Australian unions advocating for Just Transition, economic recovery, and decent jobs in renewables

As Australia endures more record-breaking heat in its current summer season, the Climate Council released a report in January:  Hitting Home: the Compounding Costs of Climate Inaction, which catalogues the natural disasters and their toll on the country.  New Climate Change legislation was introduced in November 2020 which would legislate a net zero emissions target by 2050 and establish a system of emissions budgeting.  A Parliamentary House committee has just concluded public hearings on the legislation, to which the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) submitted a brief:  No-one left behind: Australia’s transition to zero emissions . The ACTU chiefly calls for improved supports for workers in an energy transition, and the establishment of a national Just Transition or Energy Transition Authority . (The ACTU passed a more  detailed climate and energy transition policy statement in 2018  )

In November 2020, the ACTU also published Sharing the benefits with workers: A decent jobs agenda for the renewable energy industry, which provides an overview of the renewable energy sector in Australia, and features both best and worst workplace practices. The report proposes an agenda to improve the quality of jobs, with special attention to the small-scale solar industry. “Particular attention is paid to the current practice of outsourcing construction of renewable energy projects to labour hire contractors, which is where many of the poor employment practices occur, and to ensuring project developers are maximising local job creation through procurement, hiring and local content planning.”  

In August, the Victoria Trades Hall Council, released Transition from Crisis: Victoria Trades Hall Council’s Just Transition & Economic Recovery Strategy  which links climate change and Covid-19 in words that could apply in any country:

“….The scale of the fiscal response to COVID-19 shows that, when a government takes a problem seriously and commits to dealing with it, the finances to get the problem fixed can be found and the spending is supported by the general population. The implications for action on climate change are obvious. …..The trauma, disruption and dislocation caused by COVID-19 are unprecedented outside of war time. The response, with its restrictions of civil liberties and suppression of economic activity, has been necessary, proportionate to the threat, and largely accepted by the population. The deep irony is that acting proportionately to deal with climate change would require none of those infringements of liberties and would produce an economic transformation that would leave Victorians better off. Hence this strategy is not simply for a just transition but for an economic recovery and the reconstruction of Victoria. In the period of recovery, after COVID-19 has been brought under control, we must learn the lessons from the virus response, continue to mobilise the resources we need, build on the incredible growth in community spirit and mutual aid, and get to work to deal with climate change with a determination that is based on hope and necessary action for a better world. “

The Transition from Crisis report has many purposes, but ultimately it is a comprehensive discussion of policy ideas to help the transition to a socially just and sustainable society, with workers at the centre.  The strategy is built on eleven principles, which include inclusion of First Nations, gender equality, social equity, and new energy ownership models, among others.  The report discusses the many ways in which unions can advocate for climate change action and protect their members: through participation in tri-partite industrial planning,  training and retraining, occupational health and safety protection, collective bargaining, and union networking and cooperation. Regarding union cooperation for example,  the VTHC pledges “to participate in, or establish if needed, national and state level just transitions committees to formulate policies around just transition, provide support to individual unions, engage with state climate and environment organisations, and provide a conduit into national-level decision making.”

Wind and solar PV will surpass coal and natural gas by 2024, according to latest IEA forecast

The International Energy Agency released another of its flagship reports in November: Renewables 2020: Analysis and Forecast to 2025.  This comprehensive report focuses in turn on each of: renewable electricity, renewable heat, solar pv, wind, Hydropower, bioenergy, CSP and geothermal, and transport bioenergy.  Overall, the report forecasts global energy demand is set to decline by 5% in 2020, and although all other fuels will decline, overall renewable energy demand will increase by 1%, and renewables used for generating electricity will grow by almost 7% in 2020.  The report provides statistics and comments on the impacts of Covid recovery policies.

