net zero: Connecting the dots: a just energy transition, labor migration and job opportunities

Nearly 70% of India’s energy portfolio comes from fossil fuel-based generation. Apart from being the backbone of our energy sector, coal has multiple socio-economic implications in a developing country like India. Coal mining and related sectors employ millions of permanent and contract workers with or without social security. Additionally, the ecosystem built around mines and thermal power plants provides livelihoods for many others. In addition, taxes and royalties from coal constitute a substantial part of government revenue.

India’s coal belt can be seen as a microcosm of the paradox of plenty. The districts in this region, although rich in natural resources, have yet to achieve socio-economic growth and development comparable to their peers. Without adequate green investments channeled into these pockets of coal to address the consequences of coal mine closure, it will only exacerbate the existing misery of the local population.

It is common knowledge that the behemoths of the coal and thermal power sectors have served the local economy and people in a meaningful way through their corporate social responsibility and other community development initiatives by providing infrastructure , health and education facilities. All of these should be kept in mind while preparing the transition strategy by gradually reducing India’s reliance on coal and increasing reliance on renewable energy (RE) generation.

There is a spatial disparity between large coal-producing states and states with high renewable energy potential. The eastern region of India, home to most of the coal mines, will experience huge job losses and subsequent impact on their local economies due to this proposed transition. On the other hand, western India will witness new employment opportunities in the booming renewable energy sector.

This implies a further migration of labor from east to west in order to fill employment gaps. Whether or not this displaced workforce with their existing skills will be employable in solar or wind projects is another concern. In addition, the renewable energy sector is less labor intensive, except for the construction phase. Therefore, this structural shift from coal-based thermal power generation to renewable power generation may not be able to absorb millions of workers who are expected to lose their jobs in the coal and related.

Clearly, a similar geographic lag exists in terms of new investments entering the energy sector. By anticipating that the unit cost of electricity produced from fossil fuels will eventually become much higher than that of solar energy, this will gradually create a huge impact on employment in the energy sector based on fossil fuels. coal. Moreover, due to environmental concerns complemented by the scarcity of coal as experienced by India in the immediate past, a transition from the primacy of coal to an energy mix based on alternative sources becomes imperative.

With this sequence of interconnected developments, the future of coal mining and other sectors heavily dependent on coal, particularly the conventional power generation sector, looks much more difficult. However, the disproportionate shares of the number of studies focusing on the potentially favorable aspects of green energy adoption and the body of existing literature on the negative impact of coal mine closure on opportunities for employment, have not yet received the required attention from all relevant stakeholders. in order to ensure a central place in political discourse.

Therefore, mitigating the challenges posed by the gradual closure of coal mines and the subsequent reduction of thermal power plants – as an inevitable part of this transition – will not be an easy task. Building a coalition of stakeholders including policy makers, research organisations, directly and indirectly affected people and investors will be crucial to gaining the necessary local buy-in, both economic and political.

In short, in order to address the employment challenges caused by the impending energy transition, the government must focus on: a) developing and improving new workforce skill sets, and b) the creation of employment opportunities in other labour-intensive sectors of the economy. expanding the scope and coverage of relevant programs and schemes.

Moreover, a potentially disastrous consequence can be avoided with an evidence-based development of a framework for the closure of coal mines, having a medium and long term vision of the diversification of economic activities of these regions, in particular for create alternative livelihood opportunities. Interventions should be made to reallocate and reuse land abandoned by coal mines and thermal power plants.

Along with the ecological restoration of these sites, the exploration of possibilities for new economic activities such as fishing, ecotourism, agroforestry and renewable energy projects adapted to local contexts which can employ local communities, in particular the workforce of the former coal mine, must be conducted holistically.

So, in conclusion, the recently adopted Glasgow Pact on Climate Change, which placed unprecedented emphasis on the envisaged shift from conventional to renewable energy generation, recognized the need to enhance opportunities of mobilizing financial and technological support from the developed North towards enabling developing countries to embrace this transition in a fair and timely manner.

This called for the creation of intergovernmental alliances to identify and pursue targeted interventions to phase out coal power and increase reliance on electricity generation from alternative sources while addressing issues such as socio-economic and energy poverty, the creation of safe and decent alternative employment opportunities. , the inclusion of women, the development of local communities, etc. It goes without saying that at the national level, a comprehensive policy framework ensuring a just energy transition from coal to renewables with a focus on job creation should involve comprehensive planning, investment and good governance.

Mehta is Secretary General and Bhattacharjee is Policy Analyst of CUTS International, a global public policy think-and-action group on trade, regulation and governance.

Michael A. Bynum