Why can’t we talk about a just transition from coal in Australia?

How is the concept of a ‘just transition’ understood? In the first event of SEI’s Communities on the Frontline Series, we hear from researchers and community on why a ‘just transition’ from coal remains a challenging idea to discuss and engage with in Australia.

What is a ‘just transition’? Why is it so challenging to talk about in Australia? To answer these questions, this panel brings together community advocates and academics to talk about Australia’s use and export of coal in light of our commitment to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. While the climate emergency demands action, there has been limited government response in the coal sector.

This panel will present the results of a collaborative report by the British Academy and SEI on A Just Transition from Coal in Australia, which details how the concept is understood in Australia and what this means for climate action.

This event was presented online on Wednesday 6 April 2022.

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Gareth Edwards is an Associate Professor in the School of International Development at the University of East Anglia, whose research focusses on understanding and theorizing justice in the context of environmental governance dilemmas. In 2021-22 Gareth is a SEI Visiting Fellow as part of his Leverhulme International Fellowship, which examines how justice arguments get mobilised in discussions about coal’s future in Australia and India, particularly by those supportive of ongoing coal extraction. He has been leading the British Academy-funded project ‘A just transition away from coal in Australia’ which seeks to understand how ‘just transition’ is understood in Australia, the challenges Australia will have to overcome to achieve a just transition, and the opportunities for reframing just transition ideas in ways which stimulate productive discussions between different stakeholders and communities.

Wendy Farmer is the President of Voices of the Valley, a community advocacy group that formed during the catastrophic 2014 Hazelwood brown coal mine fire in Victoria. Wendy came together with outraged community members to speak up for their community. Their story is detailed in the award-winning book by Tom Doig “Hazelwood” and the documentary “Our Power”. Voices of the Valley’s advocacy work has led to, notably, the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiries, the proceeding court, and EPA Victoria reform. Wendy is a board member of The Next Economy as well as part of the Transition Australia team. As well as being a community campaigner in Gippsland with Friends of the Earth, Yes 2 Renewables team.

Jan Kucic-Riker is a PhD student at the University of Sydney Business School where his research examines the role of community-owned renewable energy in Australia’s low-carbon transition. His work considers the relations that govern the ownership and use of renewable energy as well as the tensions that exist between competing understandings of community energy. Jan has written on the challenges to building post-capitalist alternatives and reimagining wellbeing as separate from economic growth in the context of globalization.

Susan Park (Chair) is a Professor of Global Governance at the University of Sydney. Susan researches how intergovernmental organisations become greener and more accountable and how accountability can be used to improve global environmental governance. Her research has focused on Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs), including the World Bank, World Bank Group and African, Asian, Inter-American Development Banks and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

This event is part of the Sydney Environment Institute’s Communities on the Frontline Series, which explores the impacts of a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy on a range of local communities on the frontline. This event series links multiple SEI research projects, including Unsettling Resources and Grounded Imaginaries, and highlights the work of the Institute in addressing those often left behind by systemic changes. The series features multiple events that delve into the social and ethical implications of a just transition in the Australian energy sector.

Image header: Am.uhrinova via Shutterstock ID: 1411256009.

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