Scotland’s Just Transition Commission releases interim report and recommendations

offshore wind Beothuk Installation Newfoundland.jpgOn February 27 , the Scottish Just Transition Commission released its Interim Report , emphasizing the urgency for the Scottish Government to begin planning for transition immediately, and offering some positive examples of initiatives underway.  The Commission  calls for a government commitment to develop a Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan- specifically, an “assessment of workforces most likely to be affected by the transition (including those indirectly affected through supply chains), and the most immediate and pressing skills requirements needed to support the net-zero transition”.  The Commission’s interim recommendations also include:  a call to “Place equity at the heart of the Climate Change Plan update”; ensure that there is transition support for the Agriculture sector; establish a Citizens Assembly on climate change, operating independently of the Scottish Government; promote Scotland’s approach to just transition at COP 26 meetings in Glasgow in 2020; expand on the success of energy efficiency initiatives with funding support; begin planning for low-carbon infrastructure, noting that future government infrastructure investment should avoid locking in emissions and inequality; place the climate emergency at the heart of spending decisions; and improve modelling and research to help understand the transition.

Perhaps most controversial is the final recommendation:

“The oil and gas industry currently provides and supports a large number of high quality jobs meaning any transition for the sector and its supply chain in the decades ahead will need to be carefully managed. Strategies such as Roadmap 2035 from Oil and Gas UK have begun to set out the role industry believe they can play in a net-zero economy.    … To further support the deployment of CCUS and hydrogen, Government should consider supporting a programme of focussed research in collaboration with industry, with the aim of delivering a reduction in the costs of deploying these energy solutions in a way that secures a just transition for workers and stakeholders. “

The  Scottish Just Transition Commission  was launched in  September 2018, chaired by Professor  Jim Skea, and including two unionists amongst its membership: Richard Hardy, the National Secretary for Scotland and Ireland at labour union Prospect , and Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress .  The Commission has issued a Call for Evidence in 2020, with a final report and recommendations expected in 2021.  In the meantime, the Commission states that 2020 will be used to “consider a range of cross-cutting themes such as finance, skills and technology innovation”, and have commissioned a report on international just transition experiences.  The Interim Report also references several existing reports, including one commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust: The State of the Coalfields 2019: Economic and social conditions in the former coalfields of England, Scotland and Wales (July 2019), published by the  Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at She­eld Hallam University, in Sheffield.

Reaction is summed up by Friends of the Earth Scotland in its favourable statement, “Time to move beyond rhetoric on just transition, say Unions and environmentalists”. Reaction from the Scottish Trade Unions Congress is here ; Prospect’s reaction is here .  

A Just Plan to wind down B.C.’s Fossil fuel industry by 2050

Winding Down_report cover_CCPA-BC_1  Winding Down BC’s Fossil Fuel Industries: Planning for climate justice in a zero-carbon economy   was released on March 4  by the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, as part of the Corporate Mapping Project.  Authors Marc Lee and Seth Klein begin with an overview of the province’s  fossil fuel industries (including locations, production and reserves)  noting that all fossils produce one-quarter of B.C.’s GHG emissions, (most of which is from Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)). Calling the government’s current strategy of promoting LNG production through clean electricity “untenable”, the report proposes a four-point phase-out plan for all fossils over the next 20 to 30 years, including: 1. Establish carbon budgets and fossil fuel production limits; 2. Invest in the domestic transition from fossil fuels and develop a green industrial strategy; 3. Ensure a just transition for workers and communities; 4. Reform the royalty regime for fossil fuel extraction.

To design a Just Transition plan, the authors cite as “helpful” the examples of the Alberta coal phase-out and the 2018 coal phase-out agreement in Spain, as well as the existing Columbia Basin Trust example of community transition.  In the long time frame of 20 to 30 years, they see the retirement of many existing workers, so that attrition will accomplish much of the job shedding. Although they say that Just-transition strategies “must include efforts to maintain employment in areas where jobs are likely to be lost” – implying reinvestment in resource-based communities – they also recognize the built-in gender bias of such a strategy and advocate investment in  public sector jobs – such as child care and seniors services.

