030, the resulting closure of the oil and gas industry means about 37,000 fossil fuel workers will need reemployment, while an additional 20,000 workers or so will voluntarily retire in the next nine years.

My father always said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Though the energy transition is inevitable, a just version is not. Workers know what happens when whole industries go away: Companies maneuver behind our backs, squeeze every last drop of work out of a dying auto plant, steel mill or coal mine and shutter it overnight, devastating communities and stiffing workers out of jobs, pensions and healthcare. The fear is real of jobs lost with no plan for when operations begin to phase out.

We’re also concerned for our communities: The loss in tax revenue will cripple county and city budgets, hampering our schools, libraries and other services. The loss of our good-paying jobs will have a serious ripple effect, especially in Kern and Contra Costa counties.

Many speak of a “just transition,” but we’ve never seen one. No worker or community member will ever believe that an equitable transition is possible until we see detailed, fully funded state safety net and job creation programs.

To offer these safety nets, California needs to establish an Equitable Transition Fund for fossil fuel workers covering wage replacement, income and pension guarantees, healthcare benefits, relocation and peer counseling for professional and personal support. It should also provide access to education and training for existing and future jobs that are safe and healthy. California also needs to account for the funding gaps communities face when their tax bases shrink, so schools and libraries can stay open.

Longer term, transitioning the workforce should mean creating stable jobs with good pay and benefits. Right now, we earn well over minimum wage, meaning we can support our families. Many of us can own homes with fossil fuel jobs, and some of us earn six figures. If we start new work, we want to be able to continue supporting our loved ones.

We can create good new jobs for fossil fuel workers and others by investing in California’s climate goals. USW Local 675 was one of 20 unions, including three fossil fuel unions, that endorsed the California Climate Jobs Plan, a study published in June and led by economist Robert Pollin.

With money from California’s budget, federal funds, bonds and new revenue sources, the plan outlines $70 billion of public investments annually in safety net programs as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, infrastructure upgrades and ecological agriculture. 

The goal is to reduce emissions and create 1 million new jobs in California by 2030. This will create opportunities for electricians, carpenters, bus drivers, teachers, engineers, planners and maintenance workers — including workers affected by the pandemic.

The best way to guarantee that these are good jobs and reduce disparity is to make sure they’re union jobs. Data showthat union representation means higher wages, better benefits and working conditions, and a better life for workers and the communities they support.

With a fully funded equitable transition plan — meeting the immediate need for a safety net for workers and communities, and offering a bold vision to restructure our economy — we can jump-start recovery and move California’s workers, communities and the planet toward a more secure future.

Norman Rogers is the second vice president of United Steelworkers Local 675.

Labour and climate activists make recommendations for fossil fuel workers in new joint report

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 19, 2021

At a press conference on October 13, representatives of Climate Action Network Canada , Blue Green Canada, United Steelworkers, and Unifor launched a new report,  Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers in Canada’s Energy and Labour Transitions. The report considers the challenges to the fossil fuel industry, including automation, and projects that 56,000 alternative jobs will need to be created for current Canadian oil and gas workers in the next decade. The report offers seven recommendations for a Just Transition, building on policy proposals from Canada’s Just Transition Task Force for Coal Workers and Communities, the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, and Unifor (whose most recent statement is their submission to the Just Transition consultation process here. ) Key recommendations include: “Recognizing the expertise of workers, through consultation with workers and communities, Canada must create Just Transition policy / legislation that holds the government accountable to developing transition strategies. Similar policy / legislation should be adopted by all provinces with an emphasis on the oil and gas producing provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.” Funding is seen to come from Covid recovery funds and the Infrastructure Bank, with another recommendation: “Tie public investments to employers meeting conditions on job quality, including pay, access to training, job security, union access and representation through mandatory joint committees.”

Summaries of Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future appear in the press release from Climate Action Network, and in “With Canadian fossil fuel jobs about to be cut in half, it’s time to talk about a just transition” (National Observer, Oct. 15). The latter article highlights the enhanced impact of the bringing labour unions and climate activists together, and also emphasizes that workers must be included in all transition plans, using the cautionary tale of Algoma Steel. As explained in “Why Mike Da Prat boycotted the prime minister’s Algoma Steel announcement” (Soo Today, July 6 2021) the union was not adequately consulted on transition planning when the government awarded $420 million in July 2021 to help Algoma Steel transition from coal to greener, electric-arc furnace production.

