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Who is Included in a Just Transition?: Considering social equity in Canada’s shift to a zero-carbon economy

By Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and Zaee Deshpande - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, August 2019

As the international community moves to act on the climate crisis, governments are increasingly being forced to reckon with the social and economic costs of climate policies. The production and consumption of fossil fuels is the primary driver of global heating, so shifting to cleaner alternatives is necessary for long-term environmental and economic sustainability. However, the global economy is highly dependent on fossil fuels, so declines in the production and consumption of coal, oil and natural gas have the potential to negatively impact large numbers of workers and their communities in the short to medium term. In Canada alone, the fossil fuel industry accounts for hundreds of thousands of jobs and more than $100 billion dollars worth of economic output.

Efforts to reduce emissions from the fossil fuel sector have provoked calls for governments to ensure the transition to a cleaner economy is a just transition for affected workers and communities. The concept of a “just transition” for fossil fuel workers has long existed within the North American labour movement, but only in the past few years has it gained mainstream international attention. The 2015 Paris Agreement acknowledged the “imperatives of a just transition of the workforce.” And in 2018, more than 50 countries signed the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, which highlights the essential role of a just transition in the broader fight against climate change.

In Canada, the phrase “just transition” only began appearing in official policy documents around the time of the Paris Agreement, but it is now a formal priority for several governments across the country. Canada’s recent adoption of just transition principles has emerged almost exclusively in the context of the government-mandated phaseout of coal-fired electricity generation. Under a patchwork of provincial and federal policies, nearly all coal power plants and their associated coal mines will be shuttered by 2030.3 To mitigate the costs of the phaseout to coal workers and coal towns, the provincial government of Alberta — home to the largest share of the coal industry — together with the federal government have implemented or announced a variety of just transition policies since 2016. Targeted programs include income support and skills retraining for coal workers as well as infrastructure investments in affected communities. These governments continue to explore initiatives to provide support to coal communities as they undergo the transition to a cleaner economy.

Read the report (PDF).

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.

Internationalising the Green New Deal: Strategies for Pan-European Coordination

By Daniel Aldana Cohen, Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, and Thea Riofrancos - Common Wealth, 2019

Climate politics are today bursting to life like never before. For four decades, market fundamentalists in the United States and United Kingdom have blocked ambitious efforts to deal with the climate crisis. But now, the neoliberal hegemony is crumbling, while popular climate mobilisations grow stronger every month. There has never been a better moment to transform politics and attack the climate emergency.

When the climate crisis first emerged into public consciousness in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were consolidating a neoliberal doctrine that banished the most powerful tools to confront global heating— public investment and collective action.

Instead, neoliberals sought to free markets from democratically imposed constraints and the power of mass mobilisation. Thatcher insisted that there was no alternative to letting corporations run roughshod over people and planet alike in the name of profit. Soon, New Democrats and New Labour agreed. While the leaders of the third way spoke often of climate change, their actual policies let fossil capital keep drilling and burning. Afraid to intervene aggressively in markets, they did far too little to build a clean energy alternative.

Then the financial crisis of 2008 and the left revival that exploded in its wake laid bare the failures of the neoliberal project. An alternative political economic project is now emerging—and not a moment too soon. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it, keeping global warming below catastrophic levels will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” In other words: public investment and collective action.

Fortunately, movements on both sides of the Atlantic have been building strength to mount this kind of alternative to market fundamentalism. On the heels of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders’s 2016 Democratic primary campaign breathed new life into the American left and its electoral prospects. Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party, spurred by a vibrant grassroots mobilisation, gives those of us in the U.S. hope: if New Labour could give way to Corbynism, surely Clintonism can give way to the left wing of the Democratic party. In the U.K., drawing on tactics from the Sanders campaign, Momentum has developed a new model of mass mobilisation to transform a fossilised political party. It’s restoring the dream that formal politics can be a means for genuinely democratic political organising. In turn, U.S. leftists are learning from Momentum’s innovations.

The vision of the Green New Deal that has taken shape in the United States in the past few months is in many ways a culmination of the U.S. left’s revival. The Green New Deal’s modest ambition is to do all that this moment requires: decarbonise the economy as quickly as humanly possible by investing massively to electrify everything, while bringing prodigious amounts of renewable power online; all this would be done in a way that dismantles inequalities of race, class and gender. The Green New Deal would transform the energy and food systems and the broader political economy of which they are a part.

Read the report (PDF).

Colorado: Support a Just and Equitable Transition via Securitization

By Julia Prochnik - Natural Resources Defense Council, April 24, 2019

Utility securitization can be a prescription for lowering energy costs and reallocating funds previously committed to expensive fuels and reinvesting them in lower cost clean energy infrastructure. Securitization is also a useful financing tool to help fund a Just and Equitable Transition to clean energy infrastructure.

Securitization is a financing tool that has existed in the financial sector for decades and is a special type of utility bond offering that gets funds from private investors at a very low interest rate. It can be used to replace more expensive capital and costs that utilities pass on to customers.  Securitization provides a lower cost to customers. 

