Coal transition case studies argue for anticipation and early action

coal transitions report sept 2018Implementing coal transitions:  Insights from case studies of major coal-consuming economies , published on September 5, brings together the main insights from the Coal Transitions project, the international research program led by IDDRI and Climate Strategies.  The report provides an overview of the drivers of coal transition across the world (with brief mention of the Powering Past Coal Alliance and Canada), and concludes that coal transition is already happening, and that it is technically feasible and affordable. The report then presents case studies of coal transition in six countries: China, India, Poland, Germany, Australia and South Africa.

The analysis concludes that there are multiple policy options which have proven effective for coal transition, but warns that the meaningful consultation and participation of stakeholders early on in the decision-making process is critical to success. In an explanatory blog,  lead author Oliver Sartor states that coal transition policies: “…. must be context-specific and agreed between the relevant parties. However, the crucial success factor is to anticipate rather than wait until the economics turns against coal. A good preparation can allow for younger eligible workers to be more easily placed into alternative jobs, for older workers to retire naturally, and for tailored worker reconversion and job-transfer programs for workers in the middle of their careers.”

In addition to the Synthesis report, national reports for each of the six countries are available from the IDDRI here.

German report proposes innovative “Just and In-time” Transition policies

German Just and intime policy coverJust and In-time  Climate Policy: Four Initiatives for a Fair Transformation  was released  on August 31 by the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). The paper  makes innovative proposals for  the German climate change policy in an international perspective. The four exemplary initiatives under discussion relate to (1) “the people affected by the structural change towards climate compatibility” (specifically, Just Transition for coal-mining regions), (2) the legal rights of people harmed by climate change (including financial support for citizens bringing climate liability suits), (3) the dignified migration of people who lose their native countries due to climate change, (through the vehicle of an international climate passport),  and (4) the creation of financing instruments for just & in-time transformation processes.

Regarding the transitions required by coal phase-out, the paper discusses the concept of Just Transition, but argues that it may be too slow for the emissions reduction challenge the world faces.  Instead it uses the term “Just and In-Time” transition,  reviewing  past structural transition models  but concluding that they will not be sufficient.  “Purposive decarbonization requires forward-looking, early, proactive intervention by the state in alliance with other actors.” The report  proposes to reach that goal through “an  overarching ‘Zero Carbon Mission’ on multiple political levels”- local, regional, national, and international.

Regarding citizens’ legal rights and climate liability, the paper states: “Under certain circumstances, companies that contribute to climate change through emissions can sue for damages in the courts if they are forced by state authorities to close their plants. Yet the legal rights of people affected by massive climate damage vis-à-vis large corporations partly responsible for climate change are completely uncertain. The WBGU recommends that the German Federal Government should support a number of promising pioneer lawsuits, particularly those brought by people and communities harmed by climate change, against major corporations that have a significant responsibility for global warming, and assume the litigation cost risks for these lawsuits. It should furthermore use its influence internationally to ensure that the people affected are given opportunities to take legal action across national borders.”

Regarding climate migration, the report urges the German government to advocate at Katowice for a “climate passport” for climate-driven migrants “as a sign of intergenerational justice and responsibility”,  and that “Countries with considerable responsibility for climate change should open their doors as host countries to people with a climate passport.”

Regarding the financial instruments to support transformation, the paper proposes that transition funds be created by pricing greenhouse-gas emissions (e.g.through carbon taxes), and be supplemented by revenue from a reformed inheritance or estate tax. “The transformation funds should accelerate the implementation of the climate and sustainability goals via investments and holdings in key industries, and use the profits generated for early and participatory structural change.”  The  WBGU also recommends providing support for economically weaker countries to build up their own transformation funds and manage structural change via a facility at the World Bank or regional development banks.

The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), an independent, scientific advisory body established by the German government in 1992.  The paper was released  in anticipation of  the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Katowice in December.  The German Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment is also underway now, with the goal of contributing to the COP24 discussion on coal transition planning.

 

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) .

