Talking Just Transition in the heart of coal country: COP24 delegates gather in Katowice, Poland

cop24 just transitionRepresentatives of almost 200 nations are meeting  at the 24th annual Conference of the Parties (COP24)  in Katowice, Poland from December 3 to 17.  Their goal is to negotiate a “rulebook” to turn the Paris Agreement pledges of 2015 into reality – basically, trying to find agreement on a host of implementation details so that the world can limit warming to 2, preferably 1.5 degrees C.

Katowice coal museum

Museum to coal mining in Katowice, Poland

With Poland as the host country and the  location of the meetings in the centre of the country’s coal region, it was inevitable that Just Transition would have a high profile at COP24 . The first day of the meetings at the Polish Pavilion was devoted entirely to discussion of the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration  which has been signed by Poland’s President and heads of 44 other countries. The Declaration states that social approval of changes is essential for the transition to a  low-carbon economy and the social security of workers in affected communities is the first and foremost policy goal. Although the International Trade Union Congress is meeting for its 4th World Congress in Copenhagen in the week of December 2,  it released a statement of support for the Silesia Declaration, stating “This declaration means that workers and their unions will have a seat at the negotiating table and workers’ voices will be heard when climate policies are developed and implemented. Good social dialogue processes are a crucial factor to make the changes to industries, sectors and national economies that will stop dangerous climate change and unleash a 65 million low-carbon jobs dividend by 2030. ”

Also at the ITUC World Congress, Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff delivered a speech (radio broadcast here ) on December 5 about on how Canadian unions are dealing with climate change.  The European Trade Union Confederation is also participating in the discussion on Just Transition –notably with participation in the  December 3 session  ‘Game changer for the future of work: Towards a just transition with gender equality’ . A list of ILO sessions and events regarding Just Transition and Decent Work is here .

December 10 has been designated as “Ambition and Just Transition Day”, and on December 13, Canada and the U.K. , as co-founders of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, will co-host a Side-event  to showcase the PPCA progress and to launch a new report on global coal economics by Carbon Tracker . mapping just transition 2018Already  launched at COP24:  Just Transition: Mapping Just Transition(s) to a Low Carbon World , published by the Just Transition Research Collaborative (JTRC), part of the U.N. Research Institute on Social Development (UNRISD). It focuses on Brazil, Germany, Kenya, South Africa, the United States, and Canada – with contributions from Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood.  The report discusses how differently Just Transition has been framed, and provides case studies of how it is being implemented in the six countries.

The Climate Action Network- Canada (CAN-Rac) is participating at COP24 and released a Brief which sets out five goals for the meetings, including  Just Transition goals. CAN-Rac calls for stronger institutional recognition of just transition – by  including a Just Transition commitment  in the official Nationally Determined Contribution, and by including it as a permanent theme within the COP meetings (which guarantees it status as an agenda item and as part of the official work programme). CANRac  supports the Polish Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration, recognizing the need for a carefully planned process built on social dialogue.  Within the Canadian context,  the Brief calls for an ongoing mandate for the federal Just Transition Task Force and an expansion beyond coal phase-out, to include all fossil fuel sectors. Finally it states: “The contribution of Indigenous communities in the creation and implementation of just transition policies and national plans is essential.”

What will Canada do at the COP24?  The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) makes its predictions in “The End of Coal? What to Watch for at the Upcoming UN Climate Conference (COP24)” . Environment and Climate Change Minister McKenna will not arrive at the meetings until December 9 ; December 10 has been declared “Ambition and Just Transition Day”, and December 13,  “Coal-free Day”. On December 13,  McKenna , along with the other co-founder, U.K.’s Claire Perry, will co-host a Powering Past Coal Side-event to showcase the PPCA progress and spotlight a new report, Powering Down Coal  by Carbon Tracker.

In advance of leaving for COP24, the Minister pledged  that Canada will set more ambitious GHG emissions targets when the Paris Agreement begins in 2020 –  which is a good thing since recently released data from the Global Carbon Project shows Canada is one of the world’s top ten polluters, and the current target of reducing emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 is generally considered insufficient (even if we were to meet it).  The 2018 Emissions Gap Report from the U.N. documents just how insufficient the efforts of all countries have been.

How to  Keep up to date with COP24:  The United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) website has comprehensive coverage including highlights, official documents, photos, and webcasts from the meetings.  The  International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) also provides detailed daily coverage, including photos, in its Earth Negotiations Bulletin  (and has also written a Short Guide to COP24  as an introduction to how it all works).  For media coverage:  Climate Home News has extensive and expert coverage of all aspects and The Guardian, as always, has strong coverage.  For the latest  developments, follow Environment and Climate Change Canada’s  Twitter feed here ;  also   #JustTransition  ; #Climate Justice ; and for a variety of views ,  #COP24Katowice .

