EU Industry pledges no new coal plants as Australians mobilize to fight the giant Adani coal project

The Union of the Electricity Industry (EURELECTRIC), representing 3500 companies across Europe, released a statement on April 5, pledging that no new coal-fired plants will be built in the EU after 2020.   “The European electricity sector believes that achieving the decarbonisation objectives agreed in the Paris Agreement is essential to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the global economy. EURELECTRIC’s members are committed to delivering a carbon neutral power supply in Europe by 2050, and to ensuring a competitively priced and reliable electricity supply throughout the integrated European energy market.” Poland and Greece remain outside the agreement, and apparently outside the mainstream.

The Guardian calls the EU position   a “death knell for coal”,    and in a separate piece, summarizes the decline of coal-fired electricity around the world.  “Coal in ‘freefall’ as new power plants dive by two-thirds”  (March 22)    quotes a new report by Greenpeace  , Sierra Club USA,  and Coalswarm   :  Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline.   Its findings show a 62 percent drop in new construction starts, and an 85 percent decline in new Chinese coal plant permits. A senior Greenpeace official states: “2016 marked a veritable turning point”.  “China all but stopped new coal projects after astonishing clean energy growth has made new coal-fired power plants redundant, with all additional power needs covered from non-fossil sources since 2013. Closures of old coal plants drove major emission reductions especially in the U.S. and UK, while Belgium and Ontario became entirely coal-free and three G8 countries announced deadlines for coal phase-outs.”

Stop-Adani-LogoYet in Australia, environmentalists are waging an epic environmental battle against a giant, $16.5-billion coal mine adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, proposed by Indian energy conglomerate Adani. Government supporters, including the Prime Minister and politicians in Queensland, have argued that the mine would bring jobs and would not increase GHG emissions globally because Australian coal is cleaner than any other that India would be able to source from other countries; see an article in Climate Home for the rebuttal to that.  Voices in opposition include Bob Brown, a former Green Party leader, who states  : “This is the environmental issue of our times and, for one, the Great Barrier Reef is at stake. The Adani corporation’s dirty coalmine is an impending disaster with effects which will reach far beyond Australia.”  Or read:   “It’s either Adani or the Great Barrier Reef – are we willing to fight for a Wonder of the World?”   in The Guardian.   Thirteen community groups, claiming to represent 1.5 million Australians have joined the Stop Adani Alliance since its launch in March, and the Australian Conservation Foundation is behind another high-powered campaign . For context, see “The coal war: Inside the fight against Adani’s plans to build Australia’s biggest coal mine” from the Sydney Morning Herald.   For a catalogue of “the ten most-absurd things about the Adani mine ” , see “Australia’s Climate bomb: the senselessness of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine”    in The Conversation (April 12).

UPDATE:  An April 24 analysis  of the bleak prospects of the Carmichael Mine proposed by Adani for Australia  “Adani: Remote Prospect: Carmichael Status Update 2017”  .

Just Transition proposals for Australia’s Coal Industry workers

Flag_of_Australia.svgOutside of the United States, it seems that there is general recognition that the coal industry is in decline, and that this demands a planned response to transition both the energy mix and the communities and workers.  The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) in Paris, for example, is coordinating a Coal Transitions Project, bringing together researchers from Australia, South Africa, Germany, Poland, India and China, to publish reports examining past experiences in the six countries in March 2017, culminating with a global report and a consideration of the future of coal by 2018.

Australia’s coal production has a long and highly-political  history – summarized in  “The long-term future of Australian coal is drying up”  in The Conversation (October 2015), or “Australia’s Addiction to Coal” in the New York Times (November 14, 2016) . Amidst this highly political climate, the current government established a  Senate Inquiry into the Retirement of Coal Fired Power Stations in October 2016,  to examine “the transition from ageing, high-carbon coal generation to clean energy”  in light of the Paris Agreement commitments on emissions reductions , and the Agreement’s  provisions re just transitions. The deadline for the Inquiry’s Final Report has been extended to the end of March; an  Interim Report was released at the end of November 2016, with Chapter 4 devoted to options for managing the transition for workers and communities.   Submissions to the Senate committee are here, listed by author. Three  noteworthy examples: the Australian Psychology Association reviews the “flow-on psychosocial impacts on individuals, families and whole communities” of mass closures, but argues for the possibility of  building “vibrant, diversified, energy sustainable communities with good local jobs, and capable of lifting the prospects of all citizens”. The submission states: “Community-led transitions that identify the community’s needs and resources, involve the community in the formulation and control of change, and strengthen the local people’s capacity for action, are critically important components of planned transitions. “”  The Appalachian Transition  and Renew Appalachia are cited as models of community building.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) submitted a thorough, 30-page proposal:  Sharing the challenges and opportunities of a clean energy economy: Policy discussion paper. A Just Transition for coal-fired electricity sector workers and communities.  Amongst the recommendations: establish  a “national independent statutory authority”, named Energy Transition Australia (ETA), within the environment and energy portfolio, and reporting to the Minister and parliament.   The  ETA would be overseen by a tripartite advisory board comprised of industry, unions and government, with a mandate to  oversee a planned and orderly closure of Australia’s coal fired power stations;  “manage an industry-wide multi-employer pooling and redeployment scheme, where existing workers would have an opportunity to be redeployed to remaining power stations or low-emissions generators; and  develop a labour adjustment package to support workers obtain new decent and secure jobs, including by providing funding for workers to access job assistance support, retraining, early retirement and travel and relocation assistance.”

