The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently signaled that the window to address climate change and prevent devastation to our environment is closing. As Canadians across the country experience the effects of a rapidly changing climate, including increased flooding, wildfires and heatwaves, there has never been greater urgency to tackle the climate crisis.

Last year, the federal government signaled its continuing commitment to reduce carbon emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. However, the path to achieving those goals remains vague. Caught in the middle are workers, whose livelihoods appear increasingly uncertain as industries across the country implement sweeping technological and operational changes to reduce their carbon output.

Unifor’s Vision

To protect workers from the kind of economic restructuring needed to meet Canada’s climate targets, government must have clear policies and programs in place to provide economic and social protections to workers impacted by the transition. The federal government must also signal its commitment to preserving safe, quality jobs and union security as the economy transforms. Finally, forward-thinking industrial policies will need to be developed that chart a coherent path towards decarbonizing specific sectors. This process must involve social dialogue with workers and employers to determine the most effective strategies for implementing clean technology and generating new sources of growth.

To tackle the climate crisis while protecting Canadian workers, the new federal government must:

  • Establish a federal Just Transition Ministry and Just Transition Fund, partially financed through levies on large industrial emitters, with the mandate to support workers affected by climate-related job displacements through enhanced income insurance, pension bridging, severance pay, retraining and relocation support, and local just transition centres;
  • Develop and implement industrial policy, transitioning resource sectors toward generating clean energy using carbon-neutral inputs (e.g., electrification, fuel cell technology, green hydrogen);
  • Expand Canada’s manufacturing capacity, aligning investment attraction efforts with proactive engagement with at-risk firms, guiding their transition to decarbonize and locating strategic skills and capacity here at home;
  • Create a permanent tripartite Just Transition Commission attached to the Just Transition Ministry that has an explicit mandate to pursue targeted policy objectives relevant to industrial transformation and labour market adjustment.

Background

  • The 2020 federal climate plan commits Canada to reducing its emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, and becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.
  • If Canada is to meet its 2030 targets, the oil and gas industry must reduce its methane emissions by upwards of 45% over the next four years.
  • Unless the federal government intervenes to support workers, thousands of jobs will be lost every year in Canada’s resource extraction industries, with devastating impacts on regional communities.
  • Best practices suggest that workers must help guide just transition and industrial policies if the economy is to successfully transition from good, union jobs in carbon intensive industries to good, union jobs in the green economy.

The recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows clear evidence that human activity has caused the planet to warm by an average temperature of 1.1 C above pre-industrial levels, with devastating effects on the environment and global weather patterns. If current trends continue, the world will hit the 1.5 C mark sometime between 2030 and 2050 – far sooner than climate scientists had predicted. However, the IPCC’s report also spells out hope by illustrating a number of paths we can take to avoid the worst scenarios, if governments take action immediately.

In order to address the climate crisis, the federal government’s revised climate plan, released at the end of 2020, aims to reduce emissions by 171 megatons over the next decade. Without these measures, Canada will likely miss its Paris Agreement targets by nearly 30%. In total, the revised climate plan includes 64 new or revised programs, policies and investments to reduce energy use, decarbonize major emitting industries, and support the adoption of made-in-Canada clean technology.

A key element missing in the new climate plan is any mention of the need for a national industrial policy to tackle the transition to a net-zero economy. The federal approach to supporting manufacturing jobs continues to be piecemeal, without an overarching framework for specific industries that would chart a clear path towards the manufacturing and adoption of clean technology all along the supply chain, while supporting the creation of living wage jobs here in Canada.

As Unifor pointed out in its 2020 Build Back Better campaign, now is the time for ambitious spending and political leadership if the government wants to kick start the post-pandemic economy towards clean energy and carbon-neutral economic growth.

Perhaps the biggest misstep in the new federal climate plan, however, is the absence of any economic or social supports for workers displaced in the transition to a net-zero economy. While so-called “Just Transition” is mentioned in relation to the recent phasing out of coal-fired power plants, the plan fails to indicate how the 2018 findings of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers might be implemented to support others whose jobs are affected by decarbonization.

The federal government also recently announced that it would be engaging in public consultations on just transition, but failed to acknowledge any of the detailed principles and recommendations for just transition spelled out both in Alberta and by the Just Transition Task Force. Disappointingly, the consultations seek to determine whether it would even be necessary to form a Just Transition Advisory Body, rather than setting out a clear framework for social dialogue between employers and workers and direct input from the labour movement in the policymaking process.