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) .

 

New York City and State announce plans to divest pension funds; Canadian Public Pension fund holds on to coal

I love new yorkNew York City Mayor Bill diBlasio captured headlines on January 10 2018 for his announcement that New York City will divest from fossil fuels and will sue Exxon and other oil companies for the damages of Superstorm Sandy.   Yet  it was actually on December 19 that New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo  first announced separate proposals to freeze current fossil fuel investments, divest New York’s public pension funds from fossil fuels, and reinvest in renewable energy.    Common Dreams summarized the announcements in ” ‘Undeniable Victory’: Cheers Follow Proposals to Divest Massive New York Pensions From Fossil Fuels”Reaction from 350.org (Dec. 19)  emphasized the importance of five years of citizen activism , and quoted Bill McKibben, who emphasized the symbolic importance of New York’s announcement:  “Coming from the capital of world finance, this will resonate loud and clear all over the planet. It’s a crucial sign of how fast the financial pendulum is swinging away from fossil fuels.”   (As further proof, in November, administrators of Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund recommended no further investment in fossil fuels and  divestment from existing oil and gas shares , and in the U.K., legal changes are in the works to ease divestment for pension funds.)

At the state level,   Governor Cuomo’s press release  states:  “Governor Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli will work together to create an advisory committee of financial, economic, scientific, business and workforce representatives as a resource for the Common Retirement Fund to develop a de-carbonization roadmap to invest in opportunities to combat climate change and support the clean tech economy while assessing financial risks and protecting the Fund.” The New York Common Fund of the state manages approximately $200 billion in retirement assets for more than one million New Yorkers and is  heavily invested in fossil fuels, with nearly $1 billion invested in ExxonMobil alone.

At the city level, officials have set a goal of divesting the city’s  funds from fossil fuel companies within five years , according to the press release from the Office of the Comptroller,  which also highlights the complex process involved.  In February 2017,  the Office of the Comptroller had issued a  press release  stating,  “the Trustees of the New York City Pension Funds … will conduct the first-ever carbon footprint analysis of their portfolios and determine how to best manage their investments with an eye toward climate change. In the 21st century, companies must transition to a low-carbon economy, and a failure to adapt to the realities of global warming could present potential investment risks.”  The New York City pension fund includes municipal employees, teachers, firefighters and police.

Related reading re New York activism : The Divest NY website;  “How New Yorkers won fossil fuel divestment”  from the Indypendent (Jan. 12); and Noami Klein’s article in The Intercept (Jan. 11).

Contrast the New York divestment announcements with the continued fossil fuel investment of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), revealed in two new reports.  In early December, Friends of the Earth Canada, as part of its ongoing campaign,  released  Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance, and Urgewald, a German organization, released Investors vs. the Paris Agreement.  The two reports “present a compelling picture of entrenched investors holding onto the old dirty economy and its growing risks at a time when politicians are committing to the phase out of coal.” – specifically, the Powering Past Coal Alliance launched by Canada and Great Britain at COP23 in Bonn in 2017.  The Powering Past Coal Declaration commits governments to phasing out existing traditional coal power and placing a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage, and commits all partners to supporting clean power through their policies and investments, as well as restricting financing for traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage. In an October 2017  press release,  Friends of the Earth representatives asked, “Why is the CPPIB ignoring government policy and undermining Canada’s diplomatic efforts to lead a global phase-out of coal?” . To date, there has been no public statement adjusting  the Sustainable Investing position of the CPPIB to bring it in line with the Powering Past Coal Alliance Declaration.

Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance calculates the CPPIB’s total investment in coal at $12.2 billion Cdn., with $267 million of that in new coal projects . In a global ranking in Investors vs. the Paris Agreement, Urgewald found that Canada is the 8th largest investor in new coal development, and names several Canadian institutions in its Top 100 Investors list, including SunLife  (ranked #31 with $895 million invested); Power Financial Corporation (#53 with $631 million invested); Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec ( #71 with $433 million invested); Royal Bank (#86 with $356 million invested); and Manulife Financial ( #98 with $282 million invested).

Also of interest:  “Failure to Launch” in Corporate Knights  magazine (Jan. 15 2018), which provides a serious discussion of the problems of pension plan regulation as the answer to its tagline question: “Why are Canadian pension funds dragging their feet when it comes to climate change?”

 

 

International action on Just Transition: what’s been accomplished, and proposals for the future

ituc logoJust Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? A Guide to National Policies and International Climate Governance  was released on September 19 by the International Trade Union Confederation, summarizing what has been done to date by the ITUC and through  international agencies such as the  ILO, UNFCCC, and the  Paris Agreement.  It also provides short summaries of some transition situations, including the Ruhr Valley in Germany, Hazelwood workers in the LaTrobe Valley, Australia, U.S. Appalachian coal miners and the coal mining pension plan, Argentinian construction workers, and Chinese coal workers.  Finally, the report calls for concrete steps to advance Just Transition and workers’ interests.

The report defines Just Transition on a national or regional scale, as  “an economy-wide process that produces the plans, policies and investments that lead to a future where all jobs are green and decent, emissions are at net zero, poverty is eradicated, and communities are thriving and resilient.” But the report also argues that Just Transition is important for companies, with social dialogue and collective bargaining as key tools to manage the necessary industrial transformation at the organizational level.  To that end, the ITUC is launching “A Workers Right To Know” as an ITUC campaign priority for 2018, stating, “Workers have a right to know what their governments are planning to meet the climate challenge and what the Just Transition measures are. Equally, workers have a right to know what their employers are planning, what the impact of the transition is and what the Just Transition guarantees will be. And workers have a right to know where their pension funds are invested with the demand that they are not funding climate or job destruction.”

