Australia’s lack of economic investment in renewable energy is jeopardising the jobs of carbon economy workers.
Countries such as Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom lead the way in the renewable sector globally. But Australia has no wider industry restructuring plan to aid in the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
New economic modelling from the Business Renewables Centre Australia (BRCA) suggests that as many as 11,000 of Australia’s 26,000 carbon economy workers could lose their jobs in the next couple of years, if the government maintains its current approach to the renewable sector.
Alternatively, the step change scenario, consistent with the Paris Agreement, would lead to an additional 45,000 jobs in Australia over the next couple of years.
“It’s a very divisive issue and people are exploiting those divisions,” said Dr Chris Briggs, BRCA’s Technical Director.
“What we want to see is leadership from the government that says, ‘at some point in the future this industry is going to go through a transition.’ We want to get everyone together to work out a framework agreement principle on how we’re going to manage it.”
In the last seven years, eleven coal-fired power stations have closed across Australia with little preparatory community dialogue. Current coal regions, such as Lithgow and the Pilbara, are closely concentrated around fossil fuel resources themselves. When coal-fired power plants or mines close with limited planning, their accompanying regions suffer economically and socially.
“These regional towns with carbon workers might just be left behind,” Thomas Walker, Senior Economist at the Australian Energy Market Commission said.
“To say ‘we can continue to have all these carbon intensive industries’ and pretend that the transition isn’t coming, is a disservice to them’.”
Germany has established a coal commission tasked with establishing an exit plan from the resource by 2038. It includes spokespeople from trade unions, the coal industry, coal regions, environmentalists and politicians.
“Workers know that climate change is impacting here and now, and that Australia needs a credible plan to limit global warming,” said Mark Wakeham, ACTU’s Senior Adviser on Climate.
How we can be a renewable superpower?
Following the sudden closure of Victoria’s Hazelwood power station in 2017, just one in three of its workers have found a replacement job. Responsible for around 25 per cent of Victoria’s electricity, the station’s closure was too abrupt for the energy market to adjust. Accordingly, the wholesale price of electricity spiked.
According to Dr Briggs: “The lesson here is that you need to have advanced notice and you need to invest in those regions before it happens. Because once it happens it’s very hard to pull regional economies back again.”
— Julia Andre @julia_andre7