Flooding in British Columbia is an unfolding, man-made climate disaster

After the disastrous summer heat wave which killed 595 people in British Columbia in June 2021, along comes the worst natural weather disaster in Canada’s history so far : torrential rains and flooding which began on November 15 in southern British Columbia, centred on Abbotsford and the agricultural Fraser River Valley, including First Nations lands. One person so far has been pronounced dead; mudslides, rockslides and water have destroyed roads, bridges and rail lines;  motorists have been stranded, and supply chains from the port of Vancouver to the rest of Canada are disrupted.  Thousands of people and animals have been evacuated and rescued from homes under water.  The culprit?  As reported by the National Observer, “Lethal mix of cascading climate impacts hammers B.C.” (Nov. 17).   But human fingerprints are all over this climate catastrophe, as explained in  “‘A tipping point’: how poor forestry fuels floods and fires in western Canada”  (The Guardian, Nov. 16).  The Guardian article cites a February 2021 report, Intact Forests: Safe Communities, in which author Peter Wood warned of the potential catastrophe around the corner unless the province’s forest management practices were changed.

Responding to over a year of intense pressure, the government of B.C. DID announce new plans in November, to defer logging on 2.6 million hectares of at-risk old growth forests for two years or so,  pending the approval of First Nations – a compromise policy which satisfied no one.   “BC Paused a Lot of Old-Growth Logging. Now What?”   (The Tyee, Nov. 8 ) explains background to the decision and the opposition from the United Steelworkers, whose members work in the forestry sector . The USW press release  accuses the government of selling out the workers.   “Protecting some old growth isn’t enough. B.C. needs a Forest Revolution”  and “Counting the Job Costs of halting old growth logging” expand on the economic arguments for the clearcutting of B.C.’s forests. (The Tyee, Nov. 10). B.C. now needs new research, to count the dollars required to re-build lives and infrastructure after this disaster.   

Wind and solar companies perform poorly re labour and human rights

On November 1, the Centre for Business and Human Rights Resource Centre released the 2nd edition of its report: the Renewable Energy & Human Rights Benchmark 2021 Report. Although the report notes some improvements from the inaugural 2020 edition, the Centre states that the “ overall results remain profoundly concerning, with companies scoring an average of just 28%.”  In the past 10 years, the Centre has recorded over 200 allegations linked to renewable energy projects, including land and water grabs, violation of the rights of Indigenous nations, and the denial of workers’ rights to decent work and a living wage. Only 2 companies in the survey guaranteed the right to a living wage.  

The wind and solar sectors accounted for 44% of the total allegations of abuse. The Key Findings for the Wind and Solar sectors report includes analysis, and makes recommendations for corporations and investors. For corporations, the key recommendation is: “Set a clear and urgent goal to implement human rights and environmental due diligence in operations and supply chains, alongside access to remedy, with special emphasis on land and Indigenous rights risks.”

COP26 takeaways for Canada and the labour movement

At the conclusion of COP26 on November 13, the world has been left with the Glasgow Climate Pact and numerous side deals that were made throughout the two weeks of presentations and negotiations. Carbon Brief notes that the final Glasgow Pact is actually set out in three documents –with most attention falling on this paragraph in the 11-page “cover document” (aka 1/CMA.3), which:

“Calls upon Parties to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing  targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition;”

Fortunately, Carbon Brief analyzed all three documents, as well as side events and pledges in its summary of Key Outcomes .The International Institute for Sustainable Development has also compiled a detailed, day by day summary through its Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

Reactions range widely, but the November 13 tweet from @Greta Thunberg captures the essence:  “The #COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah. But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever.”  Veteran climate reporter Fiona Harvey writes “What are the key points of the Glasgow Climate Pact?” in The Guardian, representing the more positive consensus about the success of diplomacy, and The New York Times provides overviews from a U.S. perspective inNegotiators Strike a Climate Deal, but World Remains Far From Limiting Warming” (Nov. 13)  and  “Climate Promises Made in Glasgow Now Rest With a Handful of Powerful Leaders” (Nov 14). In contrast, George Monbiot argues that the Fridays for Future movement and civil society have demonstrated the power of a committed minority in “After the failure of Cop26, there’s only one last hope for our survival” and states: “Our survival depends on raising the scale of civil disobedience until we build the greatest mass movement in history, mobilising the 25% who can flip the system. 