Want to know what a just transition to a green economy looks like? Ask the workers

By Anna Markova - The Guardian, October 18, 2021

If you really want to know what a just transition looks like, don’t start with the official speeches of Cop26. Ideally, don’t even ask me. Ask those who need it most.

Ask a teenager in south Wales, where coal mining jobs have not been replaced by alternatives and unemployment levels are among the highest in the UK. Ask the oil rig worker who has been travelling to work by helicopter for 15 years but is having to pay £2,000 for yet another helicopter safety training course to be able to work on a wind turbine. Ask the Eurostar driver who does not know if the train she drives will still be running in two months’ time. Ask, if you can, one of the Uyghur people forced by Chinese authorities to work in a labour camp to make polysilicone for solar panels.

They can tell you about an unjust transition – the opposite of how we want to change our lifestyles and economies to meet net zero. Just transition mustn’t become a global policy-speak catchphrase, reduced to the intersection between environmental and social concerns, or vague promises of skills training. A real just transition makes sure people don’t lose out as their lives and livelihoods are transformed by climate action. Like the up to 600,000 workers in UK manufacturing and supply chains, whose future employment relies on government and industry investing to retool and decarbonise.

Here’s who is building a just transition: the Scottish fabrication yard worker, who is campaigning to make the foundations for offshore wind turbines being built in sight of their town. It’s the car engineer in Birmingham fighting to transition the factory to make electric vehicles. The Swedish steel mill worker making the world’s first batch of zero-carbon steel, soon to be used to make Volvo cars. The postie, perhaps the one who delivered your online shopping this morning, working with colleagues to manage the switch to an electric vehicle fleet for Royal Mail.

Or it’s the South African coalminer marching in the streets for a transition plan that gets her and her colleagues a clean power job in a public energy service. The teacher, perhaps in your child’s primary school, asking her class what they need from their education to face a future of climate chaos while the national curriculum lags far behind.

These people – all of them real union reps – might not be on the podium at Cop26 in Glasgow, but they are among the world’s real climate leaders.

Illinois sets U.S. standard for equity and labour standards in new Climate and Equitable Jobs Act

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 6, 2021

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act  (SB2408) is a 900-page bill signed into law by the Governor of Illinois in September 2021. It is summarized by Natural Resources Defence in a blog titled “Illinois Passes Nation-Leading, Equitable Climate Bill”, by David Roberts in his new blog, Volts, and by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition press release

Why does David Roberts call it “ one of the most environmentally ambitious, worker-friendly, justice-focused energy bills of any state in the country”? Some highlights: the CEJA requires Illinois to achieve a 100% zero-emissions power sector by 2045 (including their coal power plant), while encouraging electrification of transportation and buildings, and reforms to the utility rate structure. It increases the existing Solar for All funding (by 5 times) to help low-income families to switch to solar energy, creates a Green Bank to finance clean energy projects. For workers, the Act requires that all utility-scale renewable energy projects must use project-labor agreements, and all non-residential clean-energy projects must pay prevailing wages. Diversity hiring reports will be required to prove that projects have recruited qualified BIPOC candidates and apprentices. The Act also provides funds for 13 Clean Jobs Workforce Network Hubs across the state, to deliver workforce-development programs to low-income and underserved populations. According to David Roberts, “The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Department of Employment Security will work together to develop a “displaced worker bill of rights,” with $40 million a year to go toward transition assistance for areas dependent on fossil fuel production or generation.”

The CEJA is a model not only for what it contains, but also how it was achieved. Roberts calls it “a model for how diverse stakeholders can reach consensus” and describes the years-long process in detail: “The state’s labor community was sensitive to the fact that it had largely been left out of the 2016 bill; the legislation contained no labor standards, and recent years have seen Illinois renewable energy projects importing cheaper out-of-state workforces. Labor didn’t want to get left behind in the state’s energy transition, so it organized a coalition of groups under the banner Climate Jobs Illinois and set about playing an active role in negotiations. Environmental and climate-justice groups organized as the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. All the groups introduced energy bills of their own. And then they spent years banging their heads together. A special shout-out goes to the environmental-justice community in Illinois, which used three years of relentless grassroots organizing to build an incredible political force, without which the bill couldn’t have passed and wouldn’t have been as equity-focused.” The result, according to Roberts, “As far as I know, this gives Illinois the most stringent labor and equity requirements of any state clean energy program. Similar policies tying renewable energy projects to labor standards have passed in Connecticut, New York, and Washington, but no other state’s energy policy has as comprehensive a package of labor, diversity, and equity standards.”

Climate Jobs and Just Transition Summit: Strong Unions, Sustainable Transport

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