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People, Society, and Institutions: Just transition (session one)

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Rohan Best

Senior Lecturer

Macquarie University

Presentation title: Equitable energy policies for households


Abstract: Energy policies are important to help households to avoid adverse effects related to energy unaffordability. However, some energy policies can exacerbate inequality across households. For example, Australia’s Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme and feed-in tariffs have both provided greater benefits to high-wealth households compared to low-wealth households. This presentation will provide an empirical foundation supporting suggested changes to policies. The changes could promote clean energy transitions while lowering energy insecurity and inequality across households.
The empirical foundation includes a range of new and published research. New meta-analysis shows that capital variables (wealth or assets) are more likely than income to show positive influences on solar-panel uptake. The robust relationship between wealth and solar panel uptake will be shown for full distributions using large household surveys for countries such as Australia. Multiple methods underlie the presentation including many regression-based approaches, as well as the matching method of entropy balancing.
Policies can be refined to match the empirical context. For example, the stronger influence of assets rather than income in explaining household energy outcomes motivates a shift toward policies referring to assets. These policies can focus on the low end of asset distributions, where constraints are most evident. Policies that separately focus on renters can also refer to asset distributions, as low-wealth renters have lower solar-panel access than high-wealth renters. The relationship between assets and energy outcomes also changes over time, so policies can be dynamic to match these changes, such as shifting to focus more on low-wealth households. Inequality in energy outcomes motivates higher dollar amounts of assistance to low-wealth households, in addition to varying eligibility details.
One new policy approach is a new mechanism called “Equitable Reverse Auctions”. The presentation includes a description of this new approach. Governments choose socioeconomic categories which are relevant for policy targeting (such as categories based on assets). Reverse auctions for energy policy support are then run separately for each category. This is cost-effective within each category, as only the lowest bids are successful. It enhances equity, as the threshold for successful bids can be higher in ‘low’ socio-economic categories. It also reduces non-additional subsidy spending as households have an incentive to only bid the minimum subsidy that they require, as they miss out on subsidies entirely if their bid is higher than competitors in a competitive reverse auction.

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Rebecca Pearse


Fenner School of Environment & Society, ANU

Presentation title: Segmented Transition: Patterns in a Life-History Study of Electricity Workers during Transition


Abstract: That energy transition impacts different workers differently is widely recognised, but the diversity of situations and positions energy workers experience is little understood. How does the transition to low-carbon electricity take shape within the longer run processes of labour market segmentation in electricity?


This paper reports on findings from a comparative study of energy workers in Australia. It investigates the work and lives of people employed in electricity and related industrial sectors. Data from life history interviews with ACT and NSW electricity workers is presented to interpret the labour processes and social implications of transition for different workers. The study compares the experiences of workers across a range of roles, from frontline construction, operations and engineering to the work of administration and management. Patterns of change for energy labour as Australia decarbonises its electricity sector must be understood part of a longer run patterns of segmentation and division in the electricity labour force. The historical character of electricity workforce stratification is emphasised to understand dilemmas of solidarity and regulation as a political process.

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Declan Kuch

VC Research Fellow

Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

Presentation title: Everyday Sustainability in Western Sydney


Abstract: This paper reports on a project examining how residents of Western Sydney practice environmental sustainability in their everyday lives and aspire for concrete climate action. Using mixed qualitative and survey research, we documents the responses of 100 households across Parramatta, Blacktown, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Camden, Blue Mountains, Hills Shire, Penrith, Liverpool and Strathfield. Our respondents comprised a cross-section of age, genders, and ethnic groups including those who identify as Australians from white, culturally diverse, and mixed racial backgrounds.
Given Western Sydney is rapidly urbanising alongside vulnerability to climate and pandemic-induced events, we asked the region’s residents what environmental practices were essential to their wellbeing and that of their family members, and what their aspirations were for a sustainable future. In a region managing the realities of heat, fearing water contamination, and preparing for the possibilities of flood and fire, practical responses for households are frequently woven into the everyday practices.
Our study highlights that many residents in Western Sydney find energy affordability a key issue, and set various thresholds for using air conditioning . Our respondents exerted both high and low technology control over their domestic spaces for balancing comfort, sustainability and costs, including using blinds, fans and other means such as thermal wear. 90% of residents used blinds to cope with increasing heat, fans and cross flow ventilation. Residents took the initiative to design solar-passive solutions themselves, including re-organising ventilation and closing windows and blinds, growing vines, trees and bushes for shade. Across age, ethnicity and LGAs, people in Western Sydney reported the use of air purifiers, humidifiers, cross ventilation, and growing plants. Most respondents aspired to owning rooftop PV.
The study highlights the importance of having a strength-based approach to energy users in Western Sydney. A shared starting point is Western Sydneysiders' appetite to adopt new and affordable technologies, rather than starting from the assumption that citizens are uninformed consumers. Energy affordability is a key barrier to maintaining a comfortable household in summer for many residents who are withholding their use of air conditioning due to concerns about cost.

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Yeliz Simsek

Research Fellow

The Australian National University

Presentation title: Structural change towards net zero transition


Abstract: A sustainability transition is likely to generate substantial and irreversible economic transformation. Old high-carbon industries and related occupations will disappear, while new low-carbon industries and occupations will be created. Whilst in the aggregate, the impact of the transition on global GDP and employment is commonly projected to be relatively moderate, such estimates hide drastic distributional issues that are sectorally and regionally concentrated, with deep impacts on households, employees, companies, and nations. Here, we use sectorally detailed and regionally disaggregated global macroeconomic model to explore the likely levels and impacts of structural change in the global and national economies in a net zero transition. To explore possible ranges, levels and directions of structural change, we develop baseline and global net zero emission scenarios. The baseline only includes currently implemented energy and climate policies. Net zero scenarios show the impact of ambitious climate and energy policies on economic structural change. The net zero scenario includes carbon pricing, low-carbon technology support, and other policies to meet global net zero emissions around 2060. We observe a drastic transformation that affects production and employment in sunset carbon-intensive industries and their dependent value chains, alongside value and job creation in the sunrise industries of a relatively similar magnitude. The impacts of post-industrial decline resulting from decarbonisation are regionally and sectorally concentrated and transmitted across the global economy through channels of demand and international trade. The risks entailed with structural change involve worsening economic disparity and division that could exacerbate existing socio-economic and political polarisation. We call for further development of tools with suitable sectoral and regional disaggregation to investigate structural change, especially in industries severely affected (positively or negatively) by the low-carbon transition.

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