More details, with  COP26 highlights most relevant to Canadians and workers:   

The National Observer has compiled their coverage in a series of articles titled Uniting the World to Tackle Climate Change – which includes a summary “Glasgow didn’t deliver on 1.5 C, but not all is lost” . A quick summary appears in The Toronto Star “What’s in the Glasgow Climate Deal and what does it mean for Canada”  (Nov. 15). Climate Action Network Canada (CAN-Rac) compiles a range of reactions in “Canadian civil society reacts to COP26: incremental inadequate progress; a reason to mobilize“.

Key Issues:

On Just Transition:

In what could be considered progress, for the first time the language of Just Transition is included in the main text of The Glasgow Pact, as section 85 states that the Parties: “… recognizes the need to ensure just transitions that promote sustainable development and eradication of poverty, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs, including through making financial flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emission and climate-resilient development, including through deployment and transfer of technology, and provision of support to developing country Parties”

In addition, a  Just Transition Declaration  was agreed upon by 15 governments, including Canada, UK, USA, much of the EU, and New Zealand.  The ILO played a key role in drafting the Declaration and  released its own press release here . The Declaration itself cites the preamble from the Paris Agreement and the 2015 ILO Guidelines for Just Transition, and states:

“signatories recognize their role to ensure a transition that is “ fully inclusive and benefits the most vulnerable through the more equitable distribution of resources, enhanced economic and political empowerment, improved health and wellbeing, resilience to shocks and disasters and access to skills development and employment opportunities. This should also display: a commitment to gender equality, racial equality and social cohesion; protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples; disability inclusion; intergenerational equity and young people; the promotion of women and girls; marginalised persons’ leadership and involvement in decision-making; and recognition of the value of their knowledge and leadership; and support for the collective climate action of diverse social groups. Social dialogue as well as rights at work are indispensable building blocks of sustainable development and must be at the centre of policies for strong, sustainable, and inclusive growth and development.”    

On November 10, the closing statement of the Trade Union Delegation to the COP26 Plenary session was delivered by Richard Hardy, National Secretary for Prospect union  in Scotland, a member of the General Council of the Scottish Trade Union Congress, and a member of the Scottish Governments Just Transition Commission.  From that statement:

“ I will speak on behalf of the 210 million workers in 165 countries represented by the global trade union movement …….. the global trade union movement is happy that “Just Transition” has finally found its way in the language used by many parties and observers. We saw and appreciate the adoption by donor countries of the declaration on “Supporting the Conditions for a Just Transition Internationally” and applaud the strong commitments made by signatories. We urge the parties to continue to work towards a Just Transition one that is about jobs, plans and investment. Once again, we call on parties to step up their NDCs and create the millions of good quality jobs and decent work with your climate policies and measures, good quality jobs and decent work which the world desperately requires…. Unions need a voice at the table in social dialogue processes that deliver on jobs, just transition plans and investments.”   

Reaction from other unions: A  joint statement by the UK Trade Union delegation to the COP President on November 10 calls for increased engagement on just transition, climate action, labour and human rights. Further, it states:   “We applaud the UK COP Presidency’s role in preparing the Declaration on “Supporting the Conditions for a Just transition Internationally”, which was launched last week. But this is a parallel initiative, and not part of the binding UNFCCC agreements. Similar efforts need to be made to incorporate just transition and labour rights into the official COP26 negotiations.”  The International Trades Union Congress (ITUC) reaction is here and here (Nov. 11), and from IndustriALL, here.

On Ending new fossil fuel production and subsidies

In his opening address to COP26 on November 1, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada “will cap oil and gas sector emissions today and ensure they decrease tomorrow at a pace and scale needed to reach net-zero by 2050”. (a statement reviewed in “Amid urgent calls for action at COP26, Trudeau repeats pledge to cap oil and gas emissions” (National Observer, Nov. 1) .  Before leaving COP, the Prime Minister also committed up to $1 billion in international funding for the transition away from coal. But when the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance  was officially launched on November 10, it was the government of Quebec which joined (having pre-empted the launch with their announcement on November 4 ).  

