Global Just Transition case studies from a trade union viewpoint

Just Transition: Putting planet, people and jobs first” is the theme of a special issue of Equal Times, published in December 2020. The compilation of articles provides a trade union point of view  to describe the just transition experiences in Bangladesh, Tunisia, Argentina, and Senegal, as well as the more frequently cited experiences in Spain and Scotland.  The complete Special Issue is here , and was supported financially by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

Although Spain’s 2018 agreement regarding coal transition is well known, this article is a welcome English-language text, translated from the original Spanish version written by Spanish journalist María José Carmona. Another useful English text on the topic is The Just Transition Strategy within the Strategic Energy and Climate Framework, translated and published by the Spanish government in 2019.  And an earlier report from the Central Confederation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) provides brief summaries of Spanish and other Just Transition frameworks, in A Fair Climate Policy for Workers: Implementing a just transition in various European countries and Canada (2019). It covers Germany, Spain, France, The Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, and Canada in a brief 32 pages.

North Sea offshore oil workers rank job security as most important factor in a Just Transition

Three  environmental groups in the U.K. have released a new report on September 29: Offshore:  Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition . The report summarizes the views of 1,383 workers in the North Sea oil and gas industry (representing 4.5% of the workforce),  as provided in a survey conducted  in the summer of 2020 by  Friends of the Earth Scotland , Greenpeace UK , and the less well-known, London-based Platform.  In addition to the worker’s responses, the report summarizes the economic and working conditions of North Sea offshore oil and gas workers, includes case studies of the personal experiences of eight workers, and makes recommendations for government action. In the final call to action, the three environmental groups invite energy workers, unions, and others to participate in a planned consultation process across the UK, with workshops where energy workers can draft policy demands for a transition that works for them.

Almost 35% of respondents identified themselves as union members, – the two largest unions being  RMT-OILC (52.5%)  and Unite (36%).  In response to the report, RMT issued this press release, which states: “The skills and expertise of offshore oil and gas workers are key to a Just Transition.… To hear this strong, pro-worker, pro-trade union message from influential environmental groups is a significant moment in the debate which operators, contractors and Governments must listen to and act on. We applaud Platform, FoE Scotland and Greenpeace for taking this initiative and RMT will continue to work with them and like-minded NGOs in the fight for action to protect offshore jobs and skills from an unjust transition.”

Workers reveal an appetite for change, fueled by a desire for more job security

Selected survey results show:

  • 42.8% of oil and gas workers have been made redundant or furloughed since March 2020;
  •  Satisfaction with health and safety standards was most commonly rated 3/5;
  • 81.7% said they would consider moving to a job outside of the oil and gas industry- only 7% said they would not.
  • The most important consideration for those willing to transition outside the oil and gas industry was job security (58%). Second most important, at 21%, was pay level.
  • When asked what part of the energy sector they would be willing to retrain for and move to, 53% chose Offshore wind 53%;  51% Renewables ; 38%  Rig decommissioning ; 26% Carbon capture and storage . 20% would also consider moving outside the energy sector.

Based on these responses, the report makes recommendations for three key areas of action: 1. Consultation with workers:  “a representative section of the workforce should be involved in participatory policy-making, where workers are able to help determine policy, in addition to engagement with trade unions”; 2. Immediate government intervention and regulation to “improve job security and working conditions for workers in the oil and gas sector, to boost morale, improve quality of life, and mitigate the risk of workers leaving the energy sector altogether”; and  3. “Address barriers to entry and conditions within the renewables industry, including creating sufficient job opportunities.”

Platform is a U.K.-based environmental and social justice collective with campaigns focused on the global oil industry, fossil fuel finance and climate justice and energy democracy.  Readers may remember that Platform partnered with Friends of the Earth Scotland and  Oil Change International, to publish  Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction , released on May 2019 and highlighted by WCR here .

Recommendations and research from Scotland’s Just Transition Commission

The Just Transition Commission in Scotland released an Interim Report in February 2020, and has continued to provide research as it works towards its Final Report and recommendations for a green and fair transition.  In August, the Commission released Just Transition: Comparative Perspectives, which provides both theoretical discussion and case studies of JT experiences in  Canada, Germany, Peru ,Norway and the U.S.. In a section on Lessons Learned, the report states that the experiences of Norway’s oil and gas industry, and of Peru, are the most relevant to the Scottish situation.  