Finally, a submission by Professor John Wiseman  of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute lists and synthesizes many of the recommendations from recent  Just Transition publications, including   Life After Coal: Pathways to a Just and Sustainable Transition for the Latrobe Valley  (October 2016). This report by the Environment department of the province of Victoria  focuses on the four Hazelwood coal-fired power plants, scheduled to close as early as April 2017.

An Australian view of Just Transition and a clean energy future

A joint report of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)  and the Australian Conservation Foundations (ACF)  models three future scenarios of climate and economic policies,  and estimates that a “strong action” scenario could create one million new jobs and reduce pollution by 80 per cent by 2040.   In releasing  Jobs in a clean energy future on October 26,   the ACF stated: ” it is important to remember Australians should not have to choose between jobs and cutting pollution.”  The “strong action” policies of the report include all of : investing in renewable energy, soil carbon capture, public transport, household energy efficiency, transport infrastructure and the introduction of a price on pollution, as well as investment in industrial energy efficiency and the development of alternative fuel sources such as bio-diesel.  Almost 500,000 of the one million resulting new jobs would be in the electricity, gas and water, construction and health sectors, and employment in construction would be almost double 2015 levels.

The report calls for a Just Transition as part of this scenario, which would include: ” • an equitable sharing of responsibilities and fair distribution of the costs • consultations with relevant organisations – including trade unions, employers and communities, at national, regional and sectoral levels • the promotion of clean job opportunities and the greening of existing jobs and industries, achieved through public and private investment in low-pollution industries and appropriate educational qualifications that enhance workers’ skills• formal education, training and re-training for workers, their families and their communities• economic and employment diversification policies within sectors and communities at risk• social protection measures (active labour market policies, access to health services, social insurances, among others) • respect for and protection of human and labour rights.”

Jobs in a clean energy future is based on modelling by Australia’s National Institute of Economic and Industry Research (NIEIR) and  updates a 2010 report released by the ACTU and ACF:  Creating Jobs – Cutting Pollution, and Green Gold Rush from 2008.  The previous reports advocated similar policies but didn’t define or address Just Transition.

 

In Case you missed it: Some policy landmarks over the summer

Ontario, Quebec and Mexico agree to promote carbon markets in North America: On August 31, at the 2016 Climate Summit of the Americas , the three jurisdictions announced   a joint declaration  which states: “The Partners are determined to jointly promote the expansion of carbon market instruments for greenhouse gas emissions reduction in North America.”   See the Globe and Mail summary here .

Alberta appoints an Oil Sands Advisory Group:  On July 14, Alberta appointed a 15-member Oil Sands Advisory Group   to provide expert advice on how to implement its 100 megatonne per year carbon emissions limit for the oil sands industry, and on “a pathway to 2050, including responding to federal and other initiatives that may affect the oil sands after 2030.”  Co-chairs appointed are: Climate and energy advocate Tzeporah Berman,   Melody Lepine of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, and Dave Collyer, former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

New Brunswick Climate Action Committee: The government’s Select Committee on Climate Change   held public hearings and accepted submissions over the summer.  In July, New Brunswick’s  Conservation Council produced its  “Climate Action Plan for New Brunswick”. It  proposes to reduce GHG  emissions through investments in retrofitting, starting with social and low-income housing; expand renewable energy ; provide incentives for electric and energy efficient vehicles; modernize industry and manufacturing to reduce waste and pollution, and accelerate installation of the Energy Internet (Smart Grid telecommunications) to manage a more distributed electricity load. These investments would help NB Power phase coal out of electricity production over the next 15 years.

U.S. and China formally join the Paris Agreement: On September 3, the eve of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou China, the two countries responsible for almost  40% of the world’s GHG emissions announced that they will formally ratify the Paris Accord.  See coverage in The Guardian ;  “U.S. and China formally join historic Paris climate agreement; Canada not yet ready”  in the Globe and Mail;  “Landmark China-U.S. climate breakthrough elicits tepid response” from Weekly Climate Review.  Check the Climate Analytics website  for their “ratification tracker”, which on September 9 states “ it is estimated that at least 58 countries are likely to have ratified the Paris Agreement by the end of 2016, accounting for 59.88% of global emissions. Under this scenario, the Paris Agreement will entry into force by the end of the year.”  The website has details country-by-country.