To secure Just Transition funding

The report states:

“ ….BC should aim to invest 2 per cent of its GDP per year … or about $6 billion per year in 2019, an amount that would grow in line with the provincial economy. Assuring such levels of investment should give comfort to workers currently employed in the fossil fuel industry. Revenues from higher carbon taxes and royalty reforms (described below) would be an ideal source of funds, and/or governments could borrow (through green bonds) to undertake high levels of capital spending on decarbonization initiatives. In contrast, the 2019 BC Budget lists total operating and capital expenses for CleanBC over the next three years at, cumulatively, only $679 million, less than one-tenth of a percent of BC’s GDP.”

Managing Income loss for transitioned workers:

The authors state: “On average, fossil fuel workers make 28 per cent more than workers in the rest of the economy, although this includes gasoline station workers who earn  comparably low wages. Replacing more than $5 billion of income over the course of the wind-down period is therefore a central challenge”…. By assuming a 20 to 30 year time frame, they calculate a job substitution of 500 to 700 jobs per year, and state: “ There is no reason to believe that such a transition should be a problem if the right policy supports are implemented and a proactive green investment strategy is pursued to create alternative employment options.”  Earlier in the report, the authors estimate that, assuming the province invests 2 per cent of its GDP annually (about $6 billion in 2019) in green job creation, at least 42,000 direct and indirect jobs would be created  in a range of opportunities.

The CCPA offers an 8-page Executive Summary of the report, and an even briefer version , written by co-author Marc Lee, was published in the Vancouver Sun on March 8.

Australia Senate Committee Report shows a green economy is possible

Flag_of_Australia.svgOn 31 July 2019, the Australian Senate established a Select Committee into the Jobs for the Future in Regional Areas, with a mandate to inquire and report on new industries and employment opportunities that can be created in regions and rural areas. The terms of reference were broad and included “lessons learned from structural adjustments in the automotive, manufacturing and forestry industries and energy privatisation ; the importance of long-term planning ; measures to guide the transition into new industries and employment; and the role of vocational education providers, in enabling reskilling and retraining.”

Public consultations were conducted in seven locations and 174 submissions were received from academics, policy experts, government representatives and unions, between July and September.  The Report of the Select Committee was released in early December 2019, but because Senators were unable to set aside politics and arrive at consensus recommendations, the report consists mostly of excerpts from the submissions heard.  There are 14 recommendations made by the Chair , and separate recommendations by Labor members and by Government Senators, who said: “The word ‘transition’ is a loaded term which necessarily involves preconceptions around the direction of the Australian economy. The issue surrounding the definition of ‘transition’ is one of the reasons why the committee could not reach agreement on recommendations.”

Neverthess, the report and submissions are a valuable record of the current situation in Australia because they discuss examples of the technological innovations in current industry, and future job opportunities in renewable energy, biofuel, mining, lithium-ion battery manufacture, waste management, hydrogen energy export to Asia, and ecological services and natural infrastructure (including site rehabilitation and reef restoration).

Some excerpts:

“… the growth in renewable energy generation presents direct opportunities for increasing manufacturing activity: Installation and construction employs large numbers of people for short periods of time, but a globally competitive renewables manufacturing industry creates jobs for decades. The Victorian state government has only scratched the surface of the opportunity for Australia in this space. They have reopened the Ford plant in Geelong and allowed Danish multinational Vestas to start assembling wind turbines, but there is also Keppel Prince in Portland and Wilson Transformers in Wodonga, who have also been involved in the renewables supply chain, creating high skilled, meaningful manufacturing jobs.”

“…. the GFG Alliance in Whyalla which is proposing to revitalise the steelworks and bring down the cost of production with a variety of innovative and technologically advanced initiatives. Depending on the final configuration, a portion of the energy used at the steelworks would be sourced from a 280 MW solar farm in the Whyalla region….. Sun Metals, a solar electricity generation farm, supplies the existing zinc refinery with about 30 per cent of its electricity needs. That refinery is expanding its zinc production and is looking to expand its portfolio of renewable generation assets to further reduce its exposure to volatile electricity grid prices. Similarly, the development and commercialisation of the EnPot technology for aluminium smelting has the potential to redefine and expand the role of aluminium smelting in Australia as an electricity grid stabiliser as well as a value-adding base metal producer.”