On November 4, a  federal press release states that Canada has signed the Statement on International Public Support for the Clean Energy Transition, stating that …”Canada and other signatories will further prioritize support for clean technology and end new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel sector by the end of 2022, except in limited and clearly defined circumstances that are consistent with the 1.5 degree Celsius warming limit and the goals of the Paris Agreement.” [emphasis by the editor].  Climate Action Network Canada (CAN-Rac) sums up that commitment and  hopeful reactions by many  in “Canada joins historic commitment to end international fossil fuel finance by end of 2022” . However, for context, the CAN-Rac press release also notes Canada’s Big Oil Reality Check, a report  released on November 3  by Oil Change International and Environmental Defence Canada. It assesses the climate plans of eight Canadian oil and gas producers (including Cenovus, Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd , ExxonMobil and Imperial Oil ,and  Shell Canada), and concludes that their current business plans to 2030 put them  on track to expand annual oil and gas production in Canada by nearly 30% above 2020 levels.  Also, at a COP side event on November 12,  The Fossil Fueled 5 report called out the governments of Canada, the U.K., the United States, Norway, and Australia for the huge gap between their net zero targets and climate pledges and their public support for fossil fuel production. In the case of Canada, the report states that the government has provided approximately $17 billion in public finance to three fossil fuel pipelines between 2018 and 2020. The Fossil Fueled 5 was produced  by the University of Sussex in cooperation with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative and their regional partners in each of the 5 countries – Uplift (UK), Oil Change International (USA), Greenpeace (Norway), The Australia Institute (Australia) and Stand.earth (Canada). 

On Deforestation:  The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use seems especially important to Canadians, given the current flooding and devastation in British Columbia which is part of a “Lethal Mix of cascading climate impacts” . The Declaration, endorsed by Canada, Russia, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is explained by The Narwhal in  “COP26 deforestation deal could be a win for climate, but Canada needs to address true impacts of forest loss” (Nov. 10) and in Leaders promise to halt ‘chainsaw massacre’ of world’s forests” (National Observer, Nov. 2). However, the New York Times exposes “The billions set aside in Glasgow to save forests represent a fraction of spending to support fossil fuels”  ( Nov.2)  and Energy Mix writes  “Glasgow Forest Pact Runs Short on Funding while Canada ‘Gives Industrial Logging a Free Pass’” (Energy Mix, Nov. 3). The Energy Mix also notes the failure of previous such Declarations to make an impact on emissions – especially in Canada and Brazil – as explained in Missing the forest: How carbon loopholes for logging hinder Canada’s climate leadership, a report released pre-COP by Environmental Defence Canada, Nature Canada, Nature Québec, and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Zero Emissions Cars Declaration  launched a coalition which includes six major automakers ( Ford, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors ,Volvo, BYD, and Jaguar Land Rover), and 30 national governments  – including Britain, Canada, India (the world’s 4th largest market) , Mexico,  the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, Croatia, Ghana and Rwanda, and others. Sub-national signatories included British Columbia and Quebec in Canada, and California and Washington State.  The federal U.S. government, China and Japan did not sign, nor did Toyota, Volkswagen, and the Nissan-Renault alliance. Signatories pledged to work toward phasing out sales of new gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 worldwide, and by 2035 in “leading markets.”  The New York Times has more here

Union participation at COP26: 

A webinar in October, co-hosted by IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriAll Europe was titled  ‘On the Way to COP26 – Industry, Energy and Mine Workers Demand Just Transition’, and saw the launch of a Joint Declaration  on Just Transition by the two internationals. (IndustriALL also released its own Just Transition for Workers guide).  From the  International Trade Union Confederation,  an overview of trade union demands going in to the COP26 meetings was released as The Frontlines Briefing document ;  the ITUC also provides  a schedule of the activities of the official Trade Union Delegation  – at 25 pages, an impressive record of union participation in events and negotiations.  

