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Study suggests wealthy countries bear responsibility for energy transition

Last Updated Jun 8, 2020 at 6:53 am MDT

A pumpjack works at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — As talk grows about energy transitions around the world to address climate change, especially as oil prices plummet due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study suggests a collaborative method that also focuses on worker rights.

Published in the journal Climate Policy, the study loops together the concepts of equity, climate justice and a transition away from fossil fuel extraction.

It proposes several principles for a managed phase-out, including ensuring a just transition for workers and communities, and sharing the costs of transitioning fairly around the world.

Co-author Sivan Kartha, who is with the Stockholm Environment Institute, said people need to band together and realize the common good.

“Our current global economy is currently quite entangled with fossil fuels,” he said.

“Climate change is a global problem and it will take a global solution.”

Several factors hold back the discussion, however, notably the COVID-19 pandemic putting a focus on health resources and reluctance in political circles to tackle the concept quickly.

Kartha believes some of these problems can be solved by making sure the concerns of all parties are addressed, and ensuring this is a conversation about justice instead of what some would call the demands of extremist environmentalists.

“This isn’t something we can think of simply as a matter of energy policy or climate policy,” he said.

“This is something that really needs to be thought of as an issue of basic welfare and worker’s rights.”

One common criticism of a transition is what would happen to people working in the oil and gas industry, and concerns that they could be left behind with a rise in renewable energies.

Kartha and co-author Greg Muttitt address this by pointing out these workers need to play a role in the transition themselves.

“Those workers that will be affected and their communities, they should be helping to define what this transition looks like. They should be helping to define what are the related sectors that could be invested in,” said Kartha.

Kartha added that if this isn’t done properly, it could result in the transition happening more slowly or it could cause the process to be even more tumultuous and painful to society.

But, moving beyond local borders, the authors wrote that wealthy nations such as Canada, the United States and Norway which produce a lot of oil but have robust social policies need to help less-developed nations.

Countries like Iraq, Nigeria, East Timor and other oil-producing but more impoverished nations heavily rely on oil and gas revenues for government needs, and it is unrealistic to believe they can handle a transition on their own.

These countries also have a much larger proportion of the workforce in oil and gas, meaning it could be incredibly destructive to the community if a transition is ordered without proper stop gaps in place to protect them.

Therefore, the study proposes wealthier nations paying some of the costs relating to transition so the global issues do, in fact, get a global solution.

“Thinking about how to transition smoothly and equitably and provide support to the households and communities and provinces or states or countries where support is needed to make this happen, that is part of what it will take,” said Kartha.

Looking at Canada, the study noted that while we have similar financial resources to a country like Oman, our economy is much more diversified and we then have a greater ability to undergo a faster transition.

The United States can also use its own wealth to help its own communities in a way not possible for other nations, with the report detailing that while coal mining is important in the Appalachia region, it can be possible to support the region due to the amount of resources available through the national government.

In conclusion, the authors wrote that this is still a challenging situation and the principles they propose are not to be rigidly imposed but rather used as a framework that can help address various issues that arise.

Nevertheless, they believe it is a pressing problem to limit the increase in global temperatures and it is time to begin looking beyond our usual perceptions.

“It would be foolish to pretend that we can solve the problem within the bounds of our own country,” said Kartha.