Some highlights:   “The renewables industry has adapted quickly to the challenges of the Covid crisis…. Supply chain disruptions and construction delays slowed the progress of renewable energy projects in the first six months of 2020. However, construction of plants and manufacturing activity ramped up again quickly, and logistical challenges have been mostly resolved with the easing of cross-border restrictions since mid-May.” As a result, the IEA has revised its May 2020 forecast of global renewable capacity additions upwards, and forecasts a record expansion of nearly 10% in 2021 for new renewable capacity, led by India and the EU.  Other eye-catching statements:  “ Solar PV and onshore wind are already the cheapest ways of adding new electricity-generating plants in most countries today… Overall, renewables are set to account for 95% of the net increase in global power capacity through 2025…..Total installed wind and solar PV capacity is on course to surpass natural gas in 2023 and coal in 2024. Solar PV alone accounts for 60% of all renewable capacity additions through 2025, and wind provides another 30%. Driven by further cost declines, annual offshore wind additions are set to surge, accounting for one-fifth of the total wind annual market in 2025.”

The Renewables 2020 website is here ; a 9-page Executive Summary is here .

Annual review of Jobs in Renewable Energy, with gender analysis

The 2020 Annual Review of Renewable Energy and Jobs was released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) on September 20 , showing a total of 11.5 million jobs globally in renewable energy in 2019  – led by 3.8 million jobs in the Solar photovoltaics (PV) sector, (a third of all renewable jobs) and 1.2 million in wind power.  Asia accounted for 63% of total jobs in renewables, and China alone accounted for 38%.   The report provides statistics regarding the subsectors, country case studies and geographic analysis, gender analysis, and growth trends.  In addition, this year’s review includes a special feature highlighting the importance of education and training policies to avoid skills shortages as renewable energy continues to expand. IRENA’s press release summarizes the highlights.

The 2020 Annual Review continues the gender analysis begun with their 2019 publication, Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective .  The 2020 Review repeats the gender balance comparison between renewables and the fossil fuel industry, as first reported in the 2019 report:  32% of renewables jobs held by women, as compared to 22% in fossil fuels .  

Related reports include Wind Energy: A Gender Perspective (2020) by IRENA, and the Status Report on Gender Equality in the Energy Sector, published in September by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and C3E. The report  summarizes statistics on women in management, women on Boards of Directors, and women in STEM, covering a full range of energy companies, such as Exxon, Shell, and Encana as well as Canadian Solar, Eskom, and Vatenfall. C3E is an abbreviation for “Clean Energy, Education and Empowerment” and is part of the Equal by 30 campaign, launched in 2018 at the 9th Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) in Copenhagen. Members include Canada, Italy, Sweden, Finland, UK, USA, Japan, Germany, France, and more than 80 energy companies.

Global reports call for renewables to lead a green recovery from Covid-19

Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2019 was released on June 2 by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), showing that “more than half of the renewable capacity added in 2019 achieved lower power costs than the cheapest new coal plants.” The analysis spans around 17,000 renewable power generation projects from around the world, and includes discussion of job impacts in the industry. A statistical dashboard is searchable by country  , including Canada, and by jobs statistics.

The report emphasizes the importance of renewables in a global economic recovery strategy, stating:

“Renewables offer a way to align short-term policy action with medium- and long-term energy and climate goals.  Renewables must be the backbone of national efforts to restart economies in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. With the right policies in place, falling renewable power costs, can shift markets and contribute greatly towards a green recovery.”

On June 10, the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report was released by the U.N. Environment Programme, with a press release  with a similar message:  “As COVID-19 hits the fossil fuel industry, the GTR 2020 shows that renewable energy is more cost-effective than ever – providing an opportunity to prioritize clean energy in economic recovery packages and bring the world closer to meeting the Paris Agreement goals. ….. In 2019, the amount of new renewable power capacity added (excluding large hydro) was the highest ever, at 184 gigawatts, 20GW more than in 2018.” The 80-page Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment  is an annual report commissioned by the UN Environment Programme in cooperation with Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, produced in collaboration with Bloomberg NEF, and supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety.

