Worker at wind farm

Climate Change and Jobs

Climate change is one of the most pressing economic, social and environmental challenges we face, and Australia will be hit hard if we do not respond with urgent and decisive action to reduce pollution, improve energy efficiency and support the transition to a low carbon economy. Unions have been working hard at both national and international levels to develop real, workable and equitable solutions to this major problem.

A price on pollution
The introduction of a price on carbon pollution with a range of supporting measures is fundamental for Australia to shift to a low pollution economy. A strong price on carbon is provides a price signal to underpin the commercial viability of low pollution, renewable energy and energy efficient technologies.

In 2012, the Government introduced the Clean Energy Future package which will help change the economic behaviour of Australia, which is the highest per capita producer of pollution in the world.

The price on carbon began in Australia on 1 July 2012. Beginning at a fixed price of $23 a tonne of carbon, it will move to a full-scale emissions trading scheme in three years. The revenue will go towards supporting jobs, households and communities into the future.

The price on pollution requires large emitters to pay for their emissions; this is only 294 companies and councils that individually generate more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. They make up just 0.015% of the 2 million businesses in Australia.

Around the world, action is being taken to respond to the challenge of climate change by reducing pollution and promoting clean energy sources. Emissions trading schemes already operate in Europe, New Zealand and California, the world’s eighth biggest economy. Emissions trading schemes will commence in South Korea and regions of China in 2015.

Worldwide investment in clean energy totalled $US162 billion in 2009, but only $US1 billion of this was in Australia. By 2020, it is projected that clean energy will be one of the world’s largest industries, totalling as much as $US2.3 trillion.

Australia’s carbon pollution levels per person are four times more than the global average, so we need to take prompt and decisive action to remain competitive and benefit from the global clean energy economy.

Moving to a low pollution economy
Unions are determined that adjusting to a low pollution economy must focus on support for emission-intensive and trade-exposed industries, measures to protect existing jobs, programs to attract investment in clean energy and production, and assistance to low income households.

Some industries and regional economies will be impacted more acutely than others. It is imperative that these communities are assisted to successfully adapt their industries and build new ones to ensure decent living standards, job opportunities and services continue to thrive in these areas.

More than $9 billion of industry assistance has been allocated over three years to help industries such as steel, aluminium and cement manufacturing maintain competitive. This assistance is conditional and tied to investments in renewable and low carbon technologies.

We must start identifying and prioritising the green skills development, knowledge and work needed for a low pollution economy.

Through their involvement in the climate change consultation mechanisms, unions have ensured that Australian workers have a say in how the nation responds to climate change.

Assistance for households and communities
The carbon price is not a tax on all Australians, but on 260 companies and 34 councils.

Nevertheless, some of these costs will be passed onto consumers, at an average of $9.10 a week in 2012-13. This is equivalent to a 0.6% increase in inflation – or 60 cents in every $100.

To minimise the impact of these cost of living changes, the government is giving low and middle income households a mix of tax cuts and increased government payments. Ninety per cent of Design HTMhouseholds are receiving some assistance via tax cuts and/or payment increases and 66% of households are receiving assistance that exceeds the estimated cost impact of the carbon price.

These tax cuts will be achieved through raising the tax-free threshold from $6000 to $18,200, which will mean a million people no longer having to fill out a tax return. It will be raised again by $1200 to $19,400 in 2015-16.

Increased government payments, including lump sum payments equivalent to a 1.7% rise for pensioners and recipients of the Family Tax Benefit, began to be delivered as advance payments in May and June 2012.

New technologies, industries and investment
The Clean Energy Future package includes assistance to businesses to respond to the shift to a low carbon economy. This includes, for example, support for energy efficiency improvements.  

A significant proportion of the money raised from the carbon price will go towards developing renewable and new clean energy technologies, including through the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the $1.2 billion Clean Technology Program.

Specific programs like $300 million to encourage investment and innovation in the steel industry, and a coal plan of $1.2 billion will help to reduce emissions and develop new technologies.

The ACTU calls upon government to continue to develop policy and drive investment towards new and cleaner technologies, and new industries – to establish Australia as a global leader and to take advantage of economic opportunities.

Clean energy jobs
It is simply not true that the shift to a low pollution economy will result in job losses. Research commissioned by the ACTU and ACF demonstrates that Australia still has an unparalleled opportunity to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in a low carbon economy. Australia’s natural competitive advantage combined with our globally recognised skills and expertise can be harnessed to create real industry development and export opportunities.

Our 2010 joint report Creating Jobs – Cutting Pollution: The Roadmap for a Cleaner, Stronger Economy shows how, with the right policy drivers to cut pollution, an additional 770,000 jobs could be created across the Australian economy by 2030.

Global research conducted by the ITUC shows that investing 2% of GDP in the low carbon economy in each of the next five years could create up to 48 million new jobs across 12 countries, including Australia.

Southern Cross Climate Coalition
In 2008, the ACTU formed an alliance with the Climate Institute, Australian Conservation Foundation and Australian Council of Social Service. Known as the Southern Cross Climate Coalition, the alliance aims to advance a constructive and long-term agenda to unlock the substantial economic, social welfare and environmental opportunities that will emerge from Australia’s response to climate change.

What’s next
The introduction of the Clean Energy Future package is a significant investment in the low carbon economy. Now the priority is maximising the abatement and decent work opportunities from relevant policies and programs. This includes: maximising energy efficiency opportunities, developing plans for regional communities, investment in renewable energy and low carbon technologies, and investment in skills and training. At the international level, Australia needs to play a constructive role in negotiations on a global climate change agreement.

Carbon Price factsheet (July 2012)
Climate Change is Union Business
Principles and Priorities of an Industry Policy for Climate Change
Climate Change A5 flyer
Creating Jobs - Cutting Pollution: the roadmap for a cleaner, stronger economy
Green Gold Rush report
Green Gold Rush Fact sheet
Green Gold Rush brochure
Green New Deal Statement
ACTU Congress 2012 policy on Environment and Climate Change
ACTU Submission to the Working Group on the National Energy Savings Initiative Issues Paper
ACTU Submission to Prime Minister's Task Group on Energy Efficiency
A Policy Platform for a Low Pollution Economy
Four Foundations for a Low Pollution, Clean Energy Economy
The Critical Decade: Climate science, risks and response

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