 

Preview of the recommendations by Canada’s Just Transition Task Force

Hassan Yussuff head shotIn a November 5 article, “ Federal panel privately urges Trudeau government to do more for coal workers”  ,  National Observer reporter Carl Meyer reveals that the Just Transition Task Force Interim Report is already in the hands of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, though not yet publicly available. Canada’s Just Transition Task Force was launched in April 2018 – an  11-member advisory group co-chaired by Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff,  to “ provide advice on how to make the transition away from coal a fair one for workers and communities.”  The Task Force Terms of Reference   allowed for 9 months for the report; Environment and Climate Change Minister McKenna said on  November 2 : “We’re still reviewing the report, but as we talk about the need to power past coal and our commitment in Canada to phase out coal by 2030, we know there has to be a priority to supporting workers and communities.” A formal response is expected in November, and given the Minister’s leadership role in the international  Powering Past Coal Alliance and the public spotlight of the upcoming COP24 meetings in Katowice Poland in early December, that deadline is likely to be met.

The National Observer article of November 5, along with an April 2018 article about the Task Force launch, provide good background to the Task Force.  The new article emphasizes the different needs of different provinces – notably Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.  Most of the article is based on interviews with a few Task Force members.

But what are the Report’s Recommendations?  One member states that  “A lot of the recommendations are directly connected to what we heard from municipalities, from workers, from unions and from communities.”  The comments about the actual  recommendations are far from earth-shattering, but include:  1. Just Transition policies should be enshrined in legislation so that they are not as vulnerable to changing governments; 2. The  government should commit to infrastructure funding for municipalities in order to attract other businesses and offset job losses; 3. Support to workers should be extended, to help people quickly and efficiently access benefits like employment insurance, retraining, and relocation assistance.  These fall along the same lines as the 2017 Recommendations from the Alberta Advisory Panel  on Coal Communities , which are more detailed and which also accounted for First Nations issues.

A list of Task Force members is here. In addition to co-Chair Hassan Yussuff, there are members from the CLC, the Alberta Federation of Labour,  United Steelworkers, Unifor, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

 

Updated: New Just Transition agreement for Spanish coal miners called a model for others

The new government of Spain, in power since May 2018, has reached a new Just Transition agreement with coal miners, to further the coal phase-out which has been underway since the early 2000’s.   Approximately 1,000 miners and contractors at 10 mines will lose their jobs at the end of 2018, but according to a report in The Guardian (Oct. 26) “Unions hailed the mining deal – which covers Spain’s privately owned pits – as a model agreement. It mixes early retirement schemes for miners over 48, with environmental restoration work in pit communities and re-skilling schemes for cutting-edge green industries.”  The cost of the program is estimated at 250 million Euros.

UPDATED:  For the most detailed summary of this new agreement, see the press release from IndustriALL : “Spanish coal unions win landmark Just Transition deal”    (Nov. 1)  .  It includes a link to the 37-page actual agreement – in Spanish only – and quotes the Sustainability Director of IndustriALL, who states that it is a model agreement, and “The deal sets a precedent for responsible transition through social dialogue.”

Spain’s coal industry employed more than 100,000 miners in the 1960s, but today only 2.7% of the country’s electricity is powered by coal.  The country had already done a good job of its coal phase-out, according to Coal Transition in Spain, published in 2017 by The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI)  and Climate Strategies Just Transition project.   That report draws on Spanish language resources to provides a thorough overview of employment statistics, policy instruments and stakeholder positions from previous coal phase-out. It also evaluates the success of measures taken, including training and early retirement incentives, community and infrastructure investment. The press release from IndustriALL summarizes the history from a different, union viewpoint.

