With the end of the fossil fuel era now clearly “on the horizon”, the key question for workers and communities that depend on oil and gas income is whether the industry decline will be managed or disastrously unmanaged, writes Hannah McKinnon, energy futures and transition director at Oil Change International, in a new blog post.
“What does the path from here to zero carbon look like?” McKinnon asks. “Is it ambitious enough to avoid locking in emissions that we can’t afford? Is it intentional enough to protect workers and communities that depend on the carbon-based economy that has gotten us this far? Is it equitable enough to recognize that some countries must move further, faster? And is it honest enough about the reality that a decline of fossil fuels is actually a good thing?”
In pushing toward that kind of plan, she argues, countries can no longer “hide from the discussion” about how to manage the transition to a post-carbon economy.
One of the big takeaways from McKinnon’s analysis is that, to attain a 2.0° or 1.5°C future, it won’t be sufficient for fossil companies to just stop exploring for or developing new coal, oil, and gas fields. “Even as renewables take off, every year more and more of that unburnable carbon is being locked into production,” she writes. “Without efforts to limit this production growth, a variation on one of two themes will unfold: We will miss climate limits and global climate change will be catastrophic, or a much more dramatic future halt and decline of production will be significantly more economically and socially disruptive.”
That latter concern spotlights the need for transition plans that workers and communities first. “A key element of a managed decline is that it must come hand in hand with a just transition for jobs and communities that have become dependent on the production of fossil fuels,” McKinnon stresses. “Everyone can recognize the role fossil fuels have played in the development of the global economy, and everyone should recognize the workers and communities that have made these sectors thrive and provided the world with energy. A critical part of this transition is acknowledging that those workers and communities require and deserve support as their livelihoods change.”
Based on a framework developed by trade unions and others, and recognized in the preamble to the Paris Agreement, McKinnon cites several key elements of a just transition, including investment in low-emission/job-rich technologies and sectors, “democratic consultation with social partners”, early assessment of the social and job impacts of climate policies, training and skills development, social protections for workers affected by the transition, and local economic diversification plans to promote community stability through the shift.
“Fossil fuel extraction has impacted tens of thousands of communities around the world, and more often than not, it is marginalized populations that bear the brunt of the impacts of living and working on the frontlines of the fossil fuel economy,” McKinnon writes. “A just and managed transition will build support, not resistance, and it will do so by ensuring that those affected are meaningfully engaged from day one.”