The ACTU and Australian unions have been engaged in Australia’s climate and energy policy settings for nearly two decades. Our consistent position has been that Australia needs an ambitious and coherent climate and energy policy to limit the impacts of global warming, and that we also need industry planning, support and resources to ensure that no workers or communities are left behind as we make the shift to net zero emissions.

In March 2020, the ACTU Executive, meeting in bushfire-affected southern NSW, reiterated:

“The international community, through the Paris Agreement, has committed to limiting the rise in temperatures to below 2°C above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees. The best scientific evidence is that the world needs to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 to meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, to which Australia is and should remain a signatory. The ACTU supports a national target of net zero emissions by 2050, and shorter term targets consistent with that trajectory, to ensure Australia meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement. Government and corporations must ensure secure jobs and industry policy are placed at the heart of successful planning and implementation. As a nation we must ensure we deliver justice & employment opportunities for impacted workers, their families and the communities in which they live.”

Inherent in this statement is an understanding that successful efforts to cut emissions are not just about energy markets and technology costs. Other essential ingredients include industry policy, training and workforce development, legislation and standards, cultural norms, support for a just energy transition and government leadership.

The ACTU welcomes the planning work undertaken by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and the Energy Security Board (ESB) for a future low emissions energy market in Australia. In the absence of coherent climate and energy policy and leadership from the Federal Government, Australia’s energy market bodies have admirably attempted to fill the leadership breach by undertaking detailed planning work for the energy transition. However, this approach has its limitations, the main one being that there is not a clear overall decarbonisation objective and that the social and labour market dimensions of the energy transition have been largely neglected given the technical scope of most of the energy market bodies.

In this brief submission we highlight some of the weaknesses of a technical approach to energy market planning, beginning with some broader introductory comments and then addressing some of the seven workstreams of the ESB. Some ACTU affiliates have also made their own submissions to this process. We support those submissions and encourage the ESB to engage with unions in future planning processes.