Updated: What are the prospects for a Just Transition in U.K. communities?

desmog_uk_blue_logoOn October 30, DeSmog UK  began a new series of reporting titled  Just Transition, from Fossil Fuels to Environmental Justice , which it describes as “a comprehensive exploration of the UK‘s prospects for a just transition towards a sustainable future and environmental justice.”  The first installment, Part One: Kingdom of Coal  profiles Fife, Scotland: the history of its coal mine closures around 2002, and the transition to its current situation as the site of a gas extraction facility run by Shell and an ethylene production plant operated by ExxonMobil. The report states that the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has issued fines and final warning letters to both Shell and Exxon for the flaring conducted at the two sites; a SEPA investigation into the flaring is underway, with a report scheduled for November 2018.  Finally, Kingdom of Coal discusses the  prospects for a just transition for Fife to a renewable energy industry,  in the  context of the Just Transition principles proposed by the Friends of the Earth Scotland. The impending Brexit  threatens funding from the European Investment Bank (which was used to build  the Beatrice Wind Farm in the Moray Firth), and “wider economic insecurity makes longer-term investments, such as hiring more apprentices, growing the workforce and investing in new machines and premises, increasingly challenging.”

Update: Part 2 of the series, City of Oil  appeared on November 7 and profiles Aberdeen Scotland.  Employment there centres on the harbour and the specialist tasks associated with the North Sea offshore oil and gas industry  – decommissioning oil platforms at the end of their life, laying sub-sea cables, servicing and maintaining offshore drilling platforms – and representing the new economy, the offshore wind turbines of  the Vattenfall installation.  Through interviews, the report describes the workplace issues of the workers on ships under flags of convenience in the North Sea , changes to shift schedules for oil rig workers, and  a growing problem of poverty.

Just Transition, from Fossil Fuels to Environmental Justice is described by DeSmog UK as : “This powerful new series starts from the basis of understanding that current lifestyles are dependent on oil and plastic, and that we are all to some degree complicit and integrated into the present system. It looks at how the UK can achieve the immediate, transformative and radical changes to the economy and society necessary to address the climate crisis. And it addresses this transformation through the perspectives of the communities that will be most affected.”

Just Transition Summit in Saskatchewan – updated

saskfordward just transition jobsAlthough Alberta is the clear leader in oil and gas production in Canada, the province of Saskatchewan ranks second, with about 13% of Canada’s total crude oil production.  Saskatchewan also derives approximately 40 per cent of its power from coal.  Yet on October 27 and 28, progressive organizations in that province convened an enthusiastic forum,  Just Transitions: Building Saskatchewan’s Next Economy Summit in Regina. Sessions most related to employment issues included:  “Transitioning Employment and Work”,   moderated by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and including panels on  “Labour and Just Transition” by Unifor, CUPW and SEIU West.  There was also a session on “Phasing out Coal” , presented by Climate Justice Saskatoon and Chris Gallaway of the  Alberta Federation of Labour. The full list of presentations is here .

Hosting organizations included: Saskforward   , the Corporate Mapping Project, Climate Justice Saskatoon , the Regina Public Interest Research Group and Unifor.

Local media coverage appeared in the Regina Leader-Post newspaper, and several items at CBC-Saskatchewan, including:  “Indigenous perspective must be heard on climate change, Regina conference told” ;  “Regina summit looks at what shift from coal to renewable energy means for future of Sask. Economy” (specifically reporting on the  town of Coronach, home of the Poplar River coal mine and associated Poplar River Generating Station, threatened by the federal government’s goal to phase-out coal generated electricity by 2030); and an Opinion piece by Emily Eaton from the University of Regina “Beyond ‘jobs versus environment’: Transitions to renewable energy present opportunities for us all”  (Oct. 25).

winds of change saskatchewanEmily Eaton was one of the authors of  “Winds of Change: Public Opinion on Energy Politics in Saskatchewan” , published in April 2018 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Saskatchewan office.  Based on a public opinion poll of 500 Saskatchewan adults, the report summarizes the political climate in Saskatchewan and shows that despite the government’s opposition to carbon taxes and the Pan-Canada Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, there is public support for a transition away from fossil fuels, and for government investment in solar and wind power.

The Saskatchewan event follows the Just Transition and Good Jobs for Alberta 2018 meetings, held in Edmonton on October 22 and 23, with active participation and sponsorship of USW, Unifor, and the Alberta Federation of Labour.  This was the third year of meetings, coordinated by BlueGreen Canada.

Update:  In November, Climate Justice Saskatchewan  has released a report, The Future of Coal in Saskatchewan: Bridging the Gap: building bridges between urban environmental groups and coal-producing communities in Saskatchewan . The report summarizes what was heard during 17 interviews with citizens of the small coal-producing communities of Estevan and Coronach during the spring of 2018, and draws some conclusions which might have application for other social justice and climate justice initiatives.  In general, the interviews exposed the unique challenges of each rural community, but found a common sense of uncertainty stemming from a lack of planning and communication about phasing out coal, bound up in wider challenges of rural decline, agricultural trends, and the boom-and-bust cycles of oil and gas.