Job protection gets high priority in Germany’s Commission on phase-out of brown coal

According to a March 2018 report by Clean Energy Wire, Germany’s coal industry, ( hard coal and lignite coal), employed approximately 36,000 workers in 2016, in contrast to 160,000 people employed in the wind power industry and 340,000 in the entire renewable energy generation sector.  Yet on June 6,  Germany’s Special Commission on Growth, Structural Economic Change and Employment was launched to study and make recommendations for social and economic policy  for a phase-out of lignite coal in Germany by the end of 2018. The word “coal” does not appear in its name, reflecting the political tension surrounding the issue.  Groups such as The Green Party,  WWF Germany and Greenpeace Germany are critical, as summarized in “Why are German coal workers so powerful, when there are so few?” in Climate Home News (Aug. 14) , which states that ” “saving jobs in the coal sector is its first priority, followed by designing the structural change in the coal regions towards low-carbon economies, with climate protection and coal phase-out coming last.”

Although much information about the Commission is in German, Clean Energy Wire ( based in Berlin) publishes in English, and  is monitoring the Commission’s progress  . It  has produced two Fact Sheets that are essential reading: 1.  Coal in Germany, a Fact Sheet  (Dec. 2017) ( full of facts and figures about the industry); and  2. Germany’s Coal Exit Commission, a Fact Sheet  – which includes a list of  the members of the Commission –  representatives from government, industry, academia, environmental groups,  and these unions: German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) ; Ver.di (Service industries)  and IG BCE  (mining, chemicals and energy industries). Position statements from some of the members of the Commission are here  ; IG BCE states: “The people in the mining regions do not need an accelerated exit from coal.. .The path for a phase out of coal-fired power generation has long been mapped out. What they need is an entry into structural change that secures good industrial work. That’s what we will work towards in the commission.”  From another member, Germanwatch: “The coal exit is aligned with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and has the potential to be the foundation for a fair structural change and a modernisation of the economy. One hopes that the economic associations involved do not obstruct, but put the opportunities front and centre.”

On August 3 that the Germany’s Employment Minister presented a 6-point plan, summarized in “Employment minister suggests infrastructure projects for coal mining regions” .

Further background and opinion:  

From Euractiv: “Leaked: Germany’s planned coal commission shows little interest for the climate”    (June 1)   and “ Germany launches coal commission in a bid to protect climate and jobs”  (June 7)

From DW, “Germany′s mining communities brace themselves for post-coal era” (June 1)   and  “Germany’s coal exit: Jobs first, then the climate” from DW   (June 26);

Contrast the European coverage with “New Commission studies unprecedented, orderly coal phase out for Germany” in The Energy Mix (August 14) .

 

Job losses feared as Ontario government cancels renewable energy contracts

On  July 13, the Province of Ontario announced the immediate cancellation of 758 renewable energy projects, calling them “unnecessary and wasteful” .  In “Inside Ontario’s clean energy contract cancellations”  by GreenTech Media  (July 26), the CEO of the Canadian Solar Industry Association estimates that  Ontario will lose 6,000 jobs and half a billion dollars of investment as a result, although the general tone of the article displays confidence in the unstoppable momentum of clean energy.  The decision, however, has thrown the industry into confusion, disappointed some consumers, and is seen as a blow to Ontario’s reputation amongst investors.

A sampling of reaction:  “Green shift to green slump: How trade decisions and electoral politics are crippling the vision of a clean Canadian power play”    in the Globe and Mail (Aug. 3)

Solar companies may exit Ontario for Alberta after Doug Ford kills rebate program”    from CBC News

Renewable Energy stocks slide as Ontario vows to scrap clean- power projects” in the Globe and Mail  (July 13)

Clean power advocates disappointed by defiant in the face of Ford’s sweeping cuts”   (July 17) in the National Observer

Cancellation of Energy Contracts Punishes Famers, School Boards, Municipalities and First Nations”   a press release from the Canadian Solar Industries Association.  CanWEA also responded to the announcements with a disjointed compilation of links about the benefits of wind energy  (July 13) .

wind turbine and cowsOne high profile  example of the cancelled projects:  the White Pines wind project in Prince Edward County, owned by German company WPD ,  which was first approved in 2010 and was weeks away from completion when it was cancelled by Bill 2, The Urgent Priorities Act.  Local reaction appeared in  The Picton Gazette , and the National Observer published an extensive four part report, “Inside one Ontario town’s  decade long wind war”  .    CBC News published  “Ford government’s plan to cancel wind project could cost taxpayers over $100M, company warns”  , and even the conservative National Post published “John Ivison: Wind turbine decision says Doug Ford’s Ontario is closed for business”   (July 23), calling it a “bone-headed”decision.  Activist group Leadnow.ca has posted on online petition, “Save the White Pines project”  .

