Climate Strikes: Children are leading the way

Greta ThurnbergAlthough all eyes have been on the Juliana vs. United States legal action in the U.S ( given the go-ahead again on November 2, according to  Inside Climate News ), other young people are taking up the fight against climate change.  In September, after record heat and forest fires in Sweden, Greta Thurnberg began to skip school to demonstrate outside the Swedish Parliament buildings, and, using the  hashtag #Fridays for Future ,  is calling for people to demonstrate in solidarity at their own government’s buildings on Fridays  – read “The Swedish 15 year old who’s cutting class to fight the climate crisis”  in The Guardian for more.

Greta has become a Nordic celebrity, and her protest has spread.  Australian kids from 8 to 15 began their own campaign on November 7, with a call for  a nation-wide strike on November 30 – Updates and news are at  #School Strike 4 Climate   (the website is here)  .

Charlie Angus protest

NDP MP Charlie Angus supports Sudbury striker

In  Canada,  an 11-year old in Sudbury Ontario credits Greta for inspiration and began striking from school in November, as reported by the Sudbury Star in “Young climate activist to strike Friday in Sudbury” (Nov. 2) and “Activism runs in the blood for Sudbury student “ (Nov.8) .  The article quotes her as asking: “If adults don’t care about our future why should I? What is the point of going to school?”

Further inspiration also comes from (slightly older) young adults in Canada, in “Meet 2018’s Top 30 Under 30 in Sustainability” in Corporate Knights magazine (Nov. 6). It profiles  young adults from 16 – 29 who have rolled up their sleeves in a variety of green projects, organizations,  and businesses.

Preview of the recommendations by Canada’s Just Transition Task Force

Hassan Yussuff head shotIn a November 5 article, “ Federal panel privately urges Trudeau government to do more for coal workers”  ,  National Observer reporter Carl Meyer reveals that the Just Transition Task Force Interim Report is already in the hands of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, though not yet publicly available. Canada’s Just Transition Task Force was launched in April 2018 – an  11-member advisory group co-chaired by Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff,  to “ provide advice on how to make the transition away from coal a fair one for workers and communities.”  The Task Force Terms of Reference   allowed for 9 months for the report; Environment and Climate Change Minister McKenna said on  November 2 : “We’re still reviewing the report, but as we talk about the need to power past coal and our commitment in Canada to phase out coal by 2030, we know there has to be a priority to supporting workers and communities.” A formal response is expected in November, and given the Minister’s leadership role in the international  Powering Past Coal Alliance and the public spotlight of the upcoming COP24 meetings in Katowice Poland in early December, that deadline is likely to be met.

The National Observer article of November 5, along with an April 2018 article about the Task Force launch, provide good background to the Task Force.  The new article emphasizes the different needs of different provinces – notably Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.  Most of the article is based on interviews with a few Task Force members.

But what are the Report’s Recommendations?  One member states that  “A lot of the recommendations are directly connected to what we heard from municipalities, from workers, from unions and from communities.”  The comments about the actual  recommendations are far from earth-shattering, but include:  1. Just Transition policies should be enshrined in legislation so that they are not as vulnerable to changing governments; 2. The  government should commit to infrastructure funding for municipalities in order to attract other businesses and offset job losses; 3. Support to workers should be extended, to help people quickly and efficiently access benefits like employment insurance, retraining, and relocation assistance.  These fall along the same lines as the 2017 Recommendations from the Alberta Advisory Panel  on Coal Communities , which are more detailed and which also accounted for First Nations issues.

A list of Task Force members is here. In addition to co-Chair Hassan Yussuff, there are members from the CLC, the Alberta Federation of Labour,  United Steelworkers, Unifor, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

 

Just Transition for energy workers in Northern England includes job quality, skills training

liverpool harbourRisk or reward? Securing a just transition in the north of England  is a study released in late October by the Institute for Public Policy Research North (IPPR), based in Manchester and Newcastle of the U.K. – an area disproportionately at risk for job losses in the shift to a low carbon economy as it is the home of  the majority of England’s coal and gas power stations.  This Interim report estimates that approximately 28,000 jobs in the coal, oil and gas industries could be lost by 2030 as the low carbon economy grows.  In 2017, the IPPR forecasts that up to 46,000 low-carbon power sector jobs and 100,000 jobs could be created by 2030 by its Northern Energy Strategy , including a  Northern Energy Skills Programme .

