Iron and Earth releases its Prosperous Transition Plan for Canada’s fossil fuel workers

In its recently released Prosperous Transition Plan, Iron and Earth calls for a $61-billion federal investment in Canada’s just transition process, including $10 billion over 10 years to upskill over one million workers, at $10,000 per worker on average.  New I&E Director Luisa Da Silva and Board Director Bruce Wilson wrote “Most oil patch workers believe Canada needs to pivot to a net-zero economy” (Corporate Knights, Aug. 31), summarizing the plan.  In addition to the retraining programs, the Prosperous Transition strategy calls for: 1. rapid refocusing and repositioning of 10,000 Canadian enterprises to meet the emerging demand in net-zero industries. (costed at $20 billion over 10 years); 2. retrofitting and repurposing initiatives for long-term infrastructure, including abandoned oil wells and remediation of well sites. This is costed at the equivalent of  $10-billion, “in the form of incentives and tax offsets, with green strings to carbon-intensive industries investing in net-zero technologies.”  And finally, 3. use of nature-based solutions to prioritize green infrastructure development, expand carbon sinks and revitalize ecosystems and biodiversity (costed at $22 billion over 10 years).   

Iron & Earth describes itself as “a worker-led not-for-profit with a mission to empower fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions.” Since she replaced the founding Executive Director, Liam Hildebrand, in the summer of 2021, Luisa da Silva has taken a higher-profile, and was recently quoted in “Liberals pledge $2 Billion to aid just transition” (National Observer, Aug. 31),  in which she called the Liberal Just Transition election proposals “a good start”. In the same article, she revealed that Iron and Earth, as part of the Just Transition consultation stakeholders, had received an email on Aug. 16 saying that, due to the election call, “consultation sessions on proposed just transition legislation are postponed until further notice, and any invitations sent for upcoming sessions are cancelled.”

Canada’s federal election: how do the parties compare on climate issues?

The federal election in Canada takes place on September 20, and according to an Abacus poll conducted on September 4, climate change remains one of the top concerns of voters.  The Liberal Party Platform document   was officially released on September 1, preceded by a  climate plan announced on Aug. 29 (summarized by a 2-page Fact Sheet ). The Conservative platform  was accompanied by a separate climate plan, Secure the Environment . The New Democratic Party platform also is accompanied with specific climate action commitments here. And just before the Leaders’ debates on Sept. 8 and 9, the  Green Party released their full platform on Labour Day weekend. 

The overall Platform statements are compared by the CBC and by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: the “Platform Crunch” for the Liberals (Sept. 3) ; Conservatives   (Aug. 18); and for the NDP (Aug. 13).   

How do the parties’ Platforms compare on climate change?  

It is easy to summarize the differing GHG emissions reductions targets of the parties, with the Green Party committed to a target of 60 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels and net negative emissions in 2050. The Liberal Party commits to reducing emissions by 40-45 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, which is the target they have committed to as a government in the Net-Zero Accountability Act. The NDP target is to cut its emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, and commit to establishing multi-year national and sectoral carbon budgets. The Conservative Party promising to retreat to the Harper-era target of 30% reduction by 2030 – which would violate Canada’s obligation under the Paris Agreement.

Environmental Defence has produced a 2-page voter’s guide identifying the other key issues, along with sample questions voters may want to ask their candidates. Here is a selection of comparisons and summaries on a variety of issues:    

Election 2021: How the four main federal parties plan to fight climate crisis” (National Observer, Aug. 18) 

Election 2021 A Comparison of Climate Policy in Federal Party Platforms  (Smart Prosperity, Aug. 30)

Where they stand. The parties on Climate Change” (The Tyee, Aug. 31)  

How do the federal parties stack up on climate change?” (Clean Energy Canada, Sept. 7)

“What the parties are promising so far”  (Ecojustice, Sept. 7), which uniquely includes the Bloc Quebecois in its comparison.  Ecojustice emphasizes promises related to environmental justice – the strongest of which are from the Green Party (to establish an Office of Environmental Justice at Environment and Climate Change Canada, and to support Bill C-230, the National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice Act); and the NDP, ( to enshrine the right to a healthy environment in a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights and to create an Office of Environmental Justice) .