The Canadian Labour Congress sponsored  a panel: Powering Past Coal with Just Transition: The Trade Union Perspective, with CLC Vice-President Larry Rousseau  and Tara Peel joined by Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault, as well as Sharan Burrow,  International Trade Union Confederation general secretary as moderator. Speakers included union leaders and government/ministerial representatives from Canada, South Africa and the US.

Another panel, Just Transition in the Steel and Energy Industry took place on November 8 and is available on YouTube .  It launched Preparing for a Just Transition: Meeting green skill needs for a sustainable steel industry, a report written by Community Union and researchers from the Cardiff University School of Sciences.  It reports on the views of 100 steelworkers in the U.K.,  revealing that 92% feel a green transition is necessary, 78% feel it will bring a radical transformation to their industry, and 55% feel they already possess the skills necessary to make the transition.  79% had not been consulted by their employers, leading to a recommendation for more worker voice.  The survey also delved into what skills would be needed.   

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) mounted a focused campaign, including a new report co- released on November 10  with C40 Cities . Their original research modelled the impacts of doubling public transportation in five major cities – Houston, Jakarta, Johannesburg, London and Milan and demonstrated that it  create tens of millions of jobs worldwide (summarized by an ITF press release and available as the full report,  Making COP26 Count: How investing in public transport this decade can protect our jobs, our climate, our future .  

Also on November 10,  the ITF announced that a tripartite Just Transition Maritime Task Force will be formed, to  drive decarbonization and support seafarers through shipping’s green transition.  Official partners include the UN Global Compact and the International Labour Organization, as well as the ITF representing workers and International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), representing ship owners.  The ITF Sustainable Shipping Position Paper, titled The Green Horizon We See Beyond the Big Blue,  is available from this link .

Activism is working to move pension funds away from stranded fossil assets

 “Canadian pensions are retiring fossil fuel investments” (Corporate Knights magazine, November 9) strikes a hopeful note about the state of Canada’s pension funds, stating:  “Canadian pension portfolio exposures to fossil fuel stocks are down to a 10th of what they were 10 years ago, notwithstanding some controversial private equity investments.”   The article summarizes analysis from the Canadian Pensions Dashboard for Responsible Investing, a new project of The Natural Step Canada, Smart Prosperity Institute, and Corporate Knights.  That full report is a unique overview of sustainability performance, and employs measures such carbon footprint of the portfolio, presence of net-zero targets, the pay link to Environmental Standards (ESG), support for shareholder environmental resolutions, and more.

Another related Corporate Knights article describes youth-driven campaigns which have challenged pension plans to acknowledge and adjust to climate risk.  “How young people are using climate litigation to fight for their future” focuses on youth activism targeting pension funds. It describes a years-long challenge to the Retail Employees Superannuation Trust (REST)  in Australia, which ultimately ended in the pension fund settling a lawsuit out of court by acknowledging that “climate change is a material, direct and current financial risk” that could “lead to catastrophic economic and social consequences.”  The fund also agreed to be more proactive and “ensure that investment managers take active steps to consider, measure and manage financial risks posed by climate change and other relevant ESG risks.”  A second example describes the current activist campaign calling for the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) to phase out all current fossil fuel investments by 2025 and completely decarbonize its portfolio by 2030. Retired teachers and high school students have mobilized in Toronto, under the leadership of Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health (Shift), which is organizing similar campaigns at the ten largest Canadian pension funds.  In September 2021, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Board announced  “industry-leading targets to reduce portfolio carbon emissions intensity by 45% by 2025 and two-thirds (67%) by 2030, compared to its 2019 baseline. These emission reduction targets cover all the Fund’s real assets, private natural resources, equity and corporate credit holdings across public and private markets, including external managers.”    The WCR has more detail here .

Relevant to all pension management: new research published in Nature Energy   and summarized in The Guardian with this headline:  “Half world’s fossil fuel assets could become worthless by 2036 in net zero transition” .

