A recent workshop on Transforming Australia’s Resource and Energy Governance brought together Australia’s leading scholars on environmental politics and policy to address the past, present, and future of environmental governance.

The workshop, conducted at Flinders at Victoria Square on 26–27 September, brought researchers from across Australia together with representatives from  Lock the Gate, the Australia Institute, The Department of Environment and Water and universities across the country.

A takeaway theme was ‘decarbonised futures – how we get from here to there’. Rebecca Pearse’s (University of Sydney) comments on day one led us to ask: should we be thinking about revolution or reform? Is conflict functional or dysfunctional and how can/is conflict transformative and generative in this space?

We discussed just transition – both economic and social, as strategy and as need, as a political unity approach, as a way to move on from the narrow “moral” climate politics of many ENGOs (discussed by George Woods of Lock the Gate). However, taking the moral fight to industry, rather than to communities could be more effective.

Moral entrepreneurship in the divestment campaign is useful here – working on the delegitimisation and removal of social license for fossil fuels. The use of coalitions – NGOs, academics, and investor governance networks has helped utilise and leverage this moral entrepreneurship. This impact on finance does not work by moving shareholdings around, but by leveraging this pressure to move the costs of fossil fuel extraction, particularly in terms of lending and insurance. This leads to stopping new asset capitalisation, de-financialisation and stranding of assets, places a large cost of ending the era of fossil fuels onto capital, rather than communities, however, it does not contribute to just transition.

Can divestment and financial campaigning force the hand and strengthen the arm of the state into stronger regulatory commitments by increasing “coal contestation” – keeping in mind that different parts of the state are involved in this challenge, and the state is expected to enable development, regulate that development, and deal with the unintended and unfunded consequences of that development and then transition?

How do we transition in an economic and political context where mining externalises risk and the costs of transition to the state, but the state has neither the resources, the welfare infrastructure, the motivation or the ideological predisposition to effectively take, manage, or deal with the consequences of that risk?

Can just transition be an effective foil to the ‘jobs versus environment’ tension that dominates not just Australian environmental politics, but that of other countries with significant historical connection to, and narrative about, resource extraction? Nevermind that the jobs in this equation are now impacted by the “future of work” transforming other industries – the impact of automation and the move from secure to contractual work.

The role of effective community engagement and deliberation in just transitions was a theme.  Can we uncover and foreground shared values around prosperity, strengthening services, economic activity and future trajectories in communities that are currently masked by deep conflicts over mining or over other resource extraction/exploitation?

Improved regulatory frameworks are needed to close the lifecycle and entrench decarbonisation and just transition – Susan’s paper reminds us that there are social costs and regulatory failures in the shift to renewables as well!

The regulatory failures and lack of lifecycle analysis we see in coal is also evident in renewables – both in their inputs, but also in the infrastructure. Where these good are produced matters – including renewable energy infrastructure, but also electric car inputs. Again, local communities are bearing the brunt of this transition – this emerging transformation is impacting communities, without effective regulatory regimes at both ends of this transition – the end of coal and the oncoming renewable transformation – so, there is an ongoing energy injustice that is unresolved.

Stuart’s paper considered whether community owned energy systems go some way toward remedying this. Is it a positive move away from neoliberal energy choice towards community self-sufficiency rather than investment in new power plants? The use of community grids and organising autonomy via peer to peer trading. But this continues and entrenches a neoliberal, individual approach to the energy future. These dynamics will lead to corporate energy retreat from rural and remote communities – and community projects needing to step in and fill this gap under the guide of the democratisation of energy.

Further reflections and findings from the workshop will be shared in the new year. Until then, thank you to all involved, as well as the Australian Political Studies Association for bringing us together.


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