There is no doubt that the transition from coal power to clean energy is underway, but how that transition takes place is far from certain. And it’s crucial nobody is left behind.
Australia’s ageing coal-burning power station fleet is increasingly unreliable
X and incompatible with a credible pathway to preventing runaway climate change. Careful planning and preparation is urgently needed to retire and replace these power stations in a fair and just way.
The Port Augusta community in South Australia is still recovering from the unplanned closure of their local coal-burning power station, in which the power station owners gave workers inconsistent closure schedules and limited certainty. Similarly, the Latrobe Valley community, around Hazelwood power station in Victoria, faced serious challenges when workers were given only five months notice of the power station’s closure. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
A transition from coal to clean energy can take place in a way that works with affected communities to create diverse, thriving local economies -- but it will take participatory planning processes, and dedicated leadership from all levels of government. The Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, the Maritime Union of Australia, and the Australian Council of Trade Unions have all joined regional communities in urging governments to prioritise planning for the opportunities of a low-carbon workforce — and seize the potential for good, long-term, well-paying jobs, with great conditions for workers
X. Similarly, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy has written extensively about how a true 'just transition' must be more than just a safety net for workers. A true just transition means re-imagining our economy, re-organising our approach to transition with greater emphasis on planning and cooperation, and making a commitment to social and political transformation. In their words, this transformation is "both possible and absolutely necessary".
We can learn from energy transitions elsewhere in the world: in the German region of Ruhr, governments, unions and communities worked together on a consensus-based model for transitioning the local economy and workforce away from coal mining. It solidified a set of principles that meant no worker was to be forced into redundancy, no unreasonable social or economic disadvantage was to fall on affected workers, and there was an allocation of substantial funding towards diversification of local economies
X. Importantly, we can learn the hard lessons from unplanned energy transitions we've seen in coal regions like the Appalachia in the United States and make sure impacted communities in Australia are supported. Done right, a fair transition will mean more stable, permanent, long term jobs — with good conditions, and good pay.
- Every community and local economy is different. Communities need to be able to lead conversations about the diversification of their local economy, and their hopes for the future of the area. These conversations must lead to resourcing real commitments and pathways for impacted communities. To make this happen, communities, trade unions, Traditional Owners and Aboriginal community members, civil society, businesses, and all levels of government will need to engage with courage and willingness to have difficult conversations.
We must confront the challenging of moving Australia beyond coal together. It will take all of us pulling together to support one another, collaborate on building diverse new economies, and cleaner and healthier communities — where nobody is left behind.