Daniel Smith: Renewables need a ‘just transition’

Daniel SmithThe West Australian
Penny Wong says climate change policy will be key to improving relations with Pacific countries.
Camera IconPenny Wong says climate change policy will be key to improving relations with Pacific countries. Credit: AAP

This year’s Federal election finally gave Australia a Parliament with a mandate for climate action.

But, if we want that mandate to hold, government and industry will need to be serious about a “just transition”.

The concept of a just transition came out of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, which cited 17 areas where progress was needed by 2030. The goals included decent work and economic growth, reduced inequality and no poverty.

This means new industries and jobs are needed to replace those lost as we leave fossil fuels. The move to renewables is creating jobs, but they don’t always directly replace those lost, because of mismatches in timing, location and skills.

Unless government and industry actively work to create new opportunities for those that lose out, the human cost could be enormous, with the political backlash threatening any consensus on climate action.

You need to look no further than the US for evidence of this. After eight years of Obama administration action on climate, with no accompanying effort to create new industries and jobs, mid-west coal towns were devastated.

Donald Trump was swept to power in 2016 election on the back of these former Democrat strongholds, going on to undermine US and global efforts on climate action for the following four years. It can be avoided in Australia. But only if our new national Parliament understands the transition to net zero will be bumpy and has the back of businesses and workers.

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