Risk or Reward?  forecasts job numbers, but also discusses the quality of jobs using compensation levels of representative energy jobs.  The report concludes that “Fundamentally, there is a failure to incorporate a just transition into industrial strategy and decarbonisation policy more generally; but, even if it were acknowledged, the skills system is ill-equipped to provide support for those that need retraining or for the next generation. Compounded by the uncertainty of Brexit amidst international competition for labour and skills, there is a real risk that the transition to a low carbon economy will not be just.”

Risk or Reward is an interim report.  IPPR promises a Final Report in 2019 which will recommend a strategy for government action,  to put just transition “at the heart of decarbonisation and industrial strategy”, and to build a skills system capable of supporting existing and future workers through well-paid, skilled and secure jobs.  “This strategy will also consider other challenges facing the low-carbon sector both now and in the future, including how to ensure it can deliver good working conditions and a diverse workforce. In addition, it will set out the crucial role of trade unions in delivering well-paid, secure and high skilled jobs, as well as a successful industrial strategy and improving productivity.”

Companion reading to Risk or Reward is  the broader perspective of  Prosperity and Justice: A plan for the new economy  – the final report of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice  , established in the 2016 in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.  The Final Report is here; an Executive Summary is hereProsperity and Justice  presents a 10-part plan for economic reform and makes more than 70 recommendations – which it states “ offer the potential for the most significant change in economic policy in a generation”. It includes a chapter titled “Ensuring Environmental Sustainability”  as fundamental to its economic goal of just growth.  The IPPR Commission on Economic Justice published an Interim Report (2017), as well as discussion and policy papers –   including including Power to the people: How stronger unions can deliver economic justice.

Updated: New Just Transition agreement for Spanish coal miners called a model for others

The new government of Spain, in power since May 2018, has reached a new Just Transition agreement with coal miners, to further the coal phase-out which has been underway since the early 2000’s.   Approximately 1,000 miners and contractors at 10 mines will lose their jobs at the end of 2018, but according to a report in The Guardian (Oct. 26) “Unions hailed the mining deal – which covers Spain’s privately owned pits – as a model agreement. It mixes early retirement schemes for miners over 48, with environmental restoration work in pit communities and re-skilling schemes for cutting-edge green industries.”  The cost of the program is estimated at 250 million Euros.

UPDATED:  For the most detailed summary of this new agreement, see the press release from IndustriALL : “Spanish coal unions win landmark Just Transition deal”    (Nov. 1)  .  It includes a link to the 37-page actual agreement – in Spanish only – and quotes the Sustainability Director of IndustriALL, who states that it is a model agreement, and “The deal sets a precedent for responsible transition through social dialogue.”

Spain’s coal industry employed more than 100,000 miners in the 1960s, but today only 2.7% of the country’s electricity is powered by coal.  The country had already done a good job of its coal phase-out, according to Coal Transition in Spain, published in 2017 by The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI)  and Climate Strategies Just Transition project.   That report draws on Spanish language resources to provides a thorough overview of employment statistics, policy instruments and stakeholder positions from previous coal phase-out. It also evaluates the success of measures taken, including training and early retirement incentives, community and infrastructure investment. The press release from IndustriALL summarizes the history from a different, union viewpoint.

What are the prospects for a Just Transition in U.K. communities?

desmog_uk_blue_logoOn October 30, DeSmog UK  began a new series of reporting titled  Just Transition, from Fossil Fuels to Environmental Justice , which it describes as “a comprehensive exploration of the UK‘s prospects for a just transition towards a sustainable future and environmental justice.”  The first installment, Part One: Kingdom of Coal  profiles Fife, Scotland: the history of its coal mine closures around 2002, and the transition to its current situation as the site of a gas extraction facility run by Shell and an ethylene production plant operated by ExxonMobil. The report states that the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has issued fines and final warning letters to both Shell and Exxon for the flaring conducted at the two sites; a SEPA investigation into the flaring is underway, with a report scheduled for November 2018.  Finally, Kingdom of Coal discusses the  prospects for a just transition for Fife to a renewable energy industry,  in the  context of the Just Transition principles proposed by the Friends of the Earth Scotland. The impending Brexit  threatens funding from the European Investment Bank (which was used to build  the Beatrice Wind Farm in the Moray Firth), and “wider economic insecurity makes longer-term investments, such as hiring more apprentices, growing the workforce and investing in new machines and premises, increasingly challenging.”

Just Transition, from Fossil Fuels to Environmental Justice is described by DeSmog UK as : “This powerful new series starts from the basis of understanding that current lifestyles are dependent on oil and plastic, and that we are all to some degree complicit and integrated into the present system. It looks at how the UK can achieve the immediate, transformative and radical changes to the economy and society necessary to address the climate crisis. And it addresses this transformation through the perspectives of the communities that will be most affected.”