Jobs or environment?

By Rene Ofreneo – October 11, 2018

Jobs or environment? The firm answer by environmental advocates is both. One can clean up the environment while preserving existing jobs or creating new and better ones.

And yet, the public is told–by some economic technocrats or vested interest groups – that it is an either-or situation. For example, mining in hazardous areas, done large scale or small, is justified in the name of employment and the survival of poor mining communities.

Another is the Philippine implementation of the 2008 Renewable Energy law, which mandates the government to embrace the renewables (hydro, geothermal, wind, solar) and phase out the nation’s energy dependence on coal and carbon-emitting fossil fuel. The opposite is happening. More and more coal plants are being built based on the seductively simple argument that coal, which is being abandoned worldwide, is a lot cheaper. The country’s highest official even cuts the ceremonial ribbon in the inauguration of the new coal plants.

Still  another  good example, the lack of progress in the realization of  the  2010 Organic Farming law.  Estimates by some UP  Los  Banos agricultural experts indicate  that the  total  agricultural land  devoted  to organic farming is  a measly two percent  or  so.  There are, of  course, no government officials  openly opposing the  shift to organic farming.  The  problem is that there is  no  decisive national effort to make the  shift happen.  Modern organic farming requires  more science and, incidentally, more labor inputs.  It is, therefore, job-creating.  However, chemical  agriculture,  which requires  larger and  larger doses of chemical inputs  produced  by the  big corporations, is easier  to promote, policy-wise.  The national administrative and  infra  machinery in support of agriculture  leans heavily on the  propagation of chemical agriculture.

So how  does  one  reconcile  job creation  and  environmental protection?  The  Center  for  Energy, Ecology  and  Development (CEED) has just come  up with a  good  answer – “Just Transition in the  Philippines”.  It is  a  term used  by  the  UN  development  agencies such  as the  International Labor  Organization  (ILO) and  the  UN Environmental Program (UNEP) to mean the  realization of  a  green or greener economy while sustaining  the  jobs  and welfare  requirements  of society.

According to CEED, the term “just transition” was  coined  by  trade unionists after  the  end  of  World War II, when governments around  the world  had  to  face  the  challenge  of  creating millions of  jobs  for  those displaced  by the war.   Today,  the  trade  unions  use the term  to mean “the transition towards a low‐carbon and climate‐resilient economy that maximizes the benefits of climate action while minimizing hardships for workers and their communities” to be affected  during the  transition.

For CEED, this necessitates  the  formulation  of  a truly “Just  Transition” development framework, where  the affected workers and groups that are at the forefront of the transition are able  to  maintain  or  acquire  jobs  while gaining  a  deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the  employment-environmental nexus at the community and  national levels.   Just  transition means there should  be  full identification  of the  affected workers and communities  in “transitioning sectors” and  creation or development of alternative jobs and livelihoods with living  wages for the displaced workers and  communities; and government  guarantee  of  universal and  equitable access of  all to basic energy and  electrification  requirements.  As  to host communities hosting fossil  fuel projects such as  coal plant, just transition  means  a full-scale program  of  economic diversification.

Thus, based on  the foregoing, CEED  is asking:  Where  is the  just  transition  for the  jeepney  drivers and  operators  affected  by the  ongoing  Public  Utility Vehicle (PUV) modernization  program of the  country?  How  can these  drivers  and  operators  afford the  stiff price  tag of  P1.6 million for  each e-vehicle  meant to supplant  each jeepney?  As  it  is, most of  the  drivers and  operators  understand the  importance  of  the  environment and  the need  for  the  nation  to  get  liberated from  fossil fuel dependence.   However, there  is no just  transition  program  in  place.  No  subsidy program for  those  being asked  to make a shift to a greener transport system.  As  such,  the  PUV modernization  program  has become  an  example  of  an unjust transition  program arbitrarily imposed by government  officials on the  poor drivers  and  operators – in the name  of  environmental  protection.

At the  macro or national level, CEED is asking the  government to  be more  decisive  and  forthright on its plans on the  renewables  and  how  the  nation can  get  out of  its dependence  on carbon-emitting fossil  fuels.  Some specific demands of CEED:

  • No new fossil fuel projects to be  approved,
  • Phasing out of existing projects  based  on a clear  target  year (e.g., 2040 or  so),
  • Formulation of a comprehensive plan for the retirement of the fossil fuel industries (this in accordance with the national commitment to the global target of  maintaining the average global temperature below 1.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels),
  • Adoption of policies against other harmful energy projects such as nuclear and waste-to-energy incinerations, and
  • Full implementation of Renewable Energy policy mechanisms to expedite the development expansion of clean and affordable renewable energy.

Are the  DOE  and DENR  listening to CEED?   Do they understand, in the  first place, the meaning of just transition?

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