CLIMATE AND COAL MINERS
THE TRANSITION OF WORKERS FROM THE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY TO ZERO CARBON MUST BE JUST
The debate on “Climate and coal miners” analyzed the challenges of the coal industry in Brazil and Germany in the coming years during the energy transition
With the support of the German Embassy, iCS - Instituto Clima e Sociedade - held the 21st edition of the international seminar ”Dialogues on a sustainable future” on October 6th. The event took place in Porto Alegre with life broadcasting on YouTube and simultaneous translation into German. The debate on “Climate and coal miners” analyzed the challenges of the coal industry in Brazil and Germany in the coming years during the energy transition, and the implication of the necessary structural changes as their energy mixes migrate from a system traditionally based on fossil fuels towards a grid with more and more renewable energies.
The invited speakers were Nelson Karam, Project Coordinator for work and environment at DIEESE (Inter-union Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies); Christine Herntier, mayor of the German city of Spremberg and member of the Coal Phase Out Commission in Germany; Genoir José dos Santos, President of the Interstate Coal Miners Federation of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná, and Ermelindo Ferreira, President of the Miners Union from Candiota (RS).
The panel was moderated by Roberto Kishinami, Senior Coordinator of the iCS energy portfolio and the opening remarks were made by Marina Marçal, Coordinator of the ICS climate policy portfolio, and Friederike Sabiel, Minister-Counsellor for Environmental Affairs at the German Embassy. Marina Marçal commented on the importance of the German-Brazilian cooperation in projects such as “Dialogues on a Sustainable Future” and highlighted the need to promote discussions about the climate and the coal industry as one of the major sources of fossil fuel in the world, the activities of which have a huge impact on health, environment and labor.
“It is important to stress that the transition of workers from the fossil fuel industry to zero carbon sectors must be just and nobody should be left behind. Let's discuss how we bring about a just transition in Brazil and stop arguing if we are going to do it.”
Friederike Sabiel emphasize that the consequences of climate change are intensifying and that in Germany the goal for climate neutrality was pushed forward to 2045 and that by 2030 the greenhouse gas emissions (GEE) should be reduced to 65% compared to the 1990 baseline. At present, 30% of the German energy mix consists of coal, therefore it is necessary to phase out all mining activities by 2038 at the latest. “Urgent action is needed. This means that we must change our economy and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions while creating new economic opportunities at the same time. It's about developing alternatives to fossil fuels as coal. This is the biggest challenge we face in Germany. Yet the transition must be just and socially responsible - neither companies nor their employees should have disadvantages.”
Nelson Karam, from DIEESE, reminded us that today around 83% of the Brazilian electric energy sources are renewable and that coal represents only 3.1%, while the sector employs tens of thousands of families. He explained: “The first point we need to highlight here is that in Brazil, different from Germany, we are not undergoing a transition process that we could describe as a fair transition. Any process of change in production triggered by ecological and economic issues must consider social aspects as well. We cannot talk about a (just) transition if there is no balance between these three pillars: economy, environment and society.” He also remarked: “Currently, there are roughly 4000 coal miners in direct employment in Brazil and 32,000 indirect jobs amounting to 36,000 people, and their families. Furthermore, the miners earn much more than other workers and we must and ensure that there is a just transition which also addresses gender inequalities, for example.”
Genoir José dos Santos, President of the Interstate Coal Miners Federation of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná, expressed his concern about the legally assured guarantees which the coal workers in Brazil have today and in the foreseeable future, and that might be lost when fossil fuels are substituted by renewables in our energy mix. He pointed out: “The transition will only be just if it takes care of the workers. (…) What we don't want is if it is decided to close the mines, the workers are left with no rights.”
Ermelindo Ferreira, President of the Miners Union from Candiota (RS), agreed that what is needed are public policies and resources so that the workers will not be negatively affected. He concluded stating: “We are not against the environment neither is the environment against us. But there must be dialogue.”
Christine Herntier, mayor of Spremberg and member of the Coal Phase Out Commission in Germany (the country that committed itself to closing all its call plans until 2038) participated online in the panel and commented on the laws, policies and public investments in this area in Germany. “The federal government is allocating 40 billion euros to the fossil-fuel phase out in Germany; of which 26 billion are federal resources for big infrastructure projects, and to attract and facilitate the creation of new institutions and research centers; 14 billion will be distributed by federal states. We will promote and facilitate the creation of new companies paying good wages and we will also stimulate the creation of jobs in the public sector involved in this area. This is one of the fundamental aspects.”
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