Regarding future skills and labour market concerns:

The Centre for Policy Futures characterized the role of industry skills councils as critical to ensure that training matches the available jobs.  “… These councils must be part of the community consultation process; work with the public authority to identify what future employment opportunities might look like; and determine the future employment, reskilling and retaining opportunities that might be available.”

Concerns about the skill differences between workers currently employed in coal mines and power-stations were highlighted by the Institute for Sustainable Futures: “The nature of the workforce in coalmining means that the transition there is going to be more challenging than it is in power generation. Power generation has a lot of trades, technicians and professionals. One in two coalminers is a truck driver or a machine operator—the second-lowest skill category. So it is going to be a lot more challenging than power generation, where you’ve got a relatively skilled workforce.”…. Regional Development Australia South West noted that: Average wages here in the mining sector are $137,000. Average wages in tourism are $49,000. You can’t replace those mining jobs with tourism jobs.”

Regarding Transition Planning :

Several submissions supported the creation of a National Transition Authority, with responsibility for planning and collaboration, but  not replacing the need for local transition planning bodies.

The Next Economy (Submission #16 here ) put forward a model for a national Transition Authority which would : 1.  oversee funding and coordination of transition planning at both a national and regional level 2.  coordinate with other authorities and government agencies to ensure that the scale, type and pace of the transition will enable us to meet international climate obligations to reduce emissions 3.  coordinate an industry-wide, multi-employer redeployment scheme to provide retrenched workers with the opportunity to transfer to other power generators 4.  ensure companies meet their responsibilities to workers in terms of redundancy payments and entitlements, retraining opportunities, and generating jobs through full decommissioning and rehabilitation of sites .

Sadly, these recommendations and examples hold little sway with the current government of Australia, as Prime Minister Morrison continues to support the development of new coal projects.  The Senators’ Comments in the Select Committee Report are a catalogue of government positions, summed up by this :

“In the view of the Government Senators, the majority report (approved by the Greens and the ALP Committee members) inadequately highlights the importance of jobs associated with coal mining and oil and gas production to the Australia’s economy.”

Is the Just Transition fund in Europe’s Green New Deal funded adequately?

Europe’s landmark Green New Deal was unveiled on December 11 2019, but eu flag heldcriticisms abound over the structure, ambition, and particularly the funding.   “Question marks raised over scale of EU’s new climate fund” in Euractiv (Jan. 14) discusses the Just Transition Mechanism funding, and “Commission warns of Green Deal failure if Transition Fund not well financed” ( February 12) states that the European president warned Members of the European Parliament that “she would ‘not accept’ any result that does not guarantee at least 25% of the budget devoted to the fight against global warming and to proper funding of a just transition for regions and workers.”

A more general criticism comes in “The EU’s green deal is a colossal exercise in greenwashing”, an Opinion piece in The Guardian on February 7.  Authors Yanis Varoufakis and David Adler  compare the €1tn (over 10 years) allocated for the GND with an estimated €4.2tn spent to support the European financial sector after the 2008 recession.  Furthermore, they state that the  €1tn GND money “is mostly smoke and mirrors”…”composed of reshuffled money from existing EU funds and reheated promises to mobilise private-sector capital down the road.”  As for the Just Transition mechanism itself, they state: “the deployment of just transition funding in the green deal is a pork-barrel payoff to rightwing governments that supported Von der Leyen’s election and who she fears might throw a spanner into her signature proposal.”  (Euractiv helps to explain this in “Poland, Germany get largest slices of Just Transition Fund” ).