The argument for the cost advantage of clean energy is demonstrated with detailed modelling for the United States by researchers at the University of California Berkeley Goldman School of  Public Policy. Their new report,  2035: The Report: Plummeting solar, wind and battery costs can accelerate our clean electricity future  “uses the latest renewable energy and battery cost data to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of achieving 90% clean (carbon-free) electricity in the United States by 2035. “The 90% Clean case avoids over $1.2 trillion in health and environmental costs, including 85,000 avoided premature deaths, through 2050”… and “ supports a total of 29 million job-years cumulatively during 2020–2035. ….These jobs include direct, indirect, and induced jobs related to construction, manufacturing, operations and maintenance, and the supply chain. Overall, the 90% Clean case supports over 500,000 more jobs each year compared to the No New Policy case.”

renewables 2020Another report,  Renewables 2020 Global Status Report   was released by REN21 on June 16, with a  36-page summary of Key Findings . The report provides detailed global statistics re capacity and investment trends, and  also discusses the considerable impact of the coronavirus. There is much good news – for example, over 27% of global electricity now comes from renewables, up from 19% in 2010…. The share of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power has grown more than five times since 2009” .  But there is also an urgent call to end fossil fuel subsidies and for other policy actions under the heading: “Momentum in renewable power hides a profound lag in the heating, cooling and transport sectors”.  The report states:

“It would be short-sighted to celebrate advances in the power sector without acknowledging the alarmingly low shares and slow uptake of renewables in the heating, cooling and transport sectors. …. Renewable shares in heating and cooling are low (10.1%) and struggle to increase, even as the sector accounts for more than half of total energy demand. Similarly, energy demand in transport – which accounts for a third of total energy demand – is growing the fastest by far, yet renewable shares barely exceed 3.3%. Ongoing dependence on fossil fuels for heating, cooling and transport is related to a lack of policy support for renewables in these sectors. There is still no level playing field. Many countries continue to uphold fossil fuel subsidies, which in 2018 increased 30% from the year before. Global fossil fuel subsidies totalled USD 400 billion, more than double the amount that governments spent on renewable power. ….. The massive support for fossil fuels hinders the already difficult task of reducing emissions and must be brought to a halt. “ In 2019, a record 200 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity was added, more than three times the level of fossil fuel and nuclear capacity. Over 27% of global electricity now comes from renewables, up from 19% in 2010.– a remarkable rise attributed largely to continued cost declines for these technologies.”

On  June 11, the U.S.  Solar Energy Industry Association released its Solar Market Insight Report for the 2nd Quarter of 2020, forecasting a 31% drop in solar installations in 2020 over 2019, mostly  as result of Covid-19.   The SEIA  press release estimates that 72,000 workers in the U.S. have lost their jobs .  The Executive Summary  discusses the impact of the coronavirus extensively; only the Executive Summary is available for free. The report analysis is done by Wood MacKenzie consultants, and the full report is pricey.

How to improve zero carbon skills amongst architects, engineers and renewable energy specialists

accelerating to zero upskill_cover_264x342The Canadian Green Building Council released a new report on April 30, Accelerating to Zero: Upskilling for Engineers, Architects, and Renewable Energy Specialists.  The Executive Summary states: “To better understand what these key professions require in zero carbon education and training, this study was designed to: • Establish Canada’s first professional industry baseline of zero carbon building skills and knowledge among engineers, architects, and renewable energy specialists; • Identify knowledge and skills gaps, as well as a preferred learning approach for engineers, architects, and renewable energy specialists for the design, construction and operation of zero carbon buildings; and, • Recommend ways that education and training providers, accreditation and professional bodies, and policy decision-makers can support zero carbon building education and training for engineers, architects, and renewable energy specialists.”

The report is based on  318 survey respondents who self-reported their perceived knowledge and practical experience for the competencies derived from the CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Standard. The report makes seven recommendations for actions by professional associations and educational and training organizations, including: updating education and training curricula; use of common terminology across the field; incentivizing members of professional organizations and accreditation agencies to achieve zero carbon competencies; development of a wider variety of learning platforms to suit a variety of learning preferences; making zero carbon building competencies part of the core public sector training curriculum, and supporting the adoption of zero carbon building codes and related training and education.

Accelerating to Zero: Upskilling for Engineers, Architects, and Renewable Energy Specialists is a 48-page report; it was accompanied by a brief  press release   and a 7-page  Executive Summary.  It includes a bibliography, including the related CAGBC 2019 reports   Making the Case for Building to Zero Carbon,  and Trading Up: Equipping Ontario Trades with the Skills of the Future.   Not mentioned, but highly relevant is the 2017 study by John Mumme and Karen Hawley, The Training of Canadian Architects for the Challenges of Climate Change,  published by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) project in 2017.