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Net Zero: Workshop Explores ‘Just Transition’ Options for Coal, Allied Sector Workers

AITUC warns phasing down coal sector would throw up new challenges, particularly rise in distressed migration, and called for wide stakeholder involvement in policy-making.
coal based

Representational use only.Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Kolkata: Amid growing climate change challenges and growing pressure to reduce fossil fuel usage, a ‘Just Transition’ workshop was held here recently, to explore livelihood options for coal, allied sector workers and employees, especially in Jharkhand.

India had assured at COP26, to reduce its carbon emissions to ‘net zero’ by downsizing  its coal-based operations. The workshop saw the release of the report titled “Livelihood Opportunities for a Just Transition in Jharkhand,” Climate Trends, an NGO, and backed by global consultancy, Ernst & Young LLP.

Addressing the event here, Arindam Banerjee, project director, policy and communications advisory unit, Jharkhand Chief Minister’s Office said: “This report is a significant contribution to the ongoing discussion on India's transition to clean energy sources and its impact on vulnerable communities. The report provides valuable insights and recommendations to plan for a just transition that is equitable and sustainable and comes with the least impact to the communities.”

The report was primarily aimed at exploring the kind and type of livelihood opportunities that would enable a “just energy transition” in Jharkhand in a future where coal plants are phased down and renewables ramped up in line with the government policies and targets, he added.

The study for the report was conducted across five districts – Ranchi, Dhanbad, Ramgarh, Chatra and Bokaro – among 6,000 coal workers. Among those, 4,000 workers were from the organised sector (thermal power plants and mines), and 2,000 unorganised workers, along with 26 policy and sectoral experts.

The key findings of the report are:

● Despite 60% respondents not having employment contracts, the coal sector is the most attractive employer due to job security, and lack of other equally well-paying options.

● Six out of 10 workers have not heard of a scenario where mines could be drawn down in the future.

● 94% of respondents reported not having participated in any training programmes, indicating a major gap in any upskilling planning

● 85% were willing to get engaged in skilling or reskilling programs.

● Of the 6% who received any training for alternate livelihoods outside of the coal sector, only

24% were involved in training for the renewable energy sector.

In terms of alternative livelihoods, 32% of workers favoured agriculture and allied sectors as their first choice, 30% favoured manufacturing sector as their second choice, and 27% opted for mining of other minerals as their third choice, 29%

indicated construction as their fourth choice followed by 26% as their fifth preference and education and 34% service as their sixth choice from the six choices offered to them during the survey.

Aarti Khosla, director, Climate Trends, was quoted as saying that”

 "With a commitment to reach Net Zero by 2070, abatement of coal does become an important consideration. Equally important is to undertake scientific mine closure, ensure additional power

needs are met by renewables, and take socio-economic parameters of communities in account as and when mines are shut.”

She said the report establishes the “need for skill development to help local communities tide over the transition to clean energy systems.”

Jharkhand has 113 operational mines that account for over one-fourth (26%) of all coal mines in India and generate more than 115 million tonnes of coal every year. The coal mining industry in Jharkhand supports nearly 300,000 direct coal mining jobs, 38% of all such jobs in India

India has set a target for achieving ‘Net Zero’ emissions by 2070 and is focused on a ‘coal phase down’ approach. However, a coal phase-down threatens the livelihoods of millions of workers and communities.

The impact of such a phase-down will be higher for the states,, such as Jharkhand, with a large number of mines and high levels of coal production.

The report outlines a series of challenges on multiple levels such as increasing livelihood dependence on the coal sector in the short term (till 2030), the closing of small and underground mines, lack of awareness on coal mine closure timelines and lack of financing for energy transition and alternative livelihoods.

In a long-term scenario (beyond 2030), it highlights challenges such as loss of government revenue, economic and forced migration, lack of opportunities to absorb displaced workers, loss of jobs in affiliated industries, lack of safety net for non-contractual workers, lack of financial security, low levels of skilling, and resistance to behaviour change.

Participating in panel discussions, Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary of All India Trade Union Congress, said, “It is the duty of the state to assess what resources are available in a particular region and identify possible alternative livelihoods. While workers should be at the centre, when the question of their future and livelihood is concerned. However, policy makers need to help identify those alternatives.”

“Money should not be constrained. Ultimately when people have money they can help rejuvenate the markets, which creates opportunities for further development. Ultimately

workers should earn money from different jobs,” she said.

“With technological advancements while production increased, the number of jobs have reduced. We have been seeing the impact on communities. The government policy itself reduces regular jobs. For every three people retiring, two positions will not be filled up and the third position will be on contract making it a policy matter. Phasing down coal will throw up a new set of challenges, particularly there will be a rise in distressed migration. Instead of strengthening inter-state migration it is being subsumed under occupational health. This needs to be addressed at the macro level,” Kaur added.

The AITUC leader said “ 90% of workers (informal sector) in India have no social security. The social security act is exclusive. As far as informal economy workers are concerned it is not easy

to organise informal workers. Having said that, MSMEs will play a vital role in employing people. They are the largest job creators in the informal economy and strengthening the

a policy framework to support MSMEs will be critical. Ultimately, the state and centre will have to come up with solutions from a policy framework.”

Pradip Swarnakar, department of humanities and social sciences and founder and coordinator, Just Transition Research Centre, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, said “It is very important to understand the aspirations of the youth and the next generation. Who wants to stay in this sector and who does not and why. And where would they like to go if they are not keen to remain in this sector when we are talking of just transition.

People’s aspirations are ultimately a function of their exposure”, calling for “involving ground-level community organisations and trade union representatives should be consulted.”

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