Just Transition for energy workers in Northern England includes job quality, skills training

liverpool harbourRisk or reward? Securing a just transition in the north of England  is a study released in late October by the Institute for Public Policy Research North (IPPR), based in Manchester and Newcastle of the U.K. – an area disproportionately at risk for job losses in the shift to a low carbon economy as it is the home of  the majority of England’s coal and gas power stations.  This Interim report estimates that approximately 28,000 jobs in the coal, oil and gas industries could be lost by 2030 as the low carbon economy grows.  In 2017, the IPPR forecasts that up to 46,000 low-carbon power sector jobs and 100,000 jobs could be created by 2030 by its Northern Energy Strategy , including a  Northern Energy Skills Programme .

Risk or Reward?  forecasts job numbers, but also discusses the quality of jobs using compensation levels of representative energy jobs.  The report concludes that “Fundamentally, there is a failure to incorporate a just transition into industrial strategy and decarbonisation policy more generally; but, even if it were acknowledged, the skills system is ill-equipped to provide support for those that need retraining or for the next generation. Compounded by the uncertainty of Brexit amidst international competition for labour and skills, there is a real risk that the transition to a low carbon economy will not be just.”

Risk or Reward is an interim report.  IPPR promises a Final Report in 2019 which will recommend a strategy for government action,  to put just transition “at the heart of decarbonisation and industrial strategy”, and to build a skills system capable of supporting existing and future workers through well-paid, skilled and secure jobs.  “This strategy will also consider other challenges facing the low-carbon sector both now and in the future, including how to ensure it can deliver good working conditions and a diverse workforce. In addition, it will set out the crucial role of trade unions in delivering well-paid, secure and high skilled jobs, as well as a successful industrial strategy and improving productivity.”

Companion reading to Risk or Reward is  the broader perspective of  Prosperity and Justice: A plan for the new economy  – the final report of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice  , established in the 2016 in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.  The Final Report is here; an Executive Summary is hereProsperity and Justice  presents a 10-part plan for economic reform and makes more than 70 recommendations – which it states “ offer the potential for the most significant change in economic policy in a generation”. It includes a chapter titled “Ensuring Environmental Sustainability”  as fundamental to its economic goal of just growth.  The IPPR Commission on Economic Justice published an Interim Report (2017), as well as discussion and policy papers –   including including Power to the people: How stronger unions can deliver economic justice.

New York state announces new funds for clean energy training, electric vehicles 

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a press release on September 4,  announcing $15 million to help promote clean energy workforce development and training programs at various campuses of the State University of New York (SUNY). Some of the programs awarded funding include: a  “Solar Ready Vets” program on site at Fort Drum to train veterans transitioning to civilian life in renewable energy ; updates including electrical/solar photovotaic information for continuing education curricula for architects, engineers, and building and code inspectors at  Erie Community College; development of a wind operations technician training program  at the Off-Shore Energy Center of  SUNY Maritime . These initiatives are part of the Clean Climate Careers Initiative, announced in June 2017,  which aims to  create 40,000 new, good-paying clean energy jobs by 2020. The Clean Climate Careers Initiative partners the state government with Cornell University’s Workers’ Institute, as well as  Climate Jobs NY , a labour union coalition led by the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, New York’s Central Labor Council, and the Service Employees International Union.

According to the latest available report from the  New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) in Q12018, 3,919 New Yorkers had been trained in a range of energy efficiency and renewable energy courses, through the Green Jobs – Green New York Act (2009). The funding program ended in December 2016, although one training program still continues.   The New York Clean Energy Industry Report for 2017  reported that there were  146,000  clean energy  jobs in New York State by December 2016 – 110,000 of those in energy efficiency roles.

Electric vehicles:  Governor Cuomo issued another press release on September 5,  announcing that the state will utilize $127.7 million received from the 2016 Volkswagen diesel emissions settlement to increase the number of electric and clean vehicles, by reducing the cost of  new transit and school buses, trucks, and other vehicles, as well as supporting electric vehicle charging equipment.  The new proposals are detailed in  the NYS Beneficiary Mitigation Plan.    The existing Charge NY  program to incentivize electric vehicle adoption is credited with a 67 percent increase in ev’s sold in New York state between 2016 to 2017.

Unifor calls for federal leadership in Just Transition and a role for collectively-bargained protections

unifor logoMore than sixty members of Unifor met federal Members of Parliament in Ottawa on May 24, to convey the union’s positions on four major issues: pharmacare, child care, public control of airports, and Just Transition.  The press release is here ; the four page Just Transition backgrounder is here . In it, the union expresses its broad support of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and carbon pricing, calls for federal policy leadership to ensure that workers do not bear the brunt of climate change-induced industrial restructuring, and offers specific recommendations.