New U.S.  fuel standards for heavy-duty vehicles after model year 2018:  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency   and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration jointly finalized standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, to improve fuel efficiency and cut carbon pollution.  Heavy duty vehicles include:combination tractors (semi trucks), heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, and vocational vehicles (including buses and garbage or utility trucks). The new rule and an archive of related documents is available at the EPA website . The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy   applauds the new rules; as does the trucking industry, according to the New York Times coverage .  Canada is expected to follow suit, based on the  the Joint Leaders’ statement from the Three Amigos Summit, June 29,  :  “Canada, the U.S., and Mexico commit to reduce GHG emissions from light- and heavy-duty vehicles by aligning fuel efficiency and/or GHG emission standards by 2025 and 2027, respectively. We also commit to reduce air pollutant emissions by aligning air pollutant emission standards for light- and heavy-duty vehicles and corresponding low-sulphur fuel standards beginning in 2018. In addition, we will encourage greener freight transportation throughout North America by expanding the SmartWay program to Mexico.” Canada last updated its emission standards for heavy-duty trucks in 2013, covering up to model year 2018.

California continues to lead with landmark legislation:  California legislation (SB32) was passed in late August, and signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 8,  requiring the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 .   An economic analysis by consulting firm Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2)  was released during the public debate  around SB32, claiming that thousands of jobs had been created in every District of the state by the predecesor Global Warming Solutions Act. See the press release here.  And the 8th annual edition of California’s Green Innovation Index  by Next10 quantifies a booming clean energy economy, with solar generation increased by 1,378 percent in the past 5 years.  “California’s Historic Climate Legislation becomes Law” from Think Progress is typical of the superlatives throughout the news coverage.

As evidence of California’s important leadership role:  on August 1, New York’s Public Service Commission approved the Clean Energy Standard   which mandates that 50 percent of the New York state’s electricity will come from renewable, clean energy sources by 2030 .   California had passed legislation in 2015 to mandate utilities to provide 50 percent of their electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030, and require a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings by 2030.

Minority Report challenges Australia’s Climate Change policies:  Australia’s Cimate Change Authority released a report at the end of August:  Towards a climate policy toolkit: Special Review of Australia’s climate goals and policies  .  Authority experts David Karoly and Clive Hamilton so disagreed with the majority report that they issued their own Minority Report   (see the press release here  ) .  Clive Hamilton stated  “The majority report gives the impression that Australia has plenty of time to implement measures to bring Australia’s emissions sharply down.  This is untrue and dangerous”.

Shift in Climate Change policy in the U.K. government:  The new post-Brexit government of Theresa May has made “ a stupid and deeply worrying” decision according to The Independent ,    by moving the work of the  Department for Environment and Climate Change to a new  “Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.”    Reassurance from the June adoption of  a world-leading GHG emissions reduction target, as reported in The Guardian  here and here , has been challenged. The BBC reported that  “Just days after the United Kingdom committed  to cut greenhouse gas emissions 57% from 1990 levels by 2032, the country’s grid operator reported this morning that the country will miss its existing EU long-term targets for 2020,  unless it adopts more aggressive clean energy policies.”

 

The Human Face of Displacement in the Oil, Coal Industries

A June 17  article in The Tyee, “Oil Sands Workers Fear Becoming Climate Change Casualties”   gives voice to a Unifor worker from Fort MacMurray, and his opinions about Just Transition.  Also from the Canadian oil sands, the workers’ organization  Iron and Earth has posted an online survey seeking such workers’ views;  the group  proposes a Workers Plan  with 3 main goals:   Build up Canada’s renewable energy workforce capacity; Build up Canadian manufacturing of renewable energy technologies, and  Position existing energy sector workers, developers, contractors, and unions within the renewable energy sector.  The  plight of coal workers is described  in “Alberta coal communities look at what future holds as age of coal comes to end”   in the  National Observer (June 22); so far,  the community stakes its hopes on promised “consultations”.   For  the U.S., see “As Wind Power Lifts Wyoming’s Fortunes, Coal Miners are left in the Dust”   in the New York Times (June 20), which puts a personal face on the plight of laid-off workers from the Peabody coal bankruptcy. Although a nascent wind industry is being encouraged in Wyoming, it is not forecast to replace all of the estimated 10,000 jobs to be lost in the coal industry.   And from Australia, a June paper from the Green Institute, The End of coal: How should the next government respond? states that rather than propping up the dying fossil fuel industry,.. “the most honest approach, and the one that will be best for people and the planet, is to immediately prepare for a staged transition, facilitate a dignified exit from the coal industry for workers and communities, and ensure that the corporations which have caused this mess cover the cost.” Further, the author proposes a trial of guaranteed basic income provided to coal workers in the worst affected coal areas.