If the world manages to cut CO2 emissions to zero by 2070, as insisted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to avoid a temperature rise of over 2 degrees Celsius, an extraordinary number of oil field workers need to transition to renewable energy jobs.
According to Trade Union Sustainlabour, the renewable industry in Europe alone can create 6.1 million new jobs by 2050. And divested sector of coal, oil and gas could cause a massive shake-up in the global labor market.
Difficulty in skill transitioning to cleaner energy sectors
When it comes to skills, transitioning from old to new energy industries should be taken with proper care. Indeed, it is possible for a professional in oil and gas to manage a wind farm or solar project. But what matters is that there are too few training programs to help them retain. Regardless of workforce demand in the renewable sector, the transfer of skilled labor from oil and gas sector remain taken with improper care.
Few equivalents are found in the fossil fuel sectors. There is a partial exception in the mining industry. For example, Anglo American, a mining firm headquartered in London, develops a formal mine closure policy inclusive of labor force reskilling and retraining. Still, such reemployment schemes don’t really direct employees specifically to the renewables sector. NDA (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority) in the U.K makes a rare attempt to do so. As part of the 5-year retraining program before the expected decommissioning of 2 nuclear power stations in the North Wales, employees are offered courses to attain professional certificates in the low-carbon industry. Just about 9% of over 500 participating workers chose to do so.
What’s the solution?
It is believed that governments should take the lead in skills transitioning, not industry.
According to Benjamin Denis, the policy adviser on climate change on European Trade Union Confederation, it is the responsibility of public authorities to develop the policy and investment framework that energy transition will occur. Of course, enterprises have a responsibility though, just few are expected to take voluntary initiatives to pay attention to employees impacted by the transition.
Decarbonization has been a controversial for many trade unions. Earlier this year, German trade unions warned that the planned emissions limits would spark mass plant closures as well as redundancies. According to Benjamin Denis, clean energies isn’t yet a ‘job killer’, but insists that governments must offer training programs to avoid them becoming so in the future. “We can’t decarbonize the economy, which is still massively fossil fuel based, without changing the labor market. That’s why we are calling for a just transition.”
However, examples of integrated training strategies led by governments remain scant. Those with them tend to be quite small scale and targeted locally. According to a recent study by Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – ‘Greener Skills and Jobs’, green skills policies by many governments are ‘uncertain and fragmented’. The OECD recommends governments integrate green skills into the mainstream education, rather than developing separate training systems. Also, it suggests a concentration on transferal skills rather than on the occupation-specific training programs.
When it comes to the budget for such programs, according to the European Commission, green growth funds are accessible. In its ‘Green Employment Initiative’ in 2014, it singles out such pots as the European development fund, the European social fund. Meanwhile, in the U.S, various federal government grants for green skills initiatives are accessible to industries and training providers. However, labor unions argue that there should be additional funds to support communities that will be hit hard by the transition to cleaner energy – for example, Poland’s Silesia, North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany, both of which depend heavily on coal production. According to Denis, in such regions, if a strong social protection system isn’t organized, decarbonization will dramatically impact the workforce and the communities. Such a system should be jointly created by the EU, national governments and local authorities.