Workers and communities must be protected in ‘just transition’ to carbon-free future

Published by Niall Sargent on

May 31st, 2017

Policymakers have ignored the potential impact on jobs of moving toward a low-carbon economy, which could lead to a “chaotic” restructuring harming communities dependent on carbon-based technologies, a new report has found.

The report, commissioned by IMPACT trade union, calls on the Government to put policy in place to offset any potential negative impact on employment from decarbonisation. The report also asks the Government to ensure a fair distribution of the benefits of low-carbon climate change policies to communities all across Ireland.

IMPACT is Ireland’s largest public service union, with members in health, education, local government, the civil service, and voluntary and semi-state organisations.

The report outlines six steps for a just transition approach, including assessing employment and other social aspects of decarbonisation and giving communities a bigger stake in low-carbon developments, such as solar PV projects.

Investing in training and reskilling of workers in fossil fuel related industries at risk of future job loss is also called for, as well as providing income support for workers and communities affected by decarbonisation policies.

Bord na Mona announced earlier this month that 70 staff are set to lose their jobs due to the closure of a briquette plant in Littleton, Co Tipperary.

According to IMPACT Deputy General Secretary Kevin Callinan, such policy moves will help allay the fears of those working in fossil fuel industries, and communities with low-carbon and other green infrastructure in place.

“We need a greater focus on the social and jobs dimensions of low-carbon development to facilitate a just transition that recognises and addresses the genuine fears of workers dependent on high-carbon technologies,” Mr Callinan added.

The report also calls for the acceleration the implementation of Ireland’s emission-reduction targets, outlining climate change as the greatest challenge facing humanity.

“There are no jobs on a dead planet” – IMPACT Deputy General Secretary Kevin Callinan

Lead author Joseph Curtin of the Institute for International and European Affairs (IIEA) said that Ireland’s slow move toward emissions reductions has made us an “outlier” state in Europe. It is “very apparent” that Ireland will fail to meet its emissions targets up to 2030 without drastic policy change, Mr Curtin said.

He added, however, that the potential implications of decarbonisation “for jobs, for workers, and for geographically and socially marginalised communities” must be taken into account.

“If we get it right, this journey can be socially beneficial, with particular economic opportunities for marginal regions,” he said, adding that rural Ireland can play a leading role in the transition.

The report was welcomed by Niamh Garvey of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, who said that a just transition can help protect those on the “frontline of the impacts of climate change”.

She emphasised that our Government needs to play a bigger role in a just transition both at home and abroad: “At a time when the Trump administration is considering pulling out of the Paris Agreement, Irish leadership on the global response to climate change is required more urgently than ever.”

Sinéad Mercier, a researcher for the Green Party, said that we now urgently need “long-term planning, government investment and research” to figure out what a “climate-changed workforce” will look like.

“Just transition has become one of the most important aspects of climate action in recent years because preparing people’s livelihood’s and futures for the impact of climate change mitigation and adaptation is a stark and immediate concern,” she concluded.

The Green Party will today launch a just transition motion aimed at ensuring that communities and workers who rely on fossil fuel related industries are not left behind in the low-carbon transition.

Minister for Climate Action and the Environment, Denis Naughten TD also spoke at the event.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London