 

 

TUED conferences: A Social Power vision of Just Transition, and U.K. Energy Democracy

The international alliance of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy  convened two meetings over the summer of 2018, summarized in  Just Transition: A Revolutionary Idea – TUED Bulletin 73 , which summarizes an international conference held in New York in late May, and  Reclaiming UK Energy: What’s the Plan? – TUED Bulletin 75  , which summarizes meetings in the U.K. on June 28 and 29 to discuss different approaches to reclaiming the power sector, while honouring climate commitments and addressing energy poverty.

The Just Transition international conference brought together representatives of 31 unions as well as 15 environmental, community-based, research and policy allies from both the global North and the South.  The Program is here  ;  links to videos of the presentations on YouTube  are here  . In Opening Remarks, Paula Finn, Associate Director of the Center for Labor, Community & Public Policy at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies  “highlighted the necessity of confronting frankly and honestly the divisions within the global trade union movement—in particular divisions over “whether unmitigated economic growth and extractive capitalism must be challenged, or we can somehow ride the wave of ‘green jobs’ towards a solution of the climate crisis.”  Much of the discussion was based on the TUED’s Working Paper #11, Trade Unions and Just Transition: The Search for a Transformative Politics ( April 2018) by Sean Sweeney and John Treat and available from the Rose Luxemburg Stiflung  as part of its Climate Justice Dossier .   The Sweeney/Treat paper argues for a “Social Power vision” of Just Transition, which “ must be radically democratic and inclusive, and it must hold at its center a recognition that nothing short of a deep socioeconomic and ecological transition will be sufficient for the challenges our planet currently faces.” Watch Sean Sweeney summarize and discuss the paper in a video of Session 2: Broadening the Just Transition Debate: The Search for a Transformative Politics . Donald LaFleur, Vice-President of the  Canadian Labour Congress,  appears as a discussant to the paper at approximately minute 29 of the video.

The second TUED meeting of the summer of 2018 is summarized in Reclaiming UK Energy: What’s the Plan? – TUED Bulletin 75  .  The forty delegates attending  included GMB, UNISON UNITE, PCS, TSSA, Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, National Education Union,  and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), along with allies including the Greener Jobs Alliance, Friends of the Earth Europe and Scotland, Transnational Institute and others from across Europe.  The Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of the U.K. Labour Party presented their current energy platform which focuses on establishing a number of regional public energy companies, and participated in a discussion of union policies and opinion.  In addition to the summary from the TUED Bulletin, a summary also appears in the July/August Newsletter of the Greener Jobs Alliance .  Documents on which discussion was based include:

From the TUED: All, or Something? Towards a “Comprehensive Reclaiming” of the UK Power Sector, which argues for  establishing a new national public entity that would encompass generation, transmission, distribution and supply.

From Unison: The need to take into public ownership the customer and retail operations of big 6

From Professor Costas Lapavitsas,  the University of London spoke regarding the potential impacts of Brexit on energy nationalization, based on  his  arguments and observations in  “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour vs. the Single Market.”   in Jacobin (May 2018) .

The many activities and accomplishments of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy are summarized in New Unions and Regional Advances: A Mid-Year Report — TUED Bulletin 76 dated 30 July 2018.  Of note : “The first half of 2018 saw three important additions to the TUED network, with the British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union(BCGEU), the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU; US and Canada) and the Nordic Transport Workers Federation (NTF; headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden). Together these unions represent 560,000 workers.”  64 trade union bodies are now members of TUED .