What’s in the Liberals’ $78B platform? Plenty of Green (National Observer, September 2)

“Liberals move to outflank NDP on green issues”  (Dogwood Institute, Aug. 31)  which observes that the federal NDP is hampered by the provincial NDP government of British Columbia , which supports  LNG development and has overseen the huge civil disobedience protests at the Fairy Creek Old Growth forest.

Federal leaders promise action to protect B.C. old growth” (Stand.earth press release , Aug. 25)

Liberals pledge $2 Billion to aid just transition” (National Observer, Aug. 31), quoting the new head of Iron and Earth judgement that it’s a good start, but inadequate.

Assessing climate sincerity in the Canadian 2021 election”  by Mark Jaccard, (Policy Options, Sept.3) wherein the prominent energy economist argues that “the key policy indicators of sincerity are the carbon price level and regulatory stringency”, and assesses Liberal policies as “effective and affordable”, and the NDP as “Largely ineffective, unnecessarily costly”.

Liberals are promising net-zero buildings by 2050. Can they make it happen?”  (National Observer, Sept. 7)

“How Conservatives came around to supporting a carbon tax — and whether it’s here to stay”  (CBC, Aug. 31)

“Conservative climate plan better than before, but still full of inconsistencies” (CBC, Aug. 30). Opinion piece by Jennifer Winter, associate professor and Scientific Director of Energy and Environmental Policy at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, focussing on  the Conservatives’ proposals for industrial emissions carbon pricing and calling it  “a spectacularly bad idea” and “ the worst of both worlds. “

“O’Toole defends climate plan while promising to revive oil pipeline projects” (CBC, Aug. 30), reporting that the Conservative leader has promised to revive the Northern Gateway pipeline and push forward with Trans Mountain pipeline.

O’Toole Pledges to Break the Paris Agreement” (Energy Mix, Aug. 29). Conservatives are “pledged to move boldly backwards on Canada’s emissions reduction target”, reviving the Harper-era GHG reduction target of 30% by 2030.

 “Erin O’Toole vows to increase criminal punishment for people who disrupt pipelines and railways”   (The Narwhal, Aug. 19) O’Toole promises to enact the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act.

Jagmeet Singh promises to kill fossil fuel subsidies”  (National Observer, Aug. 23) A core demand of environmentalists, which Trudeau is still vague on.

“A vote against fossil fuel subsidies is a vote for our health ” (National Observer, Sept. 3)   

 “Green platform promises big, largely uncosted social programs, end to fossil fuel industry” (CBC, Sept. 7)

Analysis of electric vehicles platform promises in Electric Autonomy, Aug. 30.

Electrification of vehicles in Canadian mines

Trade magazine Electric Autonomy has published a series titled BEV’s in Mining, and while clearly from an industry point of view, the articles provide a useful overview of the transformation being wrought by electrification of the mining industry in Canada.  “Deep secrets: How Canada’s mining sector grabbed the global lead in mining electrification “  (Nov. 2020) introduces the topic of Battery Electric Vehicles and highlights the specific activities of mining majors GlencoreVale and Newmont, as well as Maclean Engineering, a Collingwood, Ontario-based equipment manufacturer.  A related, brief article highlighted the use of Rokion-manufactured trucks at Vale Canada mining sites in Manitoba and Ontario.  “Human capital: How BEVs in underground mining change the working environment for the better” was published in February 2021 – discussing the benefits for operators from less noise and vibration, cleaner air, and less fire risk underground. This healthier environment is linked to greater worker satisfaction and a competitive edge for employers to attract scarce talent.  The article also states that “the ventilation system for an all-electric mine will operate at roughly 50 per cent of the cost of a diesel mine and cut greenhouse emissions per mine by 70 per cent, according to government data. The Canadian government estimates transitioning to electric could save 500 tonnes of CO2 emissions per vehicle, every year.”  

Most recently,  “There’s a skills shortage maintaining electric mining vehicles. One training program is trying to fix that” ( Aug. 25), which describes the new “ Industrial Battery Electric Vehicle Maintenance Course”, associated with Cambrian College’s research-oriented Centre for Smart Mining in Sudbury, and with Maclean Engineering. What the series does not discuss are the other labour market implications – including layoffs – from the automation of vehicles and other operations.

