Just Transition in the Energy Sector – Part 1

by Gianna Compagno

As cited in one of my previous pieces, “Recovering from Coronavirus: Green Solutions for a Brighter Future”, green energy currently presents opportunities for more jobs than oil and gas. Cohen and Kammen cite a World Bank study from 2011 which explains that: “$1m invested in the [sic] oil and gas in the United States creates just five jobs, compared to…13 [jobs per $1m invested] for wind, and 14 for solar” [1]. This statistic seems promising: however, changes from current energy production practices to green energy will have to involve careful consideration of the populations that had previously gained their livelihood from the fossil fuel industry [3]. The transition towards new sources of energy, particularly in economies that have relied upon high carbon usage, will lead to disruption of the lives of many [7]. Jobs in the “dying industries” of fossil fuels and coal production will need to be replaced with “new jobs that offer security and quality of life, while not compromising the health of the planet, with safety nets in place to minimize hardship in the meantime” [3].

The Energy Sector in The Developed World

If pursued correctly, the move towards green energy presents the opportunity for a just transition in the energy sector [4]. In the past, times of economic disaster have been utilized to pursue sustainable projects and create economic success. One example of this can be seen in the early 1990s in the Toronto region of Canada. A collapse of the real estate market was detrimental for the construction industry, the job market, and many companies. An engineering firm in Ontario maintained its workforce by developing “a new field of energy retrofits of existing buildings to achieve cost savings as well as improve environmental performance” [5]. The City Council helped to create the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) in 1994, and money was reserved to support construction in this area. As the BBP program was embraced, people gained employment and training. “Since its inception, the BBP has provided 45,000 person years of employment while reducing CO2 emissions by 680,000 tonnes.” This program’s success has led more people to embrace “green building” techniques [5].

The Toronto example demonstrates that a transition towards green energy and green techniques can be just; if the voices of workers and their place within the economic system are taken into account, a move towards green energy can benefit workers directly by providing new sources of employment. A just transition must involve support for workers during the transition and training for workers to gain necessary work skills in new fields. A just transition must also involve consideration of the effects of changing energy and employment sources on people within disadvantaged ethnic, gender, sexual, religious, etc. groups and must adjust accordingly to meet the needs of these oftentimes marginalized groups [5]. Changing employment and energy practices can create new opportunities and address social inequalities through the economic arena. As of 2018, 11 million people throughout the world were employed in the renewable energy sector [12]. As this number continues to increase, actions must be taken to ensure that this transition is taken justly and with consideration for the planet and its people.

Change is a two-way street; while governments must advocate for change, communities, businesses, workers, and unions must be willing to support it [6]. It is important that along every step of the path to change, governments are willing to listen to the voices of workers and be transparent about the benefits of addressing climate injustices and changing energy production and consumption practices. 

Please see Part 2 for the bibliography.

Categories Climate Justice

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