In July, the Just Transition Commission released its Advice for a Green Recovery from Covid-19. Subsequently, Government’s measures were announced in early September, in Protecting Scotland, Renewing Scotland: the Government’s Programme for Scotland 2020-2021.  The government’s press release highlights “nearly £1.6 billion to directly support up to 5,000 jobs and tackle fuel poverty”. Specific commitments include £100 million for a Green Job Fund; £60 million to help industrial and manufacturing sectors decarbonise, grow and diversify; boosting youth employment opportunities in nature and land-based jobs by expanding apprenticeship and undergraduate schemes in public agencies”….; and  £70 million to improve refuse collection infrastructure , improve recycling, and achieve a circular economy. The plan received lukewarm reaction from Friends of the Earth Scotland.

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 .  

Are there lessons for Newfoundland in a Just Transition strategy for the U.K. Offshore oil industry?

sea-change-cover-212x300Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction was released on May 15 by Oil Change International, in partnership with Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland.  The press release summary is here . The report examines the offshore oil and gas industry in the U.K., with special attention to the transition for workers and communities currently dependent on oil  – making it highly relevant to Canadians, especially Newfoundlanders.   Sea Change argues that  with the right transition policies, clean industries could create more than three jobs for every North Sea oil job at risk, which can enable an “equivalent job guarantee” for every oil worker.

The report contrasts two pathways available for the U.K. and Scotland to stay within Paris climate limits:   1. Deferred collapse, in which the countries “continue to pursue maximum extraction by subsidising companies and encouraging them to shed workers, until worsening climate impacts force rapid action to cut emissions globally; the UK oil industry collapses, pushing many workers out of work in a short space of time.” Or  2. Managed transition: in which countries “stop approving and licensing new oil and gas projects, begin a phase-out of extraction and a Just Transition for workers and communities, negotiated with trade unions and local leaders, and in line with climate change goals, while building quality jobs in a clean energy economy.”

To achieve the clearly superior “managed transition” pathway, the report recommends that the U.K. and Scottish Governments:

  • Stop issuing licenses and permits for new oil and gas exploration and development, and revoke undeveloped licenses;
  • Rapidly phase out all subsidies for oil and gas extraction, including tax breaks, and redirect them to fund a Just Transition;
  • Enable rapid building of the clean energy industry through fiscal and policy support to at least the extent they have provided to the oil industry, including inward investment in affected regions and communities;
  • Open formal consultations with trade unions to develop and implement a Just Transition strategy for oil-dependent regions and communities.

offshore oil rigOffshore Oil and Gas in Newfoundland: In Newfoundland, the importance of the offshore oil industry is evidenced by the fact that a  snap election was called shortly after the province reached agreement with the federal government on royalty payments on April 1.  The two governments announced agreement on  a “renewed Atlantic Accord”  – including the “Hibernia Dividend Backed Annuity”, valued at $2.5 billion for the province, according to a CBC report . This is new money that comes from Ottawa’s 8.5 per cent stake in the Hibernia offshore project, and will be paid out in annual installments over 38 years. According to the Q1 2019 Company Benefits Report ,   Hibernia operations employ 1,458 workers, of which 90.8% are Newfoundlanders.

The federal and provincial governments are also closely intertwined in a new consultation process which was launched for the Regional Assessment of Offshore Oil and Gas Exploratory Drilling East of Newfoundland and Labrador  in April, along with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. The provincial Minister is quoted in the federal press release:  “Our government is committed to working collaboratively with our federal partners to ensure responsible development of our oil and gas industry. The Regional Assessment is an important step towards exempting routine, low impact activities, such as exploration wells, where potential impacts and standard mitigations are well known, from federal assessment. This is another step we are taking to achieve the vision we set out in Advance 2030 to benefit all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”

The Advance 2030 document, released in 2018, is subtitled:  A Plan for growth in the  Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industry, and is based on the government’s commitment “to resource development as a key economic driver and to positioning the industry for continued growth.”   In releasing the Advance 2030 report, the government announced some long-term targets, including the direct employment of at least 7,500 people in operations, drilling of over 100 new exploration wells by 2030, and doubling oil production by 2030.  That same Liberal government was returned to power as a minority government on May 16, and compiles news of oil and gas development  here .