The ITUC report makes new proposals. It calls on the ILO to take a more ambitious role and to negotiate a Standard for Just Transition by 2021, carrying on from the Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies forAll  (2015).   The ITUC also states “expectations” of how Just Transition should be given greater priority in the international negotiation process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), so that:  Just Transition commitments are incorporated into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of countries; Just Transition for workers becomes a permanent theme within the forum on response measures under the Paris Agreement, and Just Transition is included in the 2018 UNFCCC Facilitative Dialogue. It also calls for the launch of a “Katowice initiative for a Just Transition” at the COP23 meetings to take place in Katowice, Poland in 2018, “to provide a high-level political space”.  Finally, the ITUC calls for expansion of the eligibility criteria of the Green Climate Fund to allow  the funding of Just Transition projects.

Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? is a Climate Justice Frontline Briefing from the International Trade Union Confederation, with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and is based upon Strengthening Just Transition Policies in International Climate Governance by Anabella Rosemberg, published as a Policy Analysis Brief by the Stanley Foundation in 2017.

Other Just Transition News:  In Calgary in September, the  Just Transition and Good Green Jobs in Alberta Conference took place, sponsored by BlueGreen Alberta, with updates on national and provincial developments and with a global perspective from Samantha Smith, Director of the ITUC’s Just Transition Centre as the keynote speaker.  A companion event, the 3rd Annual Alberta Climate Summit, hosted by the Pembina Institute and Capital Power,  also included a session on  “Just Transition: Labour and Indigenous Perspectives” which featured Andres Filella (Metis Nation of Alberta), Samantha Smith(Just Transition Centre) and Heather Milton-Lightening ( Indigenous Climate Action Network).

In advance of these events, the Alberta government had announced  on  September  11  the launch of  the Coal Community Transition Fund to assist Alberta communities impacted by the mandated coal-phase out in the province.   Municipalities and First Nations can apply for grant funding to support economic development initiatives that focus on regional partnerships and economic diversification.  Further funding is anticipated from the federal government, with retraining programs also expected after the Advisory Panel on Coal Communities  provides its recommendations in a report to the government, expected this fall.

How Trump’s budget will rob coal workers and communities of federal aid for transition and retraining

An April Issue Brief from the Center for American Progress examines the Trump actions to date and concludes that “The Trump Budget Cuts Hit Coal Communities and Workers Where It Hurts”  . In a concise, well-documented overview, the paper explains the widely-accepted facts about the decline of the coal industry – that it is caused not by over-reaching environmental regulation, but by market forces and declining productivity, especially in the Appalachian coal mines. But the thrust of the report is to estimate in detail how the Trump budget proposed for 2018  would eliminate $1.13 billion in federal funding for  7 of the 12 Obama-era programs, undoing the current  efforts to diversify the economies of coal mining communities and provide workforce training.

In 2015, then-President Barack Obama launched the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization, or POWER, Initiative, which funded efforts by  12 federal agencies to align, scale up, and target federal economic and workforce development assistance to coal communities and coal economy workers . Coordinated by the Department of Commerce, the Initiative included the Appalachian Regional Commission, which had been established in 1965 to invest in economic and workforce opportunities  in Appalachia, and the National Dislocated Worker Grants program, part of the Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, which channeled funding to state workforce development agencies to provide employment and training services.   The CAP issue paper was co-authored by Jason Walsh,  who  was a senior policy adviser in the White House under President Obama, involved in the design and coordination of the POWER Initiative.

A new report from Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy asks “Can Coal make a Comeback?”    and with detailed statistics and  discussion of coal in the context of the global energy industry, answers the question as “No”.   The paper concludes with some examples of local economic diversification  programs, stating: “There is a lot the federal government can do to help accelerate locally driven economic diversification efforts… But this all requires a clear-eyed assessment of the outlook for the coal industry and a commitment to put sustainable solutions ahead of politically expedient talking points.”

The Columbia paper also calls for the federal government to help provide retirement and healthcare security by passing the Miners’ Protection Act  .  But an April 19 article in the New York TimesRetired Miners Lament Trump’s Silence on Imperiled Health Plan”(April 19)  describes the uncertainty for the miners and the political horsetrading in Congress – part of the government funding showdown due April 30.  The fates and possibly the lives of more than 20,000 retired miners rests on extending federal funding to the health benefits fund, depleted by coal industry bankruptcies . For the best explanation  see “ Mine wars: The struggle for coal miners’ health care and pension benefits comes to a head”  in The Conversation,  published April 26 and updated April 30th with the news that Congress  had extended health care benefits until May 5. This will be the latest of several extensions, without a resolution to the issue.

In addition to the economic analysis of the Columbia University report, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis ( IEEFA) published a brief on April 21, “U.S. Coal Phase-out, Blow by Blow: Plant Closings and the Likely Corresponding Effect on Specific Companies and Mines”—  which “focuses on how the scheduled closures, conversions or curtailments of 46 coal-fired generating units at 25 electricity plants in 16 states stand to affect the U.S coal-mining industry through 2018, including the loss of nearly 30 million tons of coal demand.”   It does not estimate job losses or community impacts.

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”  .