Launch of a new research program on Just Transition in the U.S.

In early August, Resources for the Future and the Environmental Defense Fund launched a new research initiative examining Just Transition policies and programs in the U.S., introduced and described here.  A series of reports and blogs are promised, with a final synthesis report, though timing is not announced.  Also in the works, case studies of three US communities in which coal was their economic base: southeastern Ohio (in partnership with Ohio University); Colstrip, Montana (in partnership with Montana State University); and Tonawanda, New York. Some of the questions the research will address: “How is the existing system of interlocking federal workforce development programs structured, and how effective has it been? What have been the environmental and economic effects of clean energy deployment policies? What role can environmental remediation policies play in facilitating a just transition while also addressing the legacy of environmental racism?”

The first report, released on August 11, is Economic Development Policies to Enable Fairness for Workers and Communities in Transition, summarized in this blog . The report describes programs and assesses their effectiveness on local economic development, with programs grouped into two broad categories differentiated by geographic and/or economic scope.  Those examined include programs by the Appalachian Regional Commission, and federal departments including the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development, the Department of Interior’s Secure Rural Schools, the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment, and the Small Business Administration.  In common with many other studies, the report concludes that “Coordination across government agencies and with local stakeholders is a vital part of an economic development program’s success.”

Coal-mining closures and energy transitions – impacts on women, youth, and communities

SEIdistributional-impacts-photo-1374x916In April 2020, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) published a Working Paper which analyses the research to date on mine closures – with an emphasis on coal mine closures.  Distributional impacts of mining transitions: learning from the past  states that few studies have dealt with the distributional impacts, and those which do exist focus on developed countries (largely the U.K., but some from Canada – including  the closure of iron mines in Schefferville Quebec in the 1990’s). Authors Strambo and Aung focus on the financial, psychological and labour-related impacts of mining closure, with a special attention to gender and youth impacts.  Their report also discusses the effectiveness of implemented policy responses and initiatives in supporting these two social groups.

Strambo and Aung, along with Atteridge,  wrote a related report, Navigating Coal Mining Closure and Societal Change: Learning from Past Cases of Mining Decline,  published by the SEI in July 2019.  It is an extensive, broader  bibliographic review and analysis which includes a detailed explanation of the search methods used. It concludes:

“Economic and employment impacts of closure are much more thoroughly documented in the literature than social and political impacts. On economic impacts, more attention needs to be paid to the distributional impacts of mine closure, because a smooth and “just” transition requires design measures that target the specific vulnerabilities of different groups in mining areas. Reducing social inequality is likely to be a particularly important success factor in post-mining transitions, especially in developing countries, where mining regions have often been characterized by high wealth concentration and very limited (if any) benefits in terms of human or social development … Political and social impacts of closure have also been understudied.”

The  SEI also recently published two Papers related to gender aspects of just energy transitions:  Assessing the gender and social equity dimensions of energy transitions , which synthesized findings from 67 peer-reviewed academic articles, mostly related to rural women in Asia and Africa.  A brief 5-page  synthesis report, Ensuring just and equitable energy transitions  summarizes the state of international research.

In January 2020, the Stockholm Environment Institute was ranked as the world’s top think tank on environmental policy issues in the annual 2019 Global Go To Think Tanks Index, by the University of Pennsylvania. SEI, headquartered in Sweden but with seven international locations, is  a prominent member of Think Sustainable Europe , a network if think tanks created in late 2019.  It also  hosts the  secretariat of the UN-affiliated Leadership Group for Industry Transition  .

A review of Just Transition academic research, and the contribution of think tanks, advocacy groups and unions – corrected

Correction: The research paper listed below, Who is included in a Just Transition? Considering social equity in Canada’s shift to a zero-carbon economy. by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood and Zaee Deshpande , was co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change Project (ACW) in August 2019. It is one of several co-publications by these two organizations on the theme of Just Transition.


The Smart Prosperity Institute published a Working Paper in April as the latest in its Clean Economy Series.  A systematic review of the key elements of a just transition for fossil fuel workers  is written by three academics from the University of British Columbia, and sets out to answer the question: “What elements of a just transition for fossil fuel workers and their communities do scholars in different academic fields identify?”  The research is intended  to “provide policymakers, environmental and trade union organizations who are already invested in creating just transition strategies insight on the kinds of issues they can target in their efforts.”

The paper is the result of a systematic literature review of academic articles, along with “government commissions and international organizations”, published between 2000 and 2019, and focused on a just transition for fossil fuel workers and their communities. The authors found a total of 520 documents and selected 33 for analysis, representing varied locations— most from the United States, some international, six from  Australia , and the remainder from other countries. From Canada, only the federal Task force on Just Transition in 2018 was included in the analysis.  The authors note that most articles concern OECD countries and coal workers; they were unable to find articles focused solely on Saudi Arabia, Brazil, India, or oil and gas workers.  They conclude: “Collectively, the articles we reviewed identify 17 key elements (or strategies) of just transition ranging from requirements of long-term planning to importance of retraining. Moreover, these 17 elements vary in terms of the type of justice they further (distributional, procedural, recognition & restorative justices), spatial scales, and timeframe.”

A systematic review of the key elements of a just transition for fossil fuel workers  is a solid academic treatment of a huge and ever-growing literature. However, it does not recognize the considerable contributions of advocacy organizations, think tanks, nor labour unions – all of which have been active globally and in Canada.

Below  are a few of those documents which add important viewpoints to the  Just Transition policy debate  in Canada: (in reverse chronological order)

 

How to decarbonize global industry and achieve Paris targets

Technologies and Policies to Decarbonize Global Industry: Review and Assessment of Mitigation Drivers through 2070”  is an important research paper written by an international collaboration of 30 experts, including Chris Bataille of Simon Fraser University, British Columbia.  Just published in the academic journal Applied Energy, the paper argues that “Fully decarbonizing the global industry sector is a central part of achieving climate stabilization, and reaching net zero emissions by 2050–2070 is necessary to remain on-track with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to well below 2 °C.”

decarbonization infographic

The importance of industry is apparent from this infographic from  Energy Innovation

Technologies and Policies to Decarbonize Global Industry”   is a detailed and technical article which identifies and evaluates supply-side technologies such as energy efficiency, carbon capture, electrification, and zero-carbon hydrogen as well as  promising technologies specific to each of the three top-emitting industries: cement, iron & steel, and chemicals & plastics. The paper also considers demand-side approaches including material-efficient design, waste reduction, substituting low-carbon for high-carbon materials, and circular economy interventions.

The discussion related to policy focuses on those which encourage innovative technology, as well as carbon pricing with border adjustments, and energy efficiency or emissions standards. It highlights the policies of China and India as well as low and middle-income countries, and concludes with a brief discussion of the need for a just transition, which closely resembles the ideas in  Low and zero emissions in the steel and cement industries: Barriers, technologies and policies  an Issue Paper written by Chris Bataille for the OECD Green Growth and Sustainable Development Forum in November 2019.

Regarding Just Transition, the article states:

“These principles will require policymakers to shape decarbonization policies to provide adequate timeframes for industrial transition and include workers and community representatives at all stages of the policy development and implementation process. A just transition will also require a better understanding of how social safety nets, such as unemployment insurance and government-supported training programs, should be utilized, where they fall short, and how they can be improved. The transition to green industry will be an iterative process, but it must be accelerated to address our growing list of social, economic, and environmental challenges.”

 

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 .