Policy recommendations re Green jobs and Green skills in U.K. and the EU

An October publication by researchers at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change in the U.K.  revisits the issue of green jobs: how to define them, where they are, and the labour market policy challenges of educating and training the workforce to prepare for them.  Are ‘green’ jobs good jobs? How lessons from the experience to-date can inform labour market transitions of the future  focuses on U.K. data, but also compares it to EU data and discusses the different labour market methodologies for measuring and tracking green jobs.  The authors conclude that more information and  deeper analysis is needed , especially regarding the educational needs of specific regions and occupations.  An 8-page Policy Brief  distills the policy applications of the analysis, concluding that green jobs provide good quality employment in Europe and in the UK, where they pay higher wages and are at lower risk of automation than non-green jobs, especially for middle- and low-skilled workers. The Brief notes that some groups, especially women and young people, are underrepresented. It concludes that policymakers need to focus on building the skills needed in the net-zero transition, and target transition policies to address regional and demographic imbalances.

This research comes as the government has a stated goal to reach 2 million green jobs by 2030, and to do so, has initiated a Green Jobs Task Force, and a multitude of studies, plans and consultations. Some sense and summary of all these comes in the Green Jobs Report released by the U.K. Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee on October 25. It is the result of a consultation process which received 65 submissions. Amongst the recommendations: based on the recent failure of the government’s Green Homes Grant voucher scheme, it is clear that the Government urgently needs to set out a retrofit skills strategy.

New website launched to promote greener international trade agreements

GreenNewTrade.org is a new website aimed at climate justice activists and the general public, describing past and current trade challenges to “Green New Deal–type policies”, and calling for changes to trade rules. For Canadians, the most famous such international trade dispute occurred when Japan and the EU challenged the domestic content provisions in Ontario’s Green Energy Act – and in 2013,  the World Trade Organization ruled against Ontario. There have also been numerous challenges under the investor–state dispute settlement (ISDS) rules of NAFTA and the successor United States Canada Mexico Trade Agreement (USMCA) – the website gives the example of US coal mining company Westmoreland, which in 2018 challenged Alberta’s planned phaseout of coal-fired power plants.   

For an introduction to the issues, see Beyond NAFTA 2.0: A Trade Agenda for People and Planet,  a report released in 2019 by some of the same groups behind this new website: the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives,  the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,  Institute for Policy Studies,  and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung–New York.   A blog post at the Business and Human Rights Resources website describes GreenNewTrade.org .

Canada signs on to COP26 Just Transition Declaration

At the end of week one of the Conference of the Parties in Glasgow (COP26),  Canada signed on to the Just Transition Declaration, along with 14 other countries, including the UK, USA, much of the EU, and New Zealand.  The declaration cites the preamble from the Paris Agreement and the 2015 ILO Guidelines for Just Transition,  and states that signatories recognize their role to ensure a transition that is

“ fully inclusive and benefits the most vulnerable through the more equitable distribution of resources, enhanced economic and political empowerment, improved health and wellbeing, resilience to shocks and disasters and access to skills development and employment opportunities. This should also display: a commitment to gender equality, racial equality and social cohesion; protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples; disability inclusion; intergenerational equity and young people; the promotion of women and girls; marginalised persons’ leadership and involvement in decision-making; and recognition of the value of their knowledge and leadership; and support for the collective climate action of diverse social groups. Social dialogue as well as rights at work are indispensable building blocks of sustainable development and must be at the centre of policies for strong, sustainable, and inclusive growth and development.  

We recognise that a just transition is not the replacement of one industry with another, but a diversification toward a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive economy overall. Lastly, we recognise the importance of facilitating the transition from the informal to the formal economy, through social dialogue, to ensure that no one is left behind, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.  

The Declaration provides more details about each of the objectives, and concludes with a statement that:  “We intend to include information on Just Transition efforts, where relevant, in our national Biennial Transparency Reports in the context of reporting on our policies and measures to achieve our Nationally Determined Contributions.” The ILO, which played a key role in drafting the Declaration, released its own press release and summary here.  Reaction from the International Trades Union Congress (ITUC) is here .