U.S. Labour unions divided on carbon capture

A new Labor Network for Sustainability background paper asks Can Carbon Capture Save Our Climate – and Our Jobs?. Author Jeremy Brecher treads carefully around this issue, acknowledging that it has been a divisive one within the labour movement for years. The report presents the history of carbon capture efforts; their objectives; their current effectiveness; and alternatives to CCS. It states: “LNS believe that the use of carbon capture should be determined by scientific evaluation of its effectiveness in meeting the targets and timetables necessary to protect the climate and of its full costs and benefits for workers and society. Those include health, safety, environmental, employment, waste disposal, and other social costs and benefits.”

Applying those principles to carbon capture, the paper takes a position:

“Priority for investment should go to methods of GHG reduction that can be implemented rapidly over the next decade” – for example, renewables and energy efficiency.  … “Carbon capture technologies have little chance of making major reductions in GHG emissions over the next decade and the market cost and social cost of carbon capture is likely to be far higher. Therefore, the priority for climate protection investment should be for conversion to fossil-free renewable energy and energy efficiency, not for carbon capture.”

“Priority for research and development should go to those technological pathways that offer the best chance of reducing GHGs with the most social benefit and the least social cost. Based on the current low GHG-reduction effectiveness and high market cost of carbon capture, its high health, safety, environmental, waste disposal, and other social costs, and the uncertainty of future improvements, carbon capture is unlikely to receive high evaluation relative to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Research on carbon capture should only be funded if scientific evaluation shows that it provides a better pathway to climate safety than renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

“…..People threatened with job loss as a result of reduction in fossil fuel burning should not expect carbon capture to help protect their jobs any time in the next 10-20 years. There are strong reasons to doubt that it will be either effective or cost competitive in the short run. Those adversely affected by reduction in fossil fuel burning can best protect themselves through managed rather than unmanaged decline in fossil fuel burning combined with vigorous just transition policies.”

This evaluation by LNS stands in contrast to the Carbon Capture Coalition, a coalition of U.S. businesses, environmental groups and labour unions. In August, the Coalition sent an Open Letter to Congressional Leaders, proposing a suite of supports for “carbon management technologies” – including tax incentives and “Robust funding for commercial scale demonstration of carbon capture, direct air capture and carbon utilization technologies.”  Signatories to the Open Letter include the AFL-CIO, Boilermakers Local 11, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Laborers International Union, United Mine Workers of America, United Steelworkers, and Utility Workers Union of America.  Although the BlueGreen Alliance was not one of the signatories, it did issue a September 2 press release which  “applauds” the appointment of the Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy and Carbon Management within the U.S. Department of Energy. The new appointee currently serves as the Vice President, Carbon Management for the Great Plains Institute – and The Great Plains Institute is the convenor of the Carbon Capture Coalition.

Renewable Energy companies seen as barriers to a successful public energy transition

Recent issues of New Labor Forum include articles promoting the concept of energy democracy, and bringing an international perspective.  In “Sustaining the Unsustainable: Why Renewable Energy Companies Are Not Climate Warriors” (New Labor Forum, August),  author Sean Sweeney argues that renewable energy companies “are party to a “race to the bottom” capitalist dynamic that exploits workers – citing the example of alleged forced Uyghur labour in China-based solar companies, and the offshoring of manufacturing for the Scottish wind industry. He also argues that “large wind and solar interests’ “me first” behavior is propping up a policy architecture that is sucking in large amounts of public money to make their private operations profitable. They are sustaining a model of energy transition that has already shown itself to be incapable of meeting climate targets. In so doing, these companies have not just gone over to the political dark side, they helped design it.”   

The theme of the Spring New Labor Forum was  A Public Energy Response to the Climate Emergency , and includes these three articles: “Beyond Coal: Why South Africa Should Reform and Rebuild Its Public Utility”; “Ireland’s Energy System: The Historical Case for Hope in Climate Action”; and Mexico’s Wall of Resistance:  Why AMLO’s Fight for Energy Sovereignty Needs Our Support .

The author of Sustaining the Unsustainable is Sean Sweeney, who is Director of the International Program on Labor, Climate & Environment at the School of Labor and Urban Studies, City University of New York, and is also the coordinator of  Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED).  In August, TUED convened a Global Forum, “COP26: What Do Unions Want?”   – with participation  from 69 unions, including the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), the UK’s Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and Public Services International (PSI). Presentations are  summarized in TUED Bulletin 111, (Aug. 18), and are available on YouTube here .