Unifor’s Recommendations are noteworthy in that they explicitly call for a role for collective bargaining (or worker representation in non-unionized workplaces).  From the text:  “Unifor sees two potential avenues to finance Just Transition. The first means is through the new federal carbon tax, which need not be entirely revenue neutral. A portion of the proceeds could be used to create a ‘Green Economy Bank’ or some such fiscal mechanism. The second option is to bolster the Low Carbon Economy Fund, which is already explicitly committed to job creation, but should be geared towards good, green job creation, and widen its mission.” …..  Unifor calls for “Labour market impact assessments to monitor the emergent effects of climate related policy; Community benefit agreements, to support regions that are more heavily dependent on carbon-intensive economic activities; The promotion of green economy retraining and skills upgrading, through appropriate funding for postsecondary institutions. This includes mandatory apprenticeship ratio’s linked to college training programs and skills trades certification processes; Preferential hiring for carbon-displaced workers, including relocation assistance; Income support, employment insurance flexibility and pension bridging for workers in carbon-intensive economic regions and industries; Tax credits, accelerated depreciation, grants and/or investment support for firms and industries that bear an extraordinary burden of change; In unionized workplaces, there needs to be a role carved out for the bargaining agent in negotiating and facilitating workplace transition. In non-unionized workplaces we need to envisage a role for workers to provide input on adjustment processes and procedures.”

Unifor is Canada’s largest private sector union, with more than 315,000 members across the country in climate-vulnerable sectors such as energy, mining, fishing, as well as automobile and auto parts manufacturing.   Some of its existing collective agreements, compiled in the ACW database, have long-established workplace environment committees.

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.

Oil sands companies called on to “keep it in the ground” – but Suncor opens new mine near Fort McMurray, deploys driverless trucks

Parkland report big oil coverThe majority of Alberta oil sands production is owned by the five companies: Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), Suncor Energy, Cenovus Energy, Imperial Oil, and Husky Energy.  What the Paris Agreement Means for Alberta’s Oil Sands Majors, released on January 31 by the Parkland Institute, evaluates what the 2°C  warming limit in the  Paris Agreement means for those “Big Five” –  by assessing their  emissions-reduction disclosures and targets, climate change-related policies, and actions, in light of their “carbon liabilities.” The carbon liabilities are calculated using  three levels for the Social Cost of Carbon, ranging from $50, $100, and $200 per tonne. Even under the most conservative scenario, the carbon liabilities of each corporation are more than their total value, and the combined carbon liabilities of the Big Five ($320 billion) are higher than Alberta’s GDP of $309 billion. Conclusion: “the changes required to remain within the Paris Agreement’s 2°C limit signals a need for concrete, long-term “wind-down” plans to address the challenges and changes resulting from global warming, including the fact that a significant portion of known fossil fuel reserves must remain underground.” What the Paris Agreement Means for Alberta’s Oil Sands Majors was written by Ian Hussey and David Janzen, and published by the Parkland Institute as part of the SSHRC-funded Corporate Mapping Project.  A National Observer article reviewed the report and published responses from the Big Five companies on January 31.

autonomous electric mining truckRather than keeping it in the ground, Suncor Energy announced on January 29 that it is continuing to ramp up production at its Fort Hill oilsands mine, about 90 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.  The next day, Suncor also announced  the beginning of a 6-year phase-in of approximately 150 autonomous electric trucks at numerous locations. The company said it will “continue to work with the union on strategies to minimize workforce impacts,” and that “current plans show that the earliest the company would see a decrease in heavy equipment operator positions at Base Plant operations is 2019.”   Reaction from the local union is here in a notice on the website of Unifor 707A;  Unifor National Office response is here:  “Driverless trucks aren’t the solution for Suncor” .  The National Observer published an interview with a Suncor spokesperson on January 31.  According to”Suncor Energy says driverless trucks will eliminate a net 400 jobs in the oilsands” , Suncor is the first oil sands company to use driverless trucks, and “Suncor’s plan to test the autonomous truck systems was initially criticized by the Unifor union local because of job losses. But Little says Suncor is working with the union to minimize job impacts by retraining workers whose jobs will disappear. The company has been preparing for the switch by hiring its truck drivers, including those at its just−opened Fort Hills mine, on a temporary basis.”

The good news is that  “the era of oil sands mega-projects will likely end with Suncor Energy’s 190,000 barrel-per-day Fort Hills mining project, which started producing this month”, according to an article by Reuters.  The bad news is in the title of that article:  “Why Canada is the next frontier for shale oil” (Jan. 29) . The article extols the strengths of Alberta’s mining industry, and quotes a spokesman for Chevron Corporation who calls the Duvernay and Montney formations in Canada “one of the most promising shale opportunities in North America.”  For a quick summary, read   “Montney, Duvernay Oil and Gas Fields Seize the Momentum from Athabasca Tar Sands/Oil Sands” ( Jan. 31) in the Energy Mix.

Also,  consider the work of Ryan Schultz of the Alberta Geological Survey.  Most recently, he is the lead author of  “Hydraulic fracturing volume is associated with induced earthquake productivity in the Duvernay play”, which  appeared in the journal  Science on January 18 , and which is summarized in the  Calgary Herald  on January 18.  It discusses the complexities of how fracking has caused earthquakes in the area.