Climate change: Workers and communities must be protected in ‘just transition’ to a carbon-free economy

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“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” – Kevin Callinan, deputy general secretary, IMPACT.

A new study from IMPACT trade union calls on the Government act to offset potentially negative employment effects of decarbonisation, and ensure that all citizens and communities benefit from green infrastructure developments. The report, A Just Transition to a Low Carbon Economy, which was produced with the assistance of the Institute for International and European Affairs (IIEA), calls for “a fair distribution of the costs and benefits of low-carbon climate change policies.” It was launched in Dublin today (Tuesday) by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten TD.

The IMPACT report says climate change is the greatest challenge facing humanity, and that a much more concentrated effort is required for Ireland to meet its international commitments on greenhouse gas emissions. But it claims the social aspects of decarbonisation have been largely ignored by policymakers, and says a “chaotic” restructuring would harm jobs and communities currently dependent on carbon-based technologies.

The report says a ‘just transition’ approach would reduce community resistance to energy infrastructure projects. And it calls on the Government to:

  • Assess the employment and other social aspects of decarbonisation plans and programmes
  • Give citizens and communities a bigger stake in low-carbon developments, including by increasing the level of community and local authority ownership of solar PV, wind, biomass, and waste-to-energy developments
  • Make environmental tax measures revenue-neutral by using cash raised to offset the negative employment and social impacts of decarbonisation
  • Undertake an audit of the skills required to support a low-carbon transition, and invest in training and reskilling
  • Support income replacement measures for workers and communities effected by decarbonisation policies
  • Accelerate the implementation of Ireland’s emission-reduction targets and promote the ‘just transition’ model in global fora.

Report author Joe Curtin, who is Senior Fellow (Climate Change) at the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), said: “The manner in which Ireland makes the transition to a low carbon economy will have implications for jobs, for workers, and for geographically and socially marginalised communities. If we get it right, this journey can be socially beneficial, with particular economic opportunities for marginal regions. It’s great that IMPACT is leading the debate on the social impacts of climate change.”

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“Preparing people’s livelihood’s and futures for the impact of climate change mitigation and adaptation is a stark and immediate concern” – Sinéad Mercier

IMPACT Deputy General Secretary Kevin Callinan said: “Climate change is the biggest challenge facing humanity and it needs to become more of a priority for trade unions. 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, and the concerns of the communities that we ask to host low-carbon and other green infrastructure. ”

Sinéad Mercier, a researcher and consultant from the environmental pillar who contributed to the project, said: “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. We have no idea what a climate-changed workforce looks like. Long-term planning, government investment and research is needed.”

Niamh Garvey of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition said: “The most vulnerable people around the world are on the front line of the impacts of climate change. Promoting a just transition globally is therefore vital, and a key part of the just transition framework. 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.”

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

Read a summary of the report HERE.
Read the full report HERE.

Audio: IMPACT organiser Joe O’Connor

Audio: Researcher and consultant Sinéad Mercier

 Audio: Report author Joe Curtin outlines what policies he believes can best bring about a just transition to a low carbon economy