 

Unions well-represented on Canada’s new Task Force on Just Transition – including Co-Chair Hassan Yussuff, President of the CLC

Hassan Yussuff head shot

Hassan Yussuff, President, Canadian Labour Congress

On April 25, Canada’s  Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced the members of the the Just Transition Task Force for Canadian Coal-Power Workers and Communities, to be co-chaired by Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and Lois Corbett, Executive Director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.  Biographies are here , revealing that six of the eleven members of the Task Force are unionists: two from the CLC, the Alberta Federation of Labour,  United Steelworkers, Unifor, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.  The press release by the Canadian Labour Congress states: “The world is watching. By launching this task force, Canada has the opportunity to set an international example on how to implement progressive policy to reduce emissions while keeping people and communities at the centre”.  A National Observer article provides context and background about the members of the Task Force, and some quotes from the press conference which announced it.  A CBC report also includes a video of the press conference.

The full Terms of Reference for the Just Transition Task Force were originally published in February 2018, and include a mandate to make recommendations to the Minister via an interim report and a final report due at the end of 2018. Members of the Task Force will meet with government officials at the local and provincial level, workers, stakeholders, academics, and also make site visits to coal plants and communities that will be affected by the accelerated phase-out of coal power in Canada.  The Task Force will no doubt benefit from the work of  Alberta’s  Advisory Panel on Coal Communities , which also examined the impacts on communities and workers of an end to coal-fired electricity by 2030, and proposed strategies to support workers through the transition. The Alberta Panel issued its recommendations  in a brief report, titled Supporting Workers and Communities in November 2017, resulting in a number of provincial  programs, described here .

At the international level, Canada has been active since joining with the United Kingdom to launch the Powering Past Coal Alliance in November 2017 at the Conference of the Parties (COP23), in Bonn in 2017.  Updates on that initiative are available from this link.  As of April 2018, there are over 60 countries and private businesses in the alliance. An April 2018 release  reports that Canada and the U.K. will collaborate with Bloomberg Philanthropies on the goals of the Alliance, including to produce research and case studies on the issue.   Also, at the One Planet Summit in December 2017,  Canada announced its partnership with the World Bank Group and the International Trade Union Confederation, to accelerate the transition from coal-fired electricity to clean sources in developing countries.

Alternative Budget proposals for a Just Transition and a low carbon economy

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its 23rd Alternative Budget (AFB) on February 22 in Ottawa, in advance of the federal government’s February 26 Budget release. According to the summary at Behind the Numbers “Our budget puts forward bold progressive policy ideas rooted in a rigorous economic and fiscal framework. Our approach considers not just standard budget items but delivers a gender-based analysis, examines income distribution effects, and projects the impacts on poverty rates.” High priority areas for the CCPA include universal child care, pharmacare, gender equity, free tuition, and a green, low carbon economy.

The report argues that the current, relatively low unemployment levels make this an opportune time to begin  “in earnest, the just transition to a green jobs future.” In a section called  “Industrial Strategy and Just Transition” the report  calls for a National Decarbonization Strategy to be developed through broad consultation, and to act as a co-ordinating body for other AFB proposals – notably an enhanced Low Carbon Economy Fund to support cities and infrastructure investments, and a trade promotion strategy.  A new $500-million Just Transition Transfer (JTT) is proposed,  to flow federal funds to provinces –  for workers and communities  affected through actions under the  National Decarbonization Strategy or for existing provincial just transition programs, such as Alberta’s Coal Workforce Transition Fund.  Finally, the AFB calls for  a new $1Billion Strategic Training Fund to increase training capacity at colleges and trade schools  – with the funds contingent on improved representation of  women, racialized Canadians, immigrants, First Nations and other groups that have been historically excluded from the skilled trades.

Regarding the environment, some of the  top-level goals are : Remove all direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuel exploration, development and transportation; enforce a stringent national carbon pricing standard  (rising to $50 per tonne by 2020); contribute Canada’s fair share of global climate financing; improve energy efficiency for Canadian homes, with $600 million annually to offset the costs of  retrofitting and construction; create a network of protected areas covering 17% of Canada’s land and freshwater and 10% of its oceans; strengthen environmental protection laws and make advances toward sustainable fisheries, and invest $50 million annually for a stronger environmental data and science system at Statistics Canada.

Read the full Alternative Federal Budget 2018  in English  or in French.