VANCOUVER — In May, the Green Party launched Mission: Possible to meet the imperative to hold global average temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees C above what it was before the Industrial Revolution. This is the target required to avoid runaway global warming – a self-accelerating, irreversible spiralling of positive feedback loops, threatening the loss of civilization within our children’s lifetime.
“When we launched Mission: Possible, we noted that it was a place-holder for more detailed policy to come,” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May (MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands). “Mission: Possible committed to a just transition for workers, but without details. We must ensure a just and fair transition for Canadian workers in the fossil fuel industry.”
Ms. May said that the term “just transition” is common in the discussion globally about climate action. Thanks to hard work from Canadian trade union delegates at COP21 in Paris, just transition for workers is in the preamble to the Paris Agreement. However, four years after that negotiation, the term is used without deep understanding of how it can be achieved.
“Canada has not done well in transitioning workers in the past,” said Ms. May. “The loss of 30,000 jobs in Atlantic Canada due to the cod moratorium and a compensation scheme called TAGs, as well as Quebec’s efforts to help asbestos workers when that industry was shut down are examples that must not be repeated.
“But now Canada has set a standard with the report of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities. The Greens fully support the seven principles and 10 recommendations from that landmark report,” said Ms. May. “Our budget and platform contain a commitment to the $300 million recommended by task force members to establish community support and a jobs bank.”
Among the key recommendations from the report are locally-driven transition centres for communities disproportionately impacted, a pension bridging programme, and comprehensive funding for workers to retrain and stay in the labour market.
Ms. May said that the fear and anxiety among workers in the fossil fuel industry is understandable. “They are concerned about their families and communities, the stability of their future livelihoods and identity. We will listen to and respect their concerns. Workers are key to making a just transition work for our economy, and for their communities.
“We must create transition pathways that support those workers immediately. Just looking at the requirements of Mission: Possible for retrofitting buildings, we will have more jobs than available workers for building tradespeople such as carpenters, electricians and plumbers. We will need four million of these workers.”
Paul Manly (MP, Nanaimo-Ladysmith) points out that oil and gas workers all have skills which are readily transferable. “Heavy equipment operators are needed to help build geothermal plants, implement the Canadian Grid Strategy and work on wind turbine construction,” he said.
“Boilermakers and pipe-fitters have skills needed for geothermal, tidal and wind projects. We will need 20,000 industrial electricians as we electrify our energy across the country for the transition. In many cases these skilled workers only need a series of workshops or courses to ‘up-skill’ and transition the skills they already have to new green energy technologies.”
Mission: Possible - The Green Climate Action Plan incorporates all the requirements for economic justice, just transition and the guarantee of meaningful work, while also respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. It recognizes that we cannot achieve climate security in the absence of equity.
To address a just and fair transition Greens will:
- Invest in comprehensive retraining and apprenticeship programs to repurpose skills of industrial trades workers for jobs in the renewable energy sector, ensuring continued employment opportunities for Canada’s skilled workers.
- Initiate a massive cleanup of “orphaned” oil wells; depending on the geology many of those wells can be transformed to produce geothermal energy.
- Institute a country-wide building program that will retrofit all buildings to optimum energy efficiency.
- Create a transition framework that acknowledges and factors in, to the greatest extent possible, the unique resources and circumstances of each province.
- Within the UNDRIP principles of self-determination and self-government, form partnerships with Indigenous peoples to ramp up renewable energy development in First Nations communities and on Indigenous lands.
- Adopt all 10 recommendations of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities and apply those lessons to other sectors impacted by moving off fossil fuels.
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A 2019 report from Electricity Human Resources Canada suggests at least 20,500 new workers will be needed in power plants and transmission systems before 2022. Promoting the skilled trades as options for young people can offer them something other industries cannot: security.
According to a report by Policy Horizons Canada, the dramatic decline of renewable energy costs means that “it is increasingly plausible to foresee a future in which cheap renewable electricity becomes the world’s primary power source and fossil fuels are relegated to a minority status.”
Siemens Canada has stated that new energy policies in Alberta and Saskatchewan will generate up to $50 billion in renewable energy investments over the next 14 years in these two provinces alone if Canada expands its renewable energy manufacturing sector.
As part of its Workers’ Climate Plan, Iron and Earth, a non-profit led by skilled trades workers with experience in Canada’s oil industry, has developed a Solar Skills Training Program to support the rapid upskilling of 1,000 Alberta tradespeople, producing a replicable model for the rapid training and deployment of industrial energy sector workers into renewables.
The federal government's Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities has identified seven principles and made 10 recommendations for a just transition for fossil fuel industry workers.
The seven principles are:
1. respect for workers, unions, communities, and families
2. worker participation at every stage of transition
3. transitioning to good jobs
4. sustainable and healthy communities
5. planning for the future, grounded in today’s reality
6. nationally coherent, regionally driven, locally delivered actions
7. immediate yet durable support
Summary of Recommendations
Embed just transition principles in planning, legislative, regulatory, and advisory processes to ensure ongoing and concrete actions throughout the coal phase-out transition
1. Develop, communicate, implement, monitor, evaluate, and publicly report on a just transition plan for the coal phase-out, championed by a lead minister to oversee and report on progress
2. Include provisions for just transition in federal environmental and labour legislation and regulations, as well as relevant intergovernmental agreements
3. Establish a targeted, long-term research fund for studying the impact of the coal phase-out and the transition to a low-carbon economy
Ensure locally available supports
4. Fund the establishment and operation of locally-driven transition centres in affected coal communities
Provide workers a pathway to retirement
5. Create a pension bridging program for workers who will retire earlier than planned due to the coal phase out
Transition workers to sustainable employment
6. Create a detailed and publicly available inventory with labour market information pertaining to coal workers, such as skills profiles, demographics, locations, and current and potential employers
7. Create a comprehensive funding program for workers staying in the labour market to address their needs across the stages of securing a new job, including income support, education and skills building, re-employment, and mobility
Invest in community infrastructure
8. Identify, prioritize, and fund local infrastructure projects in affected communities
Fund community planning, collaboration, diversification, and stabilization
9. Establish a dedicated, comprehensive, inclusive, and flexible just transition funding program for affected communities
10. Meet directly with affected communities to learn about their local priorities, and to connect them with federal programs that could support their goals