When the power plant suddenly shuts down
“As of today, all oil and gas production will be suspended, and coal-fired power plants will also be shut down.
This is an unavoidable measure to prevent global warming, so please cooperate.”
What if one day the government made an announcement like the one above?
‘Wow! Many people will welcome this saying, “We can finally stop climate change.” But what if you are a worker or a family member, employed in a fossil fuel-related industry?
Making a livelihood will immediately become very challenging.
In addition, cities where fossil fuel-based energy industries are concentrated will not be able to function properly. Cities centered on coal mines or power plants will gradually decline.
Let's scale up by country. Developing countries that have developed their economies relying on fossil fuels will suffer greater damage than developed countries that are already well under way in their transition to alternative energy sources. This will lead to intensifying the polarization between countries.
As a solution to the climate crisis, the international community has proposed “Net Zero by 2050,” which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to “zero” by absorbing as much carbon dioxide as it emits.
The key to net zero is to shift energy sources from fossil fuel-based sectors to low-carbon, clean energy sources. To do this, it is necessary to mitigate the impact on workers and communities working in high-carbon sectors.
This is why we need an energy transition that mitigates shock, in other words, a ‘Just Transition’.
What is a just transition?
‘Just Transition’ is a concept where society shares the shocks of high-carbon industries, regions, workers, and small and medium-sized businesses in the process of industrial structure transformation to achieve greenhouse gas reduction targets.
In fact, 'just transition' is a concept advocated by Tony Mazzocchi, an American petrochemical and nuclear power union activist in the 1970s. When this concept was first used, it meant a policy to support the unemployed due to occupational safety and health and eco-friendly policies, but gradually the concept was expanded to include the creation of new quality jobs that protect workers in the process of transitioning to an eco-friendly and sustainable economy.
After that, the ILO, the UN, and other organizations made an international agreement on the climate crisis and received international attention as they conceptualized a ‘just transition.’
In recent years, when the world is transitioning to a low-carbon society, it is important to identify the current status of regions and industries where social and economic inequality is deepening, which have come to mean job losses for high-carbon workers and the impact on the local economy, and to prepare supportive measures.
Why International Organizations and Governments of Major Advanced Countries Are Paying Attention to Just Transition
The reason why international organizations and governments of major advanced countries pay attention to a just transition is that, first of all, if jobs that are lost or replaced due to industrial transition are neglected, the lives of regions and workers will be severely impacted. Therefore, to prevent such collateral effects, active measures such as education and training, job creation measures, and local economy revitalization measures are needed.
The next reason is because the energy transition can create new jobs, not just destroy them. If the government and labor and management cooperate to create quality jobs related to new energy, it will help national competitiveness, right?
For this reason, major European countries such as Germany and the UK and developed countries in North America such as Canada are actively promoting a just transition.
At the 2021th General Assembly (COP26), the 'Declaration on Just Transition' was announced.
The promise of the international community for a ‘just transition’
In creating a world that abandons fossil fuels and returns to energy obtained from the sun, wind and water, the most important things to consider are ‘energy’ and ‘people’. In other words, the energy transition must be done simultaneously with the transition to ‘quality jobs’.
If we look at the cases of major advanced countries that are pursuing a just transition, we can see some important implications. ▲ Huge financial resources were prepared to compensate for the conversion of industries and to create new jobs; ▲ Active cooperation is pursued through dialogue with labor and management and stakeholders; ▲ Active intervention of labor unions and policy proposals are reflected.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) prepared
guidelines for a just transition in 2015, and produced guidelines for a just
transition in 2018. The principles that the ILO is presenting for a just
transition are as follows.
Principles for a Just Transition (ILO)
◎ A strong social consensus is needed on the goals of sustainability and the path to achieve them. There should be sufficient discussion based on shared information among all stakeholders.
◎ In the workplace, the basic principles and rights of workers must be realized, and significant challenges and opportunities in gender inequality in must be taken into account.
◎ Businesses, workers, investors, and consumers should be provided with consistent policies across the economic, environmental, social, educational and labor sectors to support the transition toward a sustainable and inclusive economy and society.
