A Vision for a Fair and Just Transition

Report by Friends of the Earth Melbourne (Australia)

There is an urgent climate imperative to transform our economy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (2018) concludes 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 national and local economy, partly due to the forces of economic globalisation and partly through technological changes to the energy system. Because it is unplanned, many aspects of the change are unjust. At the national level, there is already wage stagnation and an industrial relations system which works against the interests of workers. Many aging coalfired 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; for instance, as was shown by the closure of the Australian car industry.

Without a fair and just transition (FJT) plan, we believe that the inevitable impact of future changes will disproportionately fall on workers and communities who are currently reliant on the stationary energy sector (electricity production from large power stations), 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 the ‘economic reform’ and 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.

As noted by Tony Maher of the CFMMEU, ‘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 (ETA), 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 benefited 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 repeat the mistakes of previous changes. We also need to understand that we must act on the climate crisis at an unprecedented speed and scale if we are going to prevent increasingly disastrous climate change, or protect the community from the impacts. 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.

Read the full report here.

For more information contact:
Leigh Ewbank, Act On Climate (Vic) Coordinator
Friends of the Earth Melbourne
Email: leigh.ewbank@foe.org.au