Day one: Research panel
The just energy transition
Institute for Sustainable Futures, UTS
University of Tasmania
Presentation title: Building a ‘fair and fast’ energy transition? Renewable energy employment, skill shortages and social licence in regional areas
Abstract: Within techno-economic models for climate and energy scenarios, labour is assumed to be available just-in-time – even as cost-optimisation electricity system modelling typically generates development profiles with sharp peaks and troughs which would make labour supply and management very challenging. Local job creation is often framed as a key benefit for regional communities and important for building social licence in host regions to enable rapid, large-scale renewable energy development.
Yet, whilst there is a large body of studies projecting employment volumes under climate and energy transition scenarios, there has been limited empirical research on the challenges, opportunities and solutions for labour supply and workforce development within local and regional labour markets. Consolidating fieldwork, modelling and analysis undertaken across three studies of labour and skill requirements for renewable energy zones for the NSW Government, this paper contributes to the understanding of the employment constraints that could emerge and need to be addressed for a ‘fair and fast’ energy transition. However, significant barriers to building a regional workforce for renewable energy are identified including ‘boom-bust’ development cycles, the depth of regional labour markets in key occupations, competition for labour across inter-connected sectors, the concentration of socially disadvantaged communities in under-employed populations and demographic changes, especially population ageing.
Based on the case study, four key policy implications are identified for other jurisdictions. Firstly, ‘smoothing’ the development profile to avoid boom-bust cycles can be implemented consistent with renewable energy targets aligned with the Paris Climate agreement. Secondly, there needs to be a coordinated approach between government, industry and training providers to build training capacity – market-led approaches are unlikely to work for renewable energy in regional areas. Thirdly, training and employment pathways need to be built for diverse labour market segments to develop a regional workforce, including disadvantaged groups outside the workforce. Fourthly, renewable energy should be managed as part of an ‘ecosystem’ to develop a workforce that can move between renewable energy and adjacent sectors such as resources, infrastructure and manufacturing.
Presentation title: Naming, making and resisting: understanding community participation in, and experience of a “just” transition
Abstract: Australia wide, coal power stations are retiring earlier than anticipated, cementing the energy transition. Rather than manage this through centralised means or integrated policy arrangements, Australia’s response has seen transition in coal power regions managed in reactive and ad hoc ways, causing significant social upheaval. Involvement and leadership across all tiers of government – local, state and federal – has varied widely. The term ‘just transition’ – social protections for fossil fuel workers and their communities and attention to justice as regions decarbonise – is gaining traction as a useful framework for navigating the challenges of transition. In Australia, however, its translation into meaningful policy is yet to transpire.
On the frontline of energy transition are the community members who live in coal mining and power producing regions. Yet, much just transition policy and academic discourse centres either worker and labour movement perspectives, or the alternative climate and environmental justice views. This means the wider community voice remains absent from debate. And while academic interest in the experiences, concerns and attitudes of community actors (the wider community beyond the ‘workers’) is growing, little is understood about how they participate in the process of change.
The practice of a true just transition will remain elusive if these stakeholders are not considered and involved. Responding to this context, this research delves into community experience of, and participation in, the un(just) transition of their region. It draws on empirical qualitative research into two Australian regions, Port Augusta, SA and The Latrobe Valley, VIC, which were touted as “just transitions” after the closure of a power station. This presentation will illustrate the community experience of an (un)just transition. More explicitly, it will bring to life the multifaceted ways in which local actors were engaged in activities that brought about changes to the local political, social, economic, cultural, and environmental contexts. It argues that community members in coal regions want to have ownership of the transition process, and that this ownership equates to just outcomes. Using theory and practice insights from the fields of community and regional development, the presentation offers a set of practical principles to guide a just transition praxis that is community and place based. Grounded in data from thirty-seven interviews with community members across both regions, this presentation contributes critical insights to the burgeoning just transitions discourse.
Corporate Engagement Analyst
Investor Group on Climate Change
Presentation title: Imagined futures in the context of the energy transition: a case study from the Central Highlands region of Queensland
Abstract: There is a growing recognition that global efforts to decarbonise energy systems pose significant risks to communities with local economies dominated by the fossil fuel industry. Proactive and inclusive energy transition planning, sometimes referred to as a “just transition”, can mitigate some of these risks. However, recent studies in Australia have shown that the polarised discourse produced by the political “climate wars” continues to inhibit conversations about the future in some coal producing regions. This case study explores how social group dynamics affect local perceptions of the future in Blackwater, a metallurgical coal mining town in Queensland’s Bowen Basin.
Analysis of interviews (n=18) suggest that community members see the local coal mining industry changing but not ending within the next two decades, and as such, conversations about coal’s future are neither highly relevant nor polarised. However, a risk remains that premature conversations about a local energy transition that are led by certain outgroups could reignite limiting “conflict ruts”.
This paper draws on insights from social psychology and energy transition literature to outline steps that regional development planning processes can begin to integrate when considering the long-term future of communities with dominant fossil fuel industries. This approach focuses on sustaining local security and identity in place by addressing information asymmetries, building a broader “tent” of trusted actors in regional communities, and expanding the range of possibilities that can be imagined for the community’s future.