◎ These coherent policies should also provide a framework for a just transition for all that creates more decent jobs. This includes (1) appropriate social protection for the unemployed or former job, (2) skill development, and (3) social dialogue, based on employment projections.
◎ Various policies and programs must be tailored to national circumstances; it is important to strengthen international cooperation in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Strategy.
The Efforts of European Countries
toward the ‘Just Transition’
Currently, the European Union (EU) is promoting the ‘Just Transition’ policy most rapidly. For the smooth implementation of the European Green Deal, which was finalized in January 2020, the European Commission has formulated a ‘Just Transition Mechanism’ to support regions dependent on the fossil fuel industry, such as the coal industry.
The EU's 'Just Transition Mechanism' is to protect areas within the EU that are highly dependent on fossil fuels and carbon-intensive industries, and by 2030, 100 billion euros ($105,666,289,600 USD) will be provided to coal districts.
Shall we take a look at the specifics of the Just Transition mechanism being promoted by the EU Commission?
△ Support the transition to a low-carbon economy and climate-resilient region
△ Creation of new decent jobs for the green economy
△ Improvement of technical support
△ Active investment in renewable energy sources
△ Improvement of digital technology
△ Providing financial support at low interest rates
△ Improving infrastructure for energy, district heating, and transportation
We can see the intention to provide economic support, job creation, and technical support so that no one is left out in the process of transitioning to a new energy system.
The EU Commission is also limiting programs that can be supported by the Just Transition Fund. As it is a program with a big goal of transitioning to clean energy, it supports businesses other than nuclear power plant construction or dismantling, tobacco-related industries, fossil fuel-related investments, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). They say they can't use the funds.
In line with the EU mechanism, major European countries such as Germany, Spain, Greece, and Poland are currently forming a Just Transition Committee to establish funds and establish plans.
◇ Greece: Greece was the first country in Europe to declare a 'coal phase' and established a 'Just Transition Fund.' In 2015, the local governments of five coal-fired regions in Greece proposed establishing a Just Transition Fund with the proceeds from the greenhouse gas emissions trading system.
Accordingly, in 2018, the Greek government accepted the local administration's proposal to establish a just transition fund and began preparations for the establishment of the fund. The Just Transition Fund was established to phase out existing coal power plants from 2019 until 2023, and coal mines by 2028.
◇ Poland: Poland, which has the largest coal industry in Europe, is preparing a just transition plan at the national level and at the level of six coal regions. Poland is said to be establishing a roadmap to close its mines by 2030 in order to receive support from the EU's Just Transition Fund, and plans to significantly reduce coal production.
◇ Germany: Germany is supporting various projects to build infrastructure and foster new industries in areas where coal mines and power plants are closed, on the scale of 40 billion euros ($41,812,615,840 USD) by 2038.
◇ Spain: Spain has entered into various types of just transition agreements with areas where coal mines, coal power plants, and nuclear power plants are closed, and has invested in clean energy projects with European and national funds, early retirement of mine workers, retraining for green jobs, and support for environmental restoration.
It is time to think about energy conversion that minimizes human sacrifice.
One of the things that distinguishes humans from animals is that we have a heart able to worry not only about ourselves, but also about our colleagues, neighbors, and the next generation. Truly, history can be said to be the footsteps of revision after revision as altruism made a breakthrough in the struggle against selfishness.
The solution to the climate crisis now seems self-evident. Ultimately, it is to convert the carbon-based industry that has been warming the earth for the past 200 years into a “zero-carbon industry” so that the global temperature is no longer raised.
At the beginning of the great transition to zero-carbon, eco-friendly energy, we now have to think more specifically about the job transformation that will result from industrial transformation.
Closure of all thermal power plants by 2050, what to prepare for the countless workers around the world who will lose their livelihoods in the process, how to revitalize the economies of regions that were previously carbon-based, and how to narrow the inequality gap between countries….
It seems that it is time to gather our wisdom and show our altruism to a great extent on the tasks related to the great energy shift.