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Coal industry workers in Australia are taking their destiny into their own hands

By Léo Roussel - Equal Times, September 30, 2022

The coal industry is to Australia what the Second Amendment of the US Constitution (granting citizens the right to bear arms) is to the United States: it would be hard to imagine the country without it. With fossil fuels still accounting for 92 per cent of Australia’s energy mix, including 29 per cent for coal in 2021, the industry is still vigorously defended by lobbies, even in parliamentary circles and the corridors of ministries.

Australia’s conservative former prime minister Scott Morrison famously held up a piece of coal in Parliament in 2017, when he was finance minister, admonishing his colleagues not to be afraid of it. When he became prime minister, he also directly surrounded himself with lobbyists like John Kunkel, former vice-chairman of the Minerals Council of Australia, who he appointed chief of staff in 2018.

In the Hunter Valley, a region north of Sydney in the state of New South Wales, the local economy is still dominated by coal. From the mines to the cargo ships departing from the port of Newcastle, the industry directly and indirectly employs more than 17,000 people. “Newcastle is the world’s largest coal port,” says Dr Liam Phelan, a researcher at the University of Newcastle (Australia) specialising in the uncertainties and risks of climate change. “Coal mining has been a part of life here since white people arrived in Australia.”

For many years, mining projects were still supported and approved, not least by the Morrison government, which was widely condemned in Australia and around the world for its inaction on climate change. But the tides have begun to turn. In May 2022, voters ousted ‘ScoMo’ and returned Labor to power. The new prime minister Anthony Albanese has promised to make Australia a “renewable energy superpower” and to reduce the country’s CO₂ emissions by 43 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 – a target that the scientists of the Climate Change Authority nonetheless still consider to be insufficient.

Leaving energy transition aside, the Australian coal industry has already seen its exports slow in recent years, partly as a result of the trade war with China since 2020, while domestic demand has shifted to cleaner energy sources which are gaining ground. According to Clean Energy Council’s 2022 energy report: “The Australian renewable energy industry accounted for 32.5 per cent of Australia’s total electricity generation in 2021, which represented an increase of almost 5 percentage points compared to 2020.”

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy Bulletin 124

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, September 22, 2022

Towards a Public Pathway Approach to a Just Energy Transition for the Global South

Leaders from trade unions, three Global Union Federations, and allied organizations representing 27 countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia Pacific will gather in Nairobi, Kenya, in mid-October to launch a new trade union initiative to promote a “public pathway” approach to a just energy transition in the Global South. The goal of the gathering is to lay the foundations for a South-led trade union platform that will focus on how to strengthen the trade union response to the kind of “green structural adjustment” proposals that are today being pushed by the rich countries, the IMF, and the World Bank.

The 3-day, 70-person, meeting in Nairobi comes at a time when there is growing support for a public pathway approach to energy transition and climate protection that can address the failures of the current ineffective and regressive profit-focused policies. This growing support is reflected in the Trade Union Program for a Public Low-Carbon Energy Future (TUP) that was announced at COP26 in Glasgow last November. 

Global Climate Jobs Conference 2022: Jonathan Neale on the meaning of Climate Jobs

GreenReads: IEA World Energy Employment Report - Energy transition or energy descent?

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, September 15, 2022

On 8 September, the International Energy Agency published its first comprehensive report on jobs in the global energy sectors. The World Energy Employment Report provides data on energy jobs ‘by sector, region, and value chain segment’ and will be published annually.

The global energy sector (including energy end uses) employed over 65 million people in 2019, equivalent to around 2% of global employment.

The main messages of the report are:

  • Employment is growing in the global energy sector, especially in clean energy;
  • Around a third of workers are in energy fuel supply (coal, oil, gas and bioenergy), a third in the power sector (generation, transmission, distribution and storage), and a third in key energy end uses (vehicle manufacturing and energy efficiency);
  • More than half of energy jobs are in the Asia-Pacific region;
  • Women are strongly under-represented in the energy sector. Despite making up 39% of global employment, women account for only 16% in traditional energy sectors. They are even more under-represented in management functions.

170+ Organizations Sign Letter Opposing Subsidies to Delay Closure of Diablo Canyon Power Plant

By staff - Nuclear Information and Resource Service, June 21, 2022

Over 170 organizations, including Beyond Nuclear, North American Water Office, Food & Water Watch, Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Program, Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), Center for Biological Diversity, International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and more sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm opposing the misuse of the Department of Energy’s Civil Nuclear Credit program (CNC) to dismantle the fossil-free phaseout and just transition plan for the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. 

The CNC was created by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to mitigate potential greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) increases due to the closure of unprofitable nuclear reactors that operate in competitive electricity markets. The letter explains how applying the CNC program to Diablo Canyon would violate the letter and intent of the law. The nuclear power plant is not eligible for funds under the CNC program because it does not meet the basic requirements of the IIJA, nor those of the CNC program guidance DOE published to implement the program. 

The letter highlights climate, economic, environmental justice, and power supply concerns with abandonment of the just transition agreement dictating the planned closure of Diablo Canyon’s nuclear reactors in 2024 and 2025. 

