A ‘green new deal’ proposal for a Fair and Just Transition from Friends of the Earth
There is an urgent climate imperative to transform our economy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (2018) argued that, by 2030, global emissions must drop by 45% from their 2010 levels if we are to avoid exposing hundreds of millions of people to serious climate-related hazards. A growing body of mainstream climate science says that we need to achieve deeper targets earlier if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.
We are already in the middle of a largely unplanned transition in our economy, partly due to the forces of economic globalisation and partly through technological changes to the energy system. Because it is unplanned, it is unjust. At the national level, there is already wage stagnation and an industrial relations system which works against the interests of workers. Many aging coal-fired power stations are nearing the end of their lives and the native forests sector is clearly unsustainable and on the verge of collapse. The economy is undergoing a market-driven transformation and many of these changes are bad for blue collar workers, as was shown by the closure of the Australian car industry.
Without a fair and just transition plan, the inevitable impact of future changes will disproportionately fall on workers and communities who are currently reliant on the stationary energy sector, fossil fuel extraction, forestry products, and associated downstream industries.
Both state and federal governments have allowed, or encouraged, previous destructive transitions. Privatisation such as happened in the Latrobe Valley, and 'economic reform' and the neoliberal programs of the Hawke, Keating and Howard eras hurt the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. As noted by the ACTU, previous industrial transitions have increased inequality.
Tony Maher of the miners union (CFMMEU) says ‘workers in Australia have spent decades being restructured … generally without justice or fair burden sharing’.
And as noted by organisers in the Electric Trades Union (ETU), in most previous transitions, ‘we privatise the profit and socialise the risk’. For instance, the privatisation of the State Electricity Commission (SEC) by the Kennett government delivered $22B in asset sales to government, which benefitted the state budget, while the people of the Valley paid the financial and social costs of privatisation. 7,500 direct jobs were lost, yet there was no state government plan for transition.
We must ensure these next transformations do not re-create the pain of previous changes.
The Australian and Victorian governments should create a Just Transition Authority to plan, oversee and manage the required - and inevitable – transition to a low carbon economy.
Friends of the Earth has released the first version of its plan for a ‘Green New Deal’ style approach which would start the transformation the Victorian economy. In its initial version it focuses largely on the energy sector and urban form and transport. Later versions will cover relationships with traditional owners, broader economic transformation and other sectors including agriculture.
The Transforming Victoria: creating jobs while cutting emissions report aims to provide a pathway which outlines how the state could place itself on a sustainable footing while ensuring affected communities are not left behind in the transition to a low carbon future.
Key aspects of the report call for:
- Creating a Just Transition Authority and appointing a Minister for Transition
- Ensuring good, secure union jobs are created in the transition away from oil, coal, gas and native forest logging
- Ensuring sustained investment in the Latrobe Valley, including support for economic diversification, renewable energy and storage, and high tech manufacturing
- Ensuring better energy efficiency standards for new homes and buildings and continued retrofitting of existing housing stock
- Helping householders and businesses shift from relying on gas to 100% renewable energy
- Shifting funding away from mega road projects like the North East Link and into major public transport infrastructure like the Metro 2 tunnel
- Greatly expanding the public transport network
- Continuing to build trams, buses and trains locally
- Supporting a rapid transition away from coal to 100% renewable energy
- Committing to deep emission reduction targets
- Supporting public ownership of energy production and the electricity grid
- Supporting a not for profit, community owned electricity retailer
- Supporting ‘game changing’ renewable energy projects like the Star of the South offshore wind farm proposed for South Gippsland
- Ruling out further development of fossil fuel reserves
- Protecting native forests and redeploying affected workers
There is no doubt that further change is coming to the coal and forest industries. The government needs to publicly accept this, and plan accordingly. Ignoring the transition until closures are announced is no longer an option.