Review of Australia’s Electricity future seeks political compromise; unions see some hints of Just Transition

Flag_of_Australia.svgThe Final Report of the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market  was submitted to the Australian government  by  its Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, on June 9 – the government press release is here  . Given that Australia currently obtains approximately two-thirds of its electricity from coal-fired generating units, it is controversial territory.  The Finkel Review seeks compromise ground: it doesn’t  recommend a return to Australia’s previous emissions trading scheme , nor a carbon tax – instead,  it recommends a “clean energy target”, where cleaner power generators would get financial rewards relative to the amount of CO2 emitted per megawatt hour.   In “Australia: New climate policy same old politics”, Climate Home states:  A “major review of Australian climate policy has been compromised by the malignant politics that has sent Australia to the back of the international pack”.  Even more critical is  “Alan Finkel’s emissions target breaks Australia’s Paris commitments”     in The Guardian (June 9), which states that the Finkel recommendations would result in emissions levels 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 for the electricity sector – less than needed, and less than called for in a 2016 report by the Climate Change Authority,  Policy options for Australia’s electricity supply sectorThe Guardian also published “Finkel review anticipates lower power prices, but weak electricity emissions target“, with detail of the recommendations and the political response.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) response to the Finkel report is muted, and focused less on the strength of the emission targets and more on the recommendations for an orderly transition of the sector, and a three year notice period before generator withdrawal. From the ACTU press release: “it is immediately clear that the report states the need for an orderly transition that includes workforce preparedness….The report also recommends a three year notice period before generator withdrawal, which would provide some notice for workers and communities.”  The ACTU has previously recommended the establishment of the Energy Transition Authority to navigate the transition to a clean energy economy.

 

Alberta Oil Sands Advisory Group recommends a roadmap for the 100 megatonne emissions cap

The provincial government released  the consensus report of  Phase 1 of the Alberta Oil Sands Advisory Group on June 16 – proposing  a process to comply with the the legislated 100 megatonne emissions limit for oil and gas production, as required by the Climate Leadership Plan.  The recommendations for early action focus on encouraging lower emission intensity production through technological innovation, and building information and reporting systems to drive improvements.  Those information systems could also trigger reviews and possible penalties  if emissions approach  80%  or 95% of the  100 megatonne limit. According to an article in Energy Mix,  “The industry is staking its future on the hope that it can simultaneously increase production and reduce production emissions, an approach that is seen as favouring the largest operators in the tar sands/oil sands over smaller companies. ” An article in the Edmonton Journal provides commentary from the oil industry perspective.

The Executive Summary of the report is here ; the full Report is here . The government will start consultations  with key stakeholders immediately,  before proceeding with Phase 2 of policy design. The goal is to have regulations in place by 2018.

U.K. Unions call for Transformative Transition and Energy Democracy

The Public and Commercial Services Union of the U.K. (PCS), with 180,000 civil service members, chose its annual delegate conference in late  May  to release  Just transition and Energy Democracy,  a thorough discussion of climate change impacts and solutions, which argues that “Far from being a distraction, climate change can reinforce trade union organisation, show their contemporary relevance particularly to young members, and start to place trade unions at the very centre of the crucial and urgent debate about what we mean when we talk of a just transition.”    The paper argues for energy democracy as a fundamental right, and  references a 2016 report  Public ownership of the UK energy system – benefits, costs and processes , which states that energy democracy is necessary for the development of renewable energy and financially possible to achieve .  Just Transition and Energy Democracy  sets out a framework for the public sector role in this energy transition, and states, “For PCS therefore we advocate that a just transition is also a transformative process for economic and social justice, going beyond market based solutions and negotiation within a framework of green capitalism.” In the transformative scenario a just transition “will address the inherent inequality and injustice of the capitalist system”.  Step one in the process would be the  creation of a National Climate Service similar to the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), to ensure there is a body to create the jobs needed to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The University and College Union (UCU) also debated and carried a resolution     concerning climate change and Just Transition at its convention in June, and adopted a  resolution to take to the TUC conference in September, enumerating actions, including support for energy democracy.

Jeremy_Corbyn_speaking_at_the_Labour_Party_General_Election_Launch_2017

Photo by Sophie Brown, from Wikipedia Commons

Reaction of unions to the surprise Labour surge in the U.K. election is summarized in the June/July newsletter of the Greener Jobs Alliance.  All cite the importance of the Labour Party manifesto, For the many, not the few ,  which included proposals for energy democracy through publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and cooperatives. It also proposed an industrial and skills strategy to drive investment in electric vehicles, home insulation, new low carbon technologies for heavy industries like steel, and a ban on fracking.

