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“Just Transition” Process Crucial to Phase Out Coal to Address Climate Change

Climate change mitigation will necessitate the phasing out of coal from the world’s economy. However, this can be fruitful only if local stakeholders and social objectives are engaged in the process, reports an international research team in a recently published paper.

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According to the research group, a “just transition” process is required to phase out coal, where the focus of the process should be on the appropriate policy instruments, rights and livelihoods of workers and agreed roadmaps, and effective ways to involve regions, workers, and industry in the process.

The researchers debate that phasing out of coal should be regarded as right and consider political realities, which might mean effective compensation for affected groups and counterbalancing powerful vested interests.

Reported in the Nature Climate Change journal, the study was led by scientists from the Mercator Institute in Berlin and co-authored by researchers and academics from the United States, India, Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Professor Frank Jotzo from The Australian National University (ANU) is also a part of the research group.

In Australia, coal use is invariably on the way out, as renewable energy is now the cheaper way of producing electricity from new plants, and Australia’s coal power plant fleet is relatively old. Coal is also being phased down quite rapidly in much of Europe and North America.

Frank Jotzo, Professor, Australian National University

Jotzo continued, “The closure of Hazelwood and the controversies over the planned closure of the Liddell coal plant show that this transition can be difficult. The lesson from the experiences in other countries is that closures need to be planned ahead of time, giving time to seed alternative business activity.

Success requires looking after the interests of workers, local communities as well as the energy industry, but not forgetting the interests of energy users and taxpayers. More coal plant closures will come, and probably sooner than many people think, as power prices have fallen and the competition from renewables is strong. Let’s be prepared for the change,” added Jotzo.

Relevant research under the guidance of Dr Bec Colvin from ANU analyzes the future of regional economies in coal regions while transitioning away from coal, such as in the Hunter Valley.

These issues can be very contentions and even divisive. Everyday people need to be given the space to grapple with the complex social challenges of planning for a prosperous, low-emissions future. This can mean governments and industry investing in genuinely participatory processes to make possible conversations across political and social divides, especially in regions that will experience the changes.

Dr Bec Colvin, Researcher, Australian National University

Colvin added, “A ‘just transition’ for regional communities requires overcoming the ‘us and them’ mentality promoted in the national political discourse.”

Journal Reference

Jakob, M., et al. (2020) The future of coal in a carbon-constrained climate. Nature Climate Change.


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