Yanis Varoufakis and David Adler are part of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025,  a coalition of European scientists, activists and trade unionists. Their Blueprint for Europe’s Just Transition  outlines a strategy for a radical, activist  pan-European movement for a Green New Deal: “The climate movement today — whether it takes the form of student strikes, Extinction Rebellion, or the Gilet Jaunes — has articulated a shared enemy: climate and environmental breakdown. But it has yet to come together to articulate a set of shared demands…. It advocates “ channeling the energies of activists across the continent to clash with the institutions that sit at the Belgian capital — through strikes and sit-ins, occupations and demonstrations: the full arsenal of direct action and civil disobedience.”

The Blueprint is built around three major actions: 1. Green Public Works: (“an investment programme to kickstart Europe’s equitable green transition”);  2. an EU Environmental Union: (“a regulatory and legal framework to ensure that the European economy transitions quickly and fairly, without transferring carbon costs onto front-line communities”); and 3). an Environmental Justice Commission: (“an independent body to research and investigate new standards of ‘environmental justice’ across Europe and among the multinationals operating outside its borders”).

Further, with emphasis on the democratic, grass-roots activism demanded:

  …. This Blueprint provides a general framework for Europe’s just transition, but it must be complemented by deliberation at the ground level to decide where the resources raised by the Green Public Works programme will be directed. No campaign, movement, union, NGO, or political party can devise a climate plan on its own; the People’s Assemblies for Environmental Justice offer a common process by which to develop it.

Green Jobs Oshawa still fighting for GM plant conversion; EV investment goes to Detroit-Hamtramck plant

green jobs oshawa logoAn article by former CAW Research Director Sam Gindin appeared in The Socialist Project newsletter The Bullet on Feb. 3.  “Realizing ‘Just Transitions’: The Struggle for Plant Conversion at GM Oshawa” describes the ongoing work of Green Jobs Oshawa to fight back against the closure of the GM Oshawa plant with a proposal to convert the plant to  electric vehicle manufacture. Green Jobs Oshawa commissioned an economic study in 2019, The Triple Bottom Line Feasibility Study  which estimated that the plant conversion could create 13,000 jobs with modest government investment and a worker ownership model. Gindin’s new article seeks to explain why the Green Jobs Oshawa campaign hasn’t succeeded yet, and suggests new thinking and new roles for workers, Unifor at the local and national level, the Candian Labour Congress, and the government. (A related, good-news article, “The man of wind, water and sun” in Corporate Knights  (Jan. 16) profiles Toronto lawyer Brian Iler and describes his efforts, along with the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation  to retool GM Oshawa. Iler is described as “the creative legal mind behind a host of cutting-edge renewable energy projects, social ventures and co-ops that have challenged received wisdom.” )

General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck AssemblyIn the meantime, on January 27, General Motors announced “Detroit-Hamtramck to be GM’s First Assembly Plant 100 Percent Devoted to Electric Vehicles” , promising creation of 2,200 jobs.  Production of an all-electric pick-up truck will start as soon as late 2021, to be followed by an all-electric Cruise Origin self-driving shuttle, and an electric Hummer.  Like Oshawa GM, the Detroit Hamtramck plant had been slated for closure, but the corporate press release states that GM will invest $2.2 billion in the U.S. plant and an additional $800 million in supplier tooling and other projects. Encouraged by favourable tax treatment by the state, GM has committed more than $2.5 billion toward electric vehicle manufacturing in Michigan since Fall 2018 –  recent news of GM’s corporate push to electric vehicles appears in The Detroit Free Press in  “GM bids to buy land for a new battery factory in Lordstown” (Jan. 15) ; “GM commits to $2.2 billion investment and 2,200 jobs at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly ” (Jan. 27) and in the New York Times, “G.M. Making Detroit Plant a Hub of Electric and A.V. Efforts” (Jan. 27).

Canadians are trying to find a silver lining, as reported by the Windsor Star newspaper in  “GM’s first all-electric vehicle plant in Detroit will have Canadian spillover benefits” . The article quotes the president of Canada’s Automobile Parts Manufacturing Association: “if GM meets the volume expectations of the vehicles in the Hamtramck re-launch, Southwestern Ontario suppliers may pull in up to 30 per cent of the content opportunities that will arise.”