Over 50 organizations from the State of California signed onto the letter, including San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, SoCal 350 Climate Action, Tri-Valley CAREs, Physicians for Social Responsibility/Sacramento, San Francisco Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility, Oceanic Preservation Society, Electric Vehicle Association of CA Central Coast, Californians for Energy Choice, Parents Against Santa Susana Field Lab and more. 

Tim Judson, NIRS executive director said, “Diablo Canyon’s planned phaseout and just transition accelerates California’s climate and renewable energy goals, supports Diablo workers and local communities, and promotes economic and environmental justice. Misusing the CNC program to unravel that progress would betray President Biden’s commitments to climate and environmental justice.” He added, “The Diablo Canyon phaseout plan which California is implementing is a just transition model DOE should promote instead of seeking to preempt it. The basis for the plan shows how phasing out nuclear power plants along with fossil fuel generation can help accelerate emissions reductions, the growth of the renewable energy economy, and a just and equitable transition for workers and communities. Is DOE afraid to let that happen while it is spending billions of dollars to promote the idea that we need to invest in overly expensive, failure-prone nuclear power plants?”

Union-Made Offshore Wind: AFL-CIO 2022 Convention

Decarbonizing energy intensive industries: what are the risks and opportunities for jobs?

As Illinois Coal Jobs Disappear, Some Are Looking to the Sun

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, May 26, 2022

While Illinois phases out coal, clean energy jobs hold promise—both for displaced coal workers, and those harmed by the fossil fuel economy.

Matt Reuscher was laid off a decade ago from Peabody Energy’s Gateway coal mine in Southern Illinois, in the midst of a drought that made the water needed to wash the coal too scarce and caused production to drop, as he remembers it.

Reuscher’s grandfather and two uncles had been miners, and his father — a machinist — did much work with the mines. Like many young men in Southern Illinois, it was a natural career choice for Reuscher. Still in his early 20s when he was laid off, Reuscher ​“spent that summer doing odds and ends, not really finding much of anything I enjoyed doing as much as being underground.”

By fall of 2012, he started working installing solar panels for StraightUp Solar, one of very few solar companies operating in the heart of Illinois coal country. He heard about the job through a family friend and figured he’d give it a try since he had a construction background. He immediately loved the work, and he’s become an evangelist for the clean energy shift happening nationwide, if more slowly in Southern Illinois. With colleagues, he fundraised to install solar panels in tiny villages on the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua, and he became a solar electrician and worked on StraightUp Solar installations powering the wastewater treatment center and civic center in Carbondale, Illinois — a town named for coal. 

Solar installation pays considerably less than coal mining, Reuscher acknowledges, but he feels it’s a safer and healthier way to support his family — including two young sons who love the outdoors as much as he does. 

“You work with people who are really conscious about the environment. That rubs off on me and then rubs off on them,” Reuscher notes, referring to his sons.

Illinois has more than a dozen coal mines and more than a dozen coal-fired power plants that are required to close or reach zero carbon emissions by 2030 (for privately-owned plants) or 2045 (for the state’s two publicly-owned plants), though most will close much sooner due to market forces. Reaching zero carbon emissions would entail complete carbon capture and sequestration, which has not been achieved at commercial scale anywhere in the United States. 

Coal mines also frequently lay off workers, as the industry is in financial duress, though Illinois coal is bolstered by a healthy export market. A ​“just transition” — which refers to providing jobs and opportunities for workers and communities impacted by the decline of fossil fuels — has been an increasing priority of environmental movements nation-wide, and was a major focus of Illinois’ 2021 Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA). The idea is that people long burdened by fossil fuel pollution and dependent on fossil fuel economies should benefit from the growth of clean energy. Reuscher’s story is a perfect example. 

But in Illinois, as nationally, his transition is a rarity. Solar and other clean energy jobs have more often proven not to be an attractive or accessible option for former coal workers. And advocates and civic leaders have prioritized a broader and also difficult goal: striving to provide clean energy opportunities for not only displaced fossil fuel workers, but for those who have been harmed by fossil fuels or left out of the economic opportunities fossil fuels provided.

Germany going fossil-free – and Protecting Fossil Fuel Workers

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 2022

Germany, which imports around two-thirds of its gas from Russia and other former Soviet Union states and which aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, is planning to require nearly 100% renewable electricity by 2035. Robert Habeck, German’s economic affairs and climate minister, said Germany needs to triple its rate of emissions reductions.

In response to the Russian attack on Ukraine, Germany has denied a license to the recently constructed Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was to be a major conduit for gas from Russia to Germany. It is also scheduled to close its three nuclear plants by the end of this year.

Germany adopted a plan two years ago to close all coal-fired power plants by 2038. It includes compensation for coal regions, coal companies, and their workers. The total government investment to diversify the regions’ economies and create new jobs over the coming two decades as coal is phased out is $47.3 billion.

For the new German policy: Germany’s New Government Had Big Plans on Climate, Then Russia Invaded Ukraine. What Happens Now? – Inside Climate News

For more on Germany’s just transition program for coal regions and workers: What should coal communities do when power plants shut down? Ask Germany. – Vox

Can a Just Energy Transition Occur Under Capitalism?

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