Note that much more was said about Just Transition at COP26 – much of it at side events or smaller panels. One example, the COP26 panel on Just Transition in the Steel and Energy Industry on November 8, available on YouTube here.  This panel was the occasion for the launch of Preparing for a Just Transition: Meeting green skill needs for a sustainable steel industry, a report written by Community Union and researchers from the Cardiff University School of Sciences.  The report provides an overview of decarbonization in the steel industry, but most importantly reports on the views of 100 steelworkers in the U.K., revealing that 92% feel a green transition is necessary, 78% feel it will bring a radical transformation to their industry, and 55% feel they already possess the skills necessary to make the transition.  79% had not been consulted by their employers, leading to a recommendation for more worker voice.  The survey also delved into what skills would be needed.  

CCPA’s Alternative Federal Budget 2022 calls for a fossil fuel moratorium and maps out a generous Transition plan for Canadian workers

As it has for 26 years, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its Alternative Federal Budget, offering progressive, costed policy choices for Canada, along with a plan to pay for them. This year’s AFB, released on November 9, is titled: Mission Critical: A Just and Equitable Recovery, which focuses on key issues which include: strengthening and expanding the existing health care system,  implementing universal public child care, reforming Canada’s income security system, addressing the housing crisis, and moving forward on reconciliation with First Nations peoples.  Climate action is addressed in Chapter 7, “Physical Infrastructure for People, Biodiversity and Planet”, and relates to Chapter 6, “A Vision for Job Creation and Decent Work”.

Regarding climate action policies, the CCPA states “Building on the government’s own commitments to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, this AFB ramps up the stringency of environmental regulations. It also takes a more hands-on approach to transitioning the economy away from the production and consumption of fossil fuels.” Specifically, the document calls for an immediate moratorium on new fossil fuel extraction projects, and a phase- out of coal, oil and natural gas production for fuel by 2040. The ensuing disruption would require a permanent, independent Just Transition Commission, to oversee and co-ordinate the federal government’s just transition agenda for all sectors (not just fossil fuels), and to develop regional transition road maps.  For workers affected by fossil fuel closures (and the disruption to ancillary businesses in those communities), the AFB calls for “generous and predictable benefits”, financed by a budget allocation of $100 million per year over 20 years (the estimated lifetime of Canada’s fossil fuel phaseout).  This translates into  a $2,000 monthly Just Transition Benefit to offset their income loss for as long as it takes  them to find re-training and/or re-employment. For workers who are near retirement and cannot reasonably retrain for a new career, this benefit bridges their income till their pensions begin. The Commission would be supported by a $5 million per year budget, and would include the a wide variety of stakeholders, including labour unions, civil society groups, Indigenous peoples,  people with disabilities, business associations, independent experts, and public servants from governments of all levels.

Other notable climate-related proposals: 1.  Adjust the existing revenue-recycling formula for the national carbon pricing system by reallocating the majority of federal revenue away from middle-to-high-income households and toward emission reduction initiatives in the provinces where revenue is generated.  2. Establish a new federal economic diversification crown corporation which would prioritize direct public ownership of new infrastructure, funded by $15 billion per year over five years to allow it to invest at the required scale.  3.  Reconstitute the Canada Infrastructure Bank to become a fully publicly financed bank with a mandate to invest in publicly owned and publicly operated infrastructure (and to require Community Benefits Agreements in those projects). The new CIB would also provide low-cost loans to municipalities, Indigenous governments, and other public bodies to scale up important infrastructure projects that are in the public interest, and would include the new Economic Diversification Crown Corporation.

Report on Canada’s low carbon future makes recommendations for community and worker transitions

 A new report from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices analyzes the trends in the global transition to a low carbon economy, and warns that  800,000  Canadian jobs could be at risk if we fail to support strategic industries.   The report states that Canada is particularly vulnerable to market disruptions because over 70 per cent of our goods exports and over 60 per cent of foreign direct investment in Canada are in vulnerable sectors – not only fossil fuels, but also such as auto parts and vehicles, minerals, and energy intensive industries such as steel and aluminum.

