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Australian Coal Transitions: Research and Dialogue on the Future of Coal

MSSI is part of the Australian component of the major international research project, Coal Transitions: Research and Dialogue on the Future of Coal. This collaborative project brings together researchers from six major coal producing nations—China, India, Germany, South Africa, Poland and Australia—to explore trajectories and policy options with the potential to facilitate well managed and equitable economic transitions away from coal.

The international Coal Transitions project is led by IDDRI (Paris) and Climate Strategies (London). The Australian component is led by the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy, in collaboration with the University of Melbourne’s Sustainable Society Institute.

What is Coal Transitions?

Coal represents 28% of global energy consumption. However, meeting commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change requires a significant reduction in coal consumption across the globe. In many coal-dependent countries, this raises significant political, social and economic issues.

This project aims to:

  • promote deeper understanding among relevant national and international stakeholders of the
    implications of global climate mitigation activities for the future of coal production and consumption;
  • support societally acceptable transition away from coal, to marry coal phase out with economic renewal and a just transition in key countries;
  • promote knowledge and acceptance new narratives on the future of coal, enabling conditions, and concrete steps for national coal phase out strategies;
  • promote exchange, learning and more coordination on transition policies at international level.


Prospects for a 'just transition' away from coal-fired power generation in Australia: Learning from the closure of the Hazelwood Power Station
Until its relatively sudden closure in March 2017, the Hazelwood Power Station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley was the most carbon-intensive electricity generator in Australia. We argue that Australia’s political and economic institutions help to explain the autonomous decision of Engie to close the plant, the short notice period, and the lack of pre-closure government transition policy. Straightforward “vote-seeking” is however too simplistic an explanation of the transition policies announced at the time of the Hazelwood closure. Of particular relevance is the fact that, over the last few years, the transition away from coal and towards renewable energy has become a virtual inevitability in the Australian energy sector. One important outcome of this trend has been the shift in position of the Australian union movement towards advocacy for “just transition” policies, bringing it both closer to—and, in some cases, in alliance with—environmental groups. Our case study has demonstrated that the positions of key civil society stakeholders in Australia’s energy debate, including unions, environment groups and to some extent business groups have been converging toward a “just”—or at least an orderly—transition as a dominant political narrative for substantive policies to improve the transition arrangements in the Australian energy sector. Strengthening and perhaps formalising these alliances will improve the incentives for political parties to invest in long-term policies in the energy sector.

Transitioning beyond coal: Lessons from the structural renewal of Europe’s old industrial regions
It is often assumed that a transition to a low carbon future will have highly disruptive and potentially devastating effects on coal regions and their communities.  However, evidence from the experience of industrial decline and attempted renewal in Europe’s old industrial regions demonstrates that successful regional transition is—while not inevitable—indeed possible.   Drawing on the literature of regional resilience and innovation, the paper offers lessons, insights and cautionary warnings from the experience of renewal initiatives in Europe’s old industrial regions and illustrates the ways in which some of the seeds for a ‘just’ regional transitions to zero-carbon economies may, in fact, lie in a careful understanding of the potential to build on the specific historical context of the regions industrial development and capabilities.

Related Media

The tough choice Australia has to make about coal,, 2 Nov 2017



Chief Investigators:

Prof John Wiseman
Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute

A/Prof Frank Jotzo
ANU Crawford School

Senior Advising Academics:

Prof Lars Coenen
Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute

Prof Quentin Grafton
ANU Crawford School


Stephanie Campbell
Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute

Fergus Green
Melbourne University
London School of Economics



More reports available here