As coal mining communities change there is a call to ensure no-one is left behind

Government, industry, communities and academia have been grappling for decades about how mining towns can thrive without jobs and economic benefits of coal extraction.

Climate policy researcher, Dr Paris Hadfield, says there are plenty of lessons from the past to guide communities through the decarbonisation process.

“Part of the challenge is that communities’ identities are often tied to these jobs, these developments that are in their town,” the Monash University Sustainable Development Institute research fellow says.

Paris hadfield
Dr Paris Hadfield, Research Fellow at the Monash University Sustainable Development Institute

The institute says it’s about keeping one’s eyes on the goal: improving people’s lives.

Hadfield says that means: “ensuring their wellbeing, listening to their needs and priorities and aspirations, not only in the present, but well into the future.”

“We often talk about or even hear about ‘just’ transition associated with coal communities,” Hadfield told the university’s What Happens Next project.  

“There’s no clear example of something that has worked really well, but we can learn from the past,” Hadfield says.

“It needs to recognise spatial difference, inequalities between places – as well as within a place, and within a group of people.

“Who is in this community? How can we empower them to be involved? That might be local community groups, local councils, schools, and certainly things like Traditional Owners, corporations, and unions. So really, it’s about bringing everyone together, getting on the same page, transparently deliberating on these difficult questions.”

Hadfield points to various projects to illustrate the theme.

Also in Cosmos: digital farmhands and rural communities

Rooftop solar panels may be almost ubiquitous in cities, but most regional communities tend to have less cash to spare and higher installation and maintenance costs.

“We can see that there’s a disparity in who has solar on their roofs,” Hadfield says. “There are cost barriers. And so, it’s thinking about how we can uplift the most vulnerable groups in our communities. What would help them also access solar?”

The same applies to commerce and industry.

“Think about the regulations, how costs are managed in our energy network. It’s a very complex arrangement. I think just directing and prioritising investment to say ‘we’re not going to leave people behind’ is a key part of that.”

Then there’s the eternal challenge of balancing large-scale developments with the rights of regional communities and First Nations groups.

“Traditional Owners’ corporations need to have the capacity to negotiate on an even playing field because we’re talking about large energy and mining corporations,” Hadfield says.

It’s an issue that was raised at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Egypt.

“Decision makers go off into another room and make the decisions about our peoples’ future,” Australia’s National Native Title Council CEO, Jamie Lowe, told attendees. “We need to be at the decision-making table and making calls on what happens in regard to the globe and climate change.”

But steps are being made in the right direction, Hadfield says. “Just in the last week [we’ve] received a commitment from energy ministers to develop a First Nations’ Clean Energy Strategy. That’s a great first step, at least a commitment, to centering the opportunities for First Nations groups to lead the clean energy transition on their lands and benefit from it, essentially.”

Subscribe to greenlight project from riaus

Are you interested in how science and technology is transforming production, energy, and agriculture? Then our new email newsletter Greenlight Project, launching soon, is for you. Click here to become an inaugural subscriber.

The Greenlight Project is a year-long look at how regional Australia is preparing for and adapting to climate change.

Please login to favourite this article.