Greenpeace report: Renewables are doable

On June 13, rallies around Australia will launch a new grassroots climate campaign for 100% renewable energy by 2020.

No doubt some tabloid journalists and business representatives will denounce such an ambitious target as ludicrous and impossible, a disaster for the economy and a recipe for mass job losses at a time when we can least afford it. What we can least afford, in fact, is to delay a crash conversion to renewables any longer.

Here arises a crucial task of the climate movement. We must be able to provide a vision for how emissions can be reduced at a fast enough speed to stop the horrid crisis we are warning people about.

It is one thing to build a mass movement for "climate action". It is another thing to produce actual plans for how to make the transition away from coal-fired electricity to renewables (along with emissions reductions in other areas).

A Just Transition to a Renewable Energy Economy in the Hunter Region was commissioned by Greenpeace and prepared by the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE) in Newcastle. It was released in June 2008. The report dispels the myth that a transition to green jobs will mean job cuts.

In fact, the opposite is true.

The 78-page document makes a detailed analysis of employment patterns in the Hunter Region of New South Wales and energy production and consumption patterns across the state. It looks at the potential for energy efficiency measures and renewable energy generators to replace coal.

It profiles two scenarios: one in which the Hunter replaces its coal-fired generators with enough renewables to provide its own energy needs, and a second in which the Hunter produces a surplus of green energy sufficient to supply 40% of electricity demand in NSW.

The report also addresses the $12 billion question: how much will these grand schemes cost? It is required reading for every climate activist, not just in Australia but around the world.

The Hunter Region has the world's largest coal port and is home to six coal-fired power stations. Eighty percent of NSW's electricity is generated in the region. The power stations are fed by 18 coal mines.

The report states: "there are major benefits to the Hunter and adjacent Wyong region if there is a shift from coal-fired power generation to a clean, renewable energy economy. These benefits include the creation of thousands of new secure, well-paid jobs in the research, design, manufacture, installation, maintenance and export of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.

"The report finds that a shift to a renewable energy economy in the Hunter / Wyong region would create between 7500 and 14,300 new jobs — a net gain in jobs of between
3900 and 10,650 jobs."

It continues: "The lower estimate is extremely conservative, as it assumes no Australian manufacturing in wind or solar energy. If manufacturing is established in the Hunter to service the NSW renewable industries, the lower estimate is 9400 jobs, a net gain of 7100 jobs."

The report projects that if NSW were to shift to 100% renewable energy (including some local manufacturing of the generators), between 63,200 and 73,800 jobs would be generated.

The CofFEE report is exceptionally well researched and uses data from the European Wind Energy Association, efficiency specialists Energetix, and various reports that analyse the jobs breakdown in renewable industries and the effects of job losses in coal-fired power.

This is a cutting-edge document. Greenpeace would be doing the international climate movement an immense favour if they commissioned a network of locally produced green transition reports like the CofFEE report in other coal-fired energy hotspots around the world.

In the absence of democratic government institutions doing the necessary task of planning the transition to green energy — on a national and an international basis — the responsibility falls to groups like Greenpeace and CofFEE.

Part of that plan is a technical outline of the best types of renewable energy for the job, the ideal locations, how the energy is produced and how much it costs. Then there is the crucial question of a just transition for workers in fossil fuel industries (especially coal). It is of immense importance to provide a climate plan that these workers can believe in.

They, a few thousand in number, have the power to shut the industry down. The "greenhouse mafia" pays special attention to keeping those workers onside and making a transition to renewables seem like a well-intentioned delusion, a risky gamble that will cost jobs.

The CofFEE report demolishes this claim.

The report states: "Labour unions and environmentalists are critical participants in a just transition process … Australian Building Unions' Green Bans of the 1970s pioneered transformational union-environmental activism and social movement unionism."

Anyone who reads this report can't help but be confident that a shift from coal to renewables is very achievable and can be done in such a way that will protect the livelihoods of workers in coal-fired power stations.

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