The report, Sink or Swim: : Transforming Canada’s economy for a global low-carbon future is a business analysis with the overall message that transition offers opportunity, and Canada needs to act more quickly to “catch the wave”. Besides examining the benefits and sectors of opportunity in the low carbon transition, the the report includes a recommendation to: “Develop local and people-focused transition plans that drive new areas of job creation, improve the resilience of the workforce and empower Indigenous economic leadership.” More specifically, the report concludes with : “  Federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, and Indigenous governments should work together to develop detailed transition plans to support workers and communities and improve overall well-being. Transition plans should aim to attract new sources of growth and jobs, support worker transition and skill development, improve youth education outcomes and readiness, ensure alignment with Sustainable Development Goals, and empower Indigenous economic leadership.”

The Sink or Swim discussion starts from a fundamental statement that “achieving success is also about more than supporting affected workers in transition-vulnerable companies or sectors. Success will come from generating strong and inclusive economic growth that improves the wellbeing of all Canadians.”  The ensuing discussion recognizes that multinational companies have weak connections and relationships to local communities, making them more likely to relocate than to re-invest. Using census data, it identifies 55 communities of 10,000 people or more that have more than 3% of their workforce employed in transition-vulnerable sectors, highlighting the Wood Buffalo area in the oil sands of Alberta, and Thompson Manitoba, a nickel-mining community. The report offers recommendations for communities, focusing on the critical areas of infrastructure investment, financing, and the need for local capacity to analyze labour markets and financial opportunities– using the examples of the InvestEU advisory hub and the Colorado Office of Just Transition.

Regarding workers, the report documents the increased vulnerability of youth, minorities, and especially Indigenous workers. It sees the solution for all as improved education and training opportunities – describing programs in B.C. , the North, and for  Indigenous workers.  The report also states: “all post-secondary education programs—including trades, engineering, science, economics, and business—can support transition success by incorporating future skills and knowledge needs into their curricula and programming.” 

New Nova Scotia legislation enshrines climate goals, with principles of equity and Mi’kmaq concept of Netukulimk

Nova Scotia’s Minister of Environment  introduced the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act to the Legislature on October 27 –  the press release is here. It builds on a previous Bill which was never enacted, with the important distinction that the EGCCRAct enshrines climate action goals and timelines into law.  The  new legislation follows a public consultation in 2021, and is built on four principles: equity, sustainable development, a circular economy,  and “Netukulimk” (a  Mi’kmaq word defined as “the use of the natural bounty provided by the Creator for the self-support and well-being of the individual and the community by achieving adequate standards of community nutrition and economic well-being without jeopardizing the integrity, diversity or productivity of the environment”).

The specific goals include: reducing total GHG emissions to at least 53% below 2005 levels by 2030;  ensuring at least 30% of new passenger vehicles are zero-emissions by 2030;a requirement that any new build or major retrofit in government buildings, including schools and hospitals, that enters the planning stage after 2022, be net-zero energy performance and climate resilient; decrease greenhouse gas emissions across Government-owned buildings by 75% by the year 2035; phase out of coal-fired electricity generation by 2030, with 80% of electricity supplied by renewable energy by 2030. The problematic issue of forestry policy is  finally addressed with a deadline of   2023 to implement the ecological forestry approach for Crown lands, as recommended in the 2018  Lahey report,  “An Independent Review of Forest Practices in Nova Scotia”.

Regarding equity, the government will “ initiate in 2022 ongoing work with racialized and marginalized communities to create a sustained funding opportunity for climate change action and support for community-based solutions and policy engagement.” The legislation mandates a Sustainable Communities Challenge Fund  to be established.  

The Act mandates a a Strategic Plan titled “Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth” to be tabled by December 31, 2022, with annual progress reports and a complete review in 5 years.

Reaction to the legislation, with a goal-by-goal analysis is available from Nova Scotia’s Ecology Action Centre, is here . One of the sector- specific pieces is a call for an end to oil and gas production and a Just Transition for workers . Despite the fact that there is currently no oil and gas production in Nova Scotia, the EAC highlights the danger that the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) issued a call for bids in May 2021.