July 03, 2022

Transition from Fossil Fuel to Renewables: Challenges and Tasks before Working Class

Sudip Dutta

HUMANS live from nature, i.e., nature is our body, and we must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if we are not to die -- Karl Marx, 1844

Many of the world’s biggest corporate houses have started concerted campaign in favour of transition from fossil-fuel to renewable sources of energy. In this holy race of saving the Earth from worsening environment situation, India’s biggest corporates are also not falling behind. Though, simultaneously they are still running some of the most polluting fossil-fuel projects globally; recall the infamous coal-project in the land of Australia, the largest in contributing CO2 emissions in the world and three times the annual emissions of whole Delhi. Now the same Indian corporate has been seeking to project itself as the champion for green-energy with the direct patronage of the government.

So, when the corporate world led by these criminal crony groups shed tears upon the climate crisis, the working class can’t remain as mute spectator and mum follower of them without any doubt, debate and struggle and hence emerges the challenges and tasks. The whole climate change-green energy discourse needs to be decoded, understood and rationalised on the premise of class and their interests.


2008-09 were those years when over-production, falling rates of profit, withdrawing of investment causing further unemployment, falling of labour-share and growing distress of working population, all obvious traits of recession, were emerging very prominently. In September 2009, the UN issued a report entitled Global Green New Deal (named after Roosevelt’s New Deal), which was followed by several other Green New Deals (GND), along which came the idea of so-called Just Transition (JT). All of these proposals were combinations of Green Keynesianism, ecomodernism, and corporatist technocratic planning. Bundles of promises were made without challenging the basic anti-people profit-oriented structure of capitalism.

Side by side, throughout this last decade, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, UN) was continuously publishing several global warming features exposing the severity of the climatic situation. In 2015, the Paris Agreement on climate change promised to control the rise in global temperature to well below 2° C above pre-industrial levels (1850), preferably within 1.5° C and for that to reduce the global net CO2 emissions by 45 per cent from 2010s level within 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. Though compared to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the distinction and differentiated approach between developed and developing countries is blurred in the Paris Agreement, still a majorority agreed task remained the compulsory accountability of western industrial countries and capitalist class. 

As per the Global Carbon Inequality Report, 2022, North America (27 per cent) and Europe (22 per cent) together are liable for around 50 per cent of human-induced carbon released since 1850. While the average global per capita emission in 2019 was 6.6 tonnes per person/year, in North America it was 21 tonnes. The global bottom 50 per cent emit per person 1.6 tonnes/year, the middle 40 per cent emit 6.6 tonnes, the top 10 per cent emit 31 tonnes and the top 1 per cent emit 110 tonnes. It is evident that the historical global centres of capitalist class are the environmental criminals causing this devastating state of the nature. 

And now they have brought the slogan of “Just Transition” (JT). The slogan of so-called  “Fair Globalisation” was brought into the public discourse by ILO, when globalisation started being opposed in various corners of globe; the slogan of “sustainable development” was articulated when development started nakedly exposing its vulnerability as well as barbarous expropriation process; the “inclusive growth” was coined when growth started to be meant and measured by acute and obscene inequality underlying every layer; whenever they had promised “decent jobs”, it meant neither job nor decency, rather quality of employment had alarmingly degenerated. Obviously, this new terminology also has been innovated by the capitalist class to deceive the people and sell their dubious anti-people schemes in the name of being ‘JUST’.  

Always these dirty diversionary tactics emerged when the distressed toiling masses, exhausted with the existing system, were about to come into the streets to challenge it. And it should be recalled that, despite the idea of JT originating in 1980s in the US, global capitalism initiated aggressive campaigning for this from 2007-08, with a clear objective to create a new gigantic economic sector of investment hitherto unthought-of. It is a desperate attempt of crisis-stricken capitalism to temporarily get rescued but evidently it will not to be a smooth one; the impact is going to be massive over the working people.