Paths forward for decarbonization in Canada: two new reports

TopAsksCover-600x777In June, the Columbia Institute’s Centre for Civic Governance released the first annual progress report  on the  18 federal and 24 provincial/territorial policies that it had identified in its 2016 report, Top Asks for Climate Action: Ramping Up Low Carbon Communities . The 2016 report focuses on local government issues and the policy support they  need from the federal, provincial and territorial governments in the areas of  capacity building, funding, buildings, transportation and smart growth.  The 2017 Report Card  credits the federal government for some accomplishments – such as establishing a national price on carbon – and highlights nine  key areas where “room for improvement” remains.  These are: 1) establishing scientific GHG targets that will meet Paris Agreement commitments; 2)Establishing a mechanism that will guarantee new infrastructure spending that won’t lock Canadians into a high carbon path; 3) Moving faster on eliminating fossil fuel subsidies; 4)Providing more robust tools for retrofitting homes and commercial buildings; 5)Providing all communities with energy, emissions and natural capital baseline data; 6) Prioritizing transit and active transportation over auto-only infrastructure; 7) Giving priority to community and Indigenous -owned renewable energy projects to advance energy democracy in Canada;  8) Developing a national thermal energy strategy; 9) Helping local governments transition to low carbon fleets.  A June 5  article in the National Observer summarizes the report, and provides response from the federal government.

A second  new report, Re-Energizing Canada: Pathways to a Low-Carbon Future , takes a more academic approach, but includes many of the same issues.  The report, published by Sustainable Canada Dialogues, is the product of  input from Canadian academics and First Nations, establishes a framework of our energy system, and examines the important issues in Canadian energy policy with statistics and analysis.  The report identifies governance issues as central to a successful low-carbon energy transition, and states: “we believe that the key barriers to accelerating the low-carbon energy transition are social, political and organizational.” Many of its recommendations relate to governance structures needed for policy harmonization.   Re-energizing Canada was Commissioned by Natural Resources Canada in Fall 2016, and published by  Sustainable Canada Dialogues,   a Canada-wide network of over 80 scholars from engineering, sciences and social sciences. It is an initiative of the UNESCO-McGill Chair for Dialogues on Sustainability and is housed in Montreal.

How to phase out Alberta’s Oil Sands by 2040, including Just Transition principles

Gordon Laxer, Professor emeritus at the University of Alberta and founding director of the Parkland Institute, has released a new report, Act or be Acted Upon. The case for phasing out Alberta’s Sands .  He summarized the report  in an article,  “The case for phasing out Alberta’s Tar Sands” , which appeared in Resilience  on May 23.   The full report reflects the author’s long and deep understanding of the political economy of Alberta. His fairly brief discussion of Just Transition principles occurs at the end of the report.

Syncrude_mildred_lake_plant

From Wikimedia, in the public domain. Syncrude Lake Mildred plant, Alberta.

Section 1 of Act or be Acted Upon discusses the market forces and policy environment in which the oil sands continues to operate – including a discussion of the cap on emissions put in place in the Alberta government’s Climate Leadership Plan , and the issues of divestment and stranded assets. Looking for lessons to be learned, Section 2 examines the international and Canadian progress in banning coal-fired power, with a detailed look at Ontario’s experience and Alberta’s current efforts. The author emphasizes the importance of the health-based  arguments in Ontario’s campaign against coal, and suggests two possible motivators for an Alberta campaign against the oil sands: first,  the under-reported  health effects on residents and workers around Fort McMurray, the Peace River country, and the Aboriginal community of Fort Chipewyan,  and second, the devastating wildfire in Fort McMurray in 2016.

Section 3: “Phasing out the oil sands”,  calls for a permanent moratorium on new projects and a schedule for shutting down older projects that have paid off their capital costs- starting with the Suncor and Syncrude projects  which are over 50 years old. Finally, the author calls for replacing the existing emissions cap under the Climate Leadership Plan with  “an annually lowering GHG ceiling on all remaining Sands projects until they collectively reach zero by 2040.”

The final section of the Green Paper states: “It’s vital that phasing out the Sands be accompanied by a well-thought-out plan to provide workers and communities in the Sands with alternative work and retraining…. A just transition is the right thing to do, but it is also needed because if workers involved in the Sands don’t see a sure-fire alternative, they will fight hard to hang on to the Sands jobs they currently have, which will hamper the changes Alberta and Canada need to make.”   Those looking for new approaches to Just Transition will have to hope that Professor Laxer writes another paper – in this one, he goes only so far as to endorse the Just Transition principles set out in the October 2016 paper from the UNFCCC,  Just transition of the workforce, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs  .  To recap, those are: • Develop skills and retraining for green jobs  • Develop green enterprises • Promote government programmes to help the unemployed find work • Provide social protection • Minimize hardship for workers and address their needs • Consult all stakeholders to plan for a just transition.

Recalling the huge federal and provincial government research subsidies in the 1960’s that launched the oil sands, Professor Laxer concludes with this:  “The same governments now need to devote as much research money in today’s dollars to plan useful employment for Sands workers necessitated by the shift to a low-carbon future.”

after the SandsAct or be Acted Upon. The case for phasing out Alberta’s Sands  is a “Green Paper”, commissioned by the Alberta Institute of Agrologists and presented to them in March 2017.  Related reading:  Gordon Laxer’s book from 2015 , After the Sands. Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians ;   and from the Parkland Institute:  Restructuring in Alberta’s oil industry: Internationals pull out, domestic majors double down (April 2017);  Five things to know about Alberta’s oil sands emissions cap   (Feb. 2017); Extracted Carbon: Re-examining Canada’s Contribution to Climate Change through Fossil Fuel Exports (Jan. 2017).