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Council delivers recommendations for Canada’s energy transition, including “cleaner oil and gas”

Generation energy council reportThe federal government established a  Generation Energy consultation process in 2017, to inform an energy policy for a low-carbon future.  That process concluded when the appointed Generation Energy Council presented its Report  to Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources on June 28.  The report, titled Canada’s Energy Transition: Getting to our Energy Future, Together, identifies “four pathways that collectively will lead to the affordable, sustainable energy future”: waste less energy, switch to clean power, use more renewable fuels, and produce cleaner oil and gas.  The report outlines concrete actions, milestones for each of these pathways – most problemmatic of which is the pathway cleaner oil and gas.  Each pathway also includes a general statement re the “tools” required, giving passing mention to  “Skill and Talent Attraction and Development”.

The priorities for the “cleaner oil and gas” pathway include: “reducing emissions per unit of oil or natural gas produced; • improving the cost competitiveness of Canadian oil and gas; and • expanding the scope of value-added oil and gas products and services for both domestic and export markets.”  The report lauds the potential of Carbon Capture Use and Storage (CCUS), as well as the economic value of the petrochemical industry. Amongst  the milestones in this pathway: “By 2025, reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels, with ongoing improvements thereafter.. …By 2030, reduce life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions for oil sands extraction to levels lower than competing crudes in global markets…Develop a trusted and effective regulatory system, including a life-cycle approach to greenhouse gas emissions, as measured by objective third party assessment of key attributes relative to competing jurisdictions…  By 2030, a more diversified mix of oil and gas products, services and solutions to domestic and global markets has a measurably significant impact on industry and government revenues.”

The Council was co-chaired by Merran Smith (Clean Energy Canada and Simon Fraser University)  and Linda Coady (Enbridge Canada); members are listed here . The Council heard from over 380,000 Canadians in an online discussion forum and in person. An impressive archive of submissions and commissioned studies, some previously published and some unique, is available here . Authors include government departments, academics, business and industry associations, and think tanks.

Doug Ford has begun to dismantle Ontario’s climate leadership – Step 1, exit the cap-and-trade agreement

Doug FordAs a result of the provincial election on June 7, Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford will take power as the premier of Ontario on  June 29, 2018.  Even before that hand-over date, he has begun to make the changes many feared –  announcing on June 15 that Ontario will exit the cap and trade market of the Western Climate Initiative (which includes California and Quebec)  and on June 19,  cancelling the $377-million Green Ontario Fund,  financed by the proceeds of cap-and-trade auctions and which provided consumer incentives for energy efficiency improvements.  On June 21, he committed to keep the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in operation until 2024  –  in the name of protecting 4,500 local jobs and an additional 3,000 jobs province-wide.  Some general articles about the Ford government appeared in The Tyee  “Green hopes, NDP fears, and PC Dreams: The challenges that await Ontario in Ford Nation” (June 15);  “What does a Doug Ford victory mean for the climate?”  in The Narwhal (by DeSmog Canada),  and “Doug Ford’s Environmental policies light on details, advocates say” on CBC News (June 13).

Ford’s decision to end the cap and trade market has many implications – the possibility of lawsuits from investors and companies who had bought carbon credits, as well as a direct confrontation with the federal government, which requires all provinces to enact carbon pricing by 2019, under the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Energy and Climate Change.  Additionally, the federal government  just passed Bill C-74, which includes Part 5: The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act on June 14 , the day before Ford’s announcement.  For discussion of the carbon pricing issue, see  “Ontario’s Doug Ford says the province is abandoning its price on carbon pollution” in the National Observer (June 15) ;  “PC’s will end Ontario cap and trade program, Ford vows” in the Globe and Mail (June 15).  An official reaction from Environmental Defence is here , with more detail in their blog, “What you need to know about Ontario’s carbon pricing drama” . From the Ecofiscal Commission, “Tread Carefully: Ontario’s cap-and-trade system meets a fork in the road” (June 8) , and “Can Ontario hits its targets without carbon pricing?”  (June 21) , which discusses the two remaining options for reducing emissions: regulations and incentives.  Finally,  the arguments are summed up in the Unifor press release, “Unifor urges Premier-designate Doug Ford to maintain the cap and trade system” : “Workers in Ontario need forward-looking policies with the intention to build a green economy, but instead Ford announced his intention to cancel a successful program and pick an unnecessary fight with the federal government…. Workers accept that climate change is real and need our government to lead with a real, predictable plan to reduce emissions and grow green jobs.”