Indian Energy Sector: Public vs Private

As per the International Energy Agency 2020 Report, about 70 per cent of India's energy demand is met by coal (44 per cent) and oil (25 per cent). About 78 per cent of India's electricity comes from thermal power. The NTPC contributes 23 per cent of total power generation of the country, 70 per cent of which depends upon coal. Only government-owned Coal India Ltd (CIL) alone accounts for 80 per cent of the country’s coal production. 

CIL and NTPC alone contribute to around 3 per cent of the India’s total revenue receipts, while 50 per cent of Indian Railways’ freight revenue depends upon coal transport. Conservative estimation of direct employment in the fossil fuel and allied sectors in India is 2.15 crores. Globally the  energy sector directly employs 12.6 million in fossil fuel industries, 4.6 million in renewable and 0.8 million in nuclear. Supposedly 84 per cent of total energy jobs in 2050 will be in renewables (one-third of this in manufacturing and installation), 11 per cent in fossil fuels, and 5 per cent in nuclear. 

The traditional fossil fuel workers, especially the coal communities, will not have any benefit of this job-generation, if at all it takes place. The very scattered nature of employment will eliminate the scope of unionisation and hence the right to collective bargaining, job protection, right to strike, and hitherto achieved all rights of almost 100 per cent unionised fossil-fuel workers.

The energy sector in India is a global exception as 90 per cent of coal, 57 per cent of oil refining, the entire retail distribution and 51 per cent of electricity generation are built and operated by PSUs or State-sector. Thanks to the crony policy of Modi government, as against 64 per cent of India’s thermal installed capacity belonging to PSUs, 96 per cent of renewable capacity is now in the hands of private corporates. India, at the COP26 in Glasgow, 2021, has pledged to convert half of India’s energy to renewables urgently by 2030. 

Meanwhile, through National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP), the Modi government is handing over assets like coal mines, petroleum pipelines, Powergrid, optical fibre, and especially whole PSU generated Renewable Energy (RE) to private cronies. NITI Aayog has categorically mentioned that government will take a ‘stewardship’ role and guarantee the monopoly of private corporates in the renewable sector.

It is evident that the whole transition to renewable energies in India will lead to surrender of India’s energy sector to monopoly of domestic-foreign corporates facilitated by allotment of a huge amount of subsidies from public exchequer. What is  apparent is miserable job-losses, further causing disastrous effects on crores of marginalised fossil-fuel workers along with workers in allied services.  


The twofold crisis of labour and ecology is a manifestation of the inherent crisis of the capitalist system and its logic of production. The capitalist system is driven by the motive to extract limitless surplus and profit out of labour and nature by all possible means. The systemic crisis of capitalism, augmented by the falling rates of profit syndrome, emerges in market as a symptom of withdrawal of capital from investment. Through a transition to a newer economic sector where average rate of profit is not yet stabilised, the temporary higher rate of profit attracts the capital and hence helps the market to flow.  

The intellectual mercenaries of capital are trying to separate labour from nature, placing nature in a holier position, to justify the dispossession of labour from its traditional production sphere, for ensuring a transition without any conflict. Interestingly they have socially legitimised the rent collection from even the electromagnetic spectrum (2G-3G-4G) which marks the inevitable possibility of charging over the solar light in the times to come. There is no free lunch at all under neoliberal dispensation; even the nature’s free endowment is sought to be monetised and expropriated. 

There can neither be any walk-over, nor getting swayed away by the capitalists’ pledges on the holy-nature, camouflaged under the orchestrated slogan of Just Transition. Justness, howsoever even partial, has to be forced upon by the organised class interventions. The question of this transition, therefore, is required to be understood rigorously in all its facets with its whole political-economic intent premised on class-understanding.  The task is ahead of us. 

·         No more commodification of natural resources; make the Earth free for all

·         Stop handing-over of the energy sector assets to private cronies; Stop NMP

·         Support PSUs to develop renewable energy sector; no issuance of government exchequer for private corporates in the name of JT

·         Energy sector, whether fossil-fuel or renewables, must be dominated by the State-sector to prevent monopolisation by private corporates

·         Tax the climate culprits: provide subsistence allowances and ensure jobs to the displaced workers and communities

·         Allocate and disburse the fund raised and received in the name of JT wholly to the affected workers and population.