Legislation is needed, in Colorado and elsewhere, to guarantee a regulated dedicated rate and an unavoidable charge with Public Utility Commission oversight to ensure that the bonds are paid in full.  This dedicated rate along with other conditions allow for high credit score on the bonds to get the lowest interest rate from investors and therefore the lowest costs for customers. 

For example, when a utility says they need to securitize something, they are looking into refinancing their costs of raising capital at a secured lower bond rate, just as you would with decreasing interest charged on a credit card. The regulated utility can then repurpose the money raised into a variety of cleaner operations and transition funds. 

A Just and Equitable Transition builds from the indigenous and labor movement to create a just transition.  Adding equity expands the policymaking to include diverse community voices and help make change livable for all impacted.  

Union Locals Build Support for the Green New Deal’s “Just Transition”

By Candice Bernd - Truthout, April 6, 2019

Undeterred by the Senate’s recent dismissal of the Green New Deal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) recently accepted Congressional Coal Caucus member Rep. Andy Barr’s (R-Kentucky) invitation to tour a coal mine in his district and meet with mine workers and voters in Appalachia to talk about how they could benefit from the resolution’s “just transition.”

That transition, as laid out in Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s plan, would include a federal jobs guarantee for U.S. workers. This includes former fossil fuel sector workers as they transition to build the infrastructure needed to shift the country to 100 percent renewable energy within 10 years.

Even as many of the resolution’s proponents are now turning their focus away from passing the Green New Deal on the heels of March’s procedural vote in the Senate, climate change legislation remains a priority for the Democratic Party. The resolution’s supporters are now looking at multiple bills in hopes of advancing standalone elements of the broader initiative as grassroots groups like the Sunrise Movement continue efforts to build support for the plan.

But what exactly would a Green New Deal or another piece of climate chance legislation focused on transitioning to renewables mean for the Kentucky coal workers Ocasio-Cortez is set to meet?

The plan backs union jobs and outlines commitments to “wage and benefit parity for workers” affected by the energy transition. The resolution also supports collective bargaining rights for workers while calling for “trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments” with strong labor protections.

Still, labor leaders like those on the AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee remain skeptical of the resolution’s call for a just transition. The Energy Committee sent an open letter to the resolution’s authors, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Ocasio-Cortez, blasting the resolution last month. “We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered,” wrote Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

The March 8 letter comes on the heels of a February letter sent to the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey), and its ranking member, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), outlining the “grave concerns about unrealistic solutions such as those advocated in the ‘Green New Deal,’” by seven unions representing workers in the building industry.

The strongest support for the plan has come from the joint executive board of the 163,000-member East Coast property service union, 32BJ SEIU, which passed its own resolution in February in support of the Green New Deal. Union President Héctor Figueroa recently condemned the Senate’s procedural vote to reject the plan, saying in a statement that, “Creating good jobs in this exciting new industry is as doable as it is necessary, but only if we work together in unity rather than giving into Washington’s divisive tactics.”

International action on Just Transition: what’s been accomplished, and proposals for the future

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 27, 2017

Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? A Guide to National Policies and International Climate Governance  was released on September 19 by the International Trade Union Confederation, summarizing what has been done to date by the ITUC and through  international agencies such as the  ILO, UNFCCC, and the  Paris Agreement.  It also provides short summaries of some transition situations, including the Ruhr Valley in Germany, Hazelwood workers in the LaTrobe Valley, Australia, U.S. Appalachian coal miners and the coal mining pension plan, Argentinian construction workers, and Chinese coal workers.  Finally, the report calls for concrete steps to advance Just Transition and workers’ interests.

The report defines Just Transition on a national or regional scale, as  “an economy-wide process that produces the plans, policies and investments that lead to a future where all jobs are green and decent, emissions are at net zero, poverty is eradicated, and communities are thriving and resilient.” But the report also argues that Just Transition is important for companies, with social dialogue and collective bargaining as key tools to manage the necessary industrial transformation at the organizational level.  To that end, the ITUC is launching “A Workers Right To Know” as an ITUC campaign priority for 2018, stating, “Workers have a right to know what their governments are planning to meet the climate challenge and what the Just Transition measures are. Equally, workers have a right to know what their employers are planning, what the impact of the transition is and what the Just Transition guarantees will be. And workers have a right to know where their pension funds are invested with the demand that they are not funding climate or job destruction.”

The ITUC report makes new proposals. It calls on the ILO to take a more ambitious role and to negotiate a Standard for Just Transition by 2021, carrying on from the Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies forAll  (2015).   The ITUC also states “expectations” of how Just Transition should be given greater priority in the international negotiation process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), so that:  Just Transition commitments are incorporated into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of countries; Just Transition for workers becomes a permanent theme within the forum on response measures under the Paris Agreement, and Just Transition is included in the 2018 UNFCCC Facilitative Dialogue. It also calls for the launch of a “Katowice initiative for a Just Transition” at the COP23 meetings to take place in Katowice, Poland in 2018, “to provide a high-level political space”.  Finally, the ITUC calls for expansion of the eligibility criteria of the Green Climate Fund to allow  the funding of Just Transition projects.

Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? is a Climate Justice Frontline Briefing from the International Trade Union Confederation, with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and is based upon Strengthening Just Transition Policies in International Climate Governance by Anabella Rosemberg, published as a Policy Analysis Brief by the Stanley Foundation in 2017.

Progress at COP23 as Canada’s Minister pledges to include the CLC in a new Just Transition Task Force

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 21, 2017

An article in the Energy Mix reflects a widely-stated assessment of the recently concluded Conference of the Parties in Bonn: “COP23 Ends with solid progress on Paris Rules, Process to Push for Faster Climate Action” :  “It was an incremental, largely administrative conclusion for a conference that was never expected to deliver transformative results, but was still an essential step on the road to a more decisive “moment” at next year’s conference in Katowice, Poland.”  A concise summary of outcomes  was compiled by  the  International Institute for Environment and Development, including a link to the main outcome document of the COP23 meetings – the Fiji Momentum for Implementation .  The UNFCCC provides a comprehensive list of initiatives and documents in its closing press release on November 17. And from the only Canadian press outlet which attended COP23 in person, the National Observer: “Trump didn’t blow up the climate summit: what did happend in Bonn?” .

What was the union assessment of COP23? The International Trade Union Confederation expressed concern for the slow progress in Bonn, but stated: “The support for Just Transition policies is now visible and robust among all climate stakeholders: from environmental groups to businesses, from regional governments to national ones. The importance of a social pact as a driver to low-carbon economics means we can grow ambition faster, in line with what science tells us. ”  The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) also expressed disappointment, reiterating the demands in its October  ETUC Resolution and views on COP 23  , and calling for a “Katowice plan of action for Just Transition”  in advance of the COP24 meetings next year in Katowice, Poland.

The biggest winner on Just Transition was the Canadian Labour Congress, who pressed the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change outside of formal negotiations at Bonn and received her pledge for federal support for the newly-announced Just Transition Plan for Alberta’s Coal Workers –  including flexibility on federal  Employment Insurance benefits,  and a pledge that  Western Economic Diversification Canada will  support coal communities.   Importantly, “Minister McKenna also announced her government’s intention to work directly with the Canadian Labour Congress to launch a task force that will develop a national framework on Just Transition for workers affected by the coal phase-out. The work of this task force is slated to begin early in the new year”, according to the CLC press release “  Unions applaud Canada’s commitment to a just transition for coal workers” .  The background story to this under-reported breakthrough  is in the National Observer coverage of the Canada-UK Powering Past Coal initiative, on November 15 and November 16.  Unifor’s take on the Task Force is here .

Just Transition for the coal industry is expensive – but cheaper than failure to address the needs

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 5, 2017

July 2017 saw the release of  Lessons from Previous Coal Transitions:  High-level Summary for Decision-makers , a synthesis report of case studies of past coal mining transitions in Spain, U.K., the Netherlands, Poland, U.S., and the Czech Republic – some as far back as the 1970’s.  Some key take-aways from the report:  “Because of the large scale and complexity of the challenges to be addressed, the earlier that actors (i.e. workers, companies and regions) anticipated, accepted and began to implement steps to prepare and cushion the shock of the transition, the better the results”; “the aggregate social costs to the state of a failure to invest in the transition of workers and regions are often much higher that the costs of not investing from an overall societal perspective.” While the level of cost details varies in the case studies, it is clear that costs are significant.  For example, the case study of Limburg, Netherlands states that the national government spent approximately 11.6 billion Euros (in today’s prices) on national subsidies to support coal prices and regional reconversion, in addition to  several 100 million per year in EU funds. “One estimate also suggested that in the Dutch case, all told, regional reinvestment in new economic activities also cost about 300 to 400 000€/per long-term job created.”  Limburg is also cited as “remarkable for the relatively consensual nature of the transition between unions, company and government.”  (see page 10).

The Synthesis report and individual case study reports of the six countries are available here . These are the work of the Research and Dialogue on Coal Transitions project, a large-scale research project led by Climate Strategies and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) , which also sponsors the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project.  Future reports scheduled for 2018: a Global report, and a Round Table on the Future of Coal.

Just Transition — Part 1: The Kingdom of Coal

By Chris Silver - DeSmog UK, October 30, 2018

In this first of our new series 'Just Transition, from Fossil Fuels to Environmental Justice', we look at the history of energy in Fife, and begin to mine the prospects for a more sustainable future to meet our climate crisis.

Towards a just transition: coal, cars and the world of work

By Béla Galgóczi - European Trade Union Institute, 2019

The role of trade unions and social dialogue is key in demonstrating the major differences between coal-based energy generation and the automobile industry. This book presents two faces of a just transition towards a net-zero carbon economy by drawing lessons from these two carbon-intensive sectors. The authors regard just transition not as an abstract concept, but as a real practice in real workplaces. While decarbonisation itself is a common objective, particular transitions take place in work environments that are themselves determined by the state of the capital-labour relationship, with inherent conflicts of interest, during the transition process.

The case studies presented in this book highlight the major differences between these two sectors in the nature and magnitude of the challenge, how transition practices are applied and what role the actors play.

Read the report (Link).

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