Opinion - 27/August/2018

Spain needs to urgently build a path to a just transition

Spain with its many coal regions needs to act urgently to ensure its transition to a clean energy economy is smooth and fair for all, says Ana Barreira, Director of the International Institute of Law and the Environment

The transition to a clean energy economy will impact various aspects of our lives, including how we earn our living. Given that many Spanish regions still rely heavily on coal, the country needs to take immediate steps to ensure a smooth and fair transition, argues Ana Barreira, Director of the International Institute of Law and the Environment

 

To meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and respond to the climate change crisis, all countries need to phase out their high carbon industries and replace them with more environmentally friendly alternatives. Inevitably this transition will affect employment in the coal industry. To minimise the impact, a well thought-out strategy is needed based on the concept of a just transition.

The idea of a just transition was originally developed in the 1990s by Northern American trade unions to support workers facing unemployment due to environmental protection policies and is generally seen as a holistic, economy-wide process. A just transition should benefit all stakeholders, providing decent jobs for workers, competitive energy prices for companies and industries, and social and environmental improvements for communities. In addition, it should be based on the results of consultations with all stakeholders.

Three different approaches to the idea of a just transition have been proposed by those working on the issue. First is the concept of a shared solution based on mutual understanding between stakeholders from the outset. Secondly, the so-called “differential responsibility” approach underlines the state’s responsibility to take care of workers employed in sectors threatened by societal or economic change. Finally, the “social ecological” approach assumes the private sector cannot be trusted to manage the change that is needed and therefore advocates the government taking over the transition.

 

 

Within the Spanish context, a national just transition plan should lean on elements taken from the first two approaches. The comprehensive participation of government, companies, workers and society as a whole will legitimise the process and its outcomes.

According to the European Commission, the EU executive body, five Spanish regions are considered as “coal mining regions” likely to experience an energy transition, namely Aragón, Asturias, Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha and País Vasco. Yet at the moment these regions are facing the end of coal mine exploitation without any transition strategy either at an EU or a Spanish level. Under current plans, public subsidies for coal mining will be phased out by 2023.

It is therefore imperative that concrete local actions are set up in these regions. Even if coal-intensive regions present similarities, regional socio-economic analyses should be carried out to establish regional strategies taking advantage of local specificities. This will help policy makers and business understand which industries should be developed, instead of coal-mining, in the region. These could be related to renewable energies, sustainable textiles, organic farming, eco-tourism or the circular economy. A thorough local analysis will also enable coherent training courses for workers to be put in place. We should not forget that the unemployment rate among young people in Spain is around 33% and that many of them leave the country to find a job. By developing new sectors in these regions, there is the potential to create new jobs and allow the young to stay and prosper in Spain.

A final important point is how this transition will be funded. We believe the money needed should come from two sources. First, from EU and national funds that could contribute to projects aimed at supporting the energy transition. Secondly, as part of their corporate social responsibility policies, energy companies should contribute to the costs of achieving a just transition.

Until now regional governments and national policy makers have ignored the energy transition in Spain, but the country cannot afford further delay. We hope the recently announced national plan for a just transition by the newly formed ministry for ecological transition is the first sign of some much needed action.

 

Based on the paper: Just Transition in Spain: an urgent path to be built

 


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