Principles and best practices for a Just Transition for Canada’s fossil fuel workers

Economist Jim Stanford has written a timely new report which should be required reading for politicians setting their hair on fire about Joe Biden’s stated intention to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project on Day one of his presidency.  Employment Transitions and the Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels, released on January 18, argues that “the actual number of fossil fuel jobs and the number of communities reliant on the industry is small enough that a just and equitable transition plan for workers is very feasible” – and the key is timing.

Stanford’s report begins by setting out the statistics regarding fossil fuel employment in Canada: “under 1% of total payroll employment in Canada (or about 160,000 jobs) is located in seven industrial sectors which together comprise most of the composite fossil fuel industry. “ Using 2016 Census data, the report discusses the distribution of fossil fuel jobs by province and community, showing that Alberta  accounts for 75% of fossil-related jobs in 2016, but even there, only it accounts for  7% of all provincial employment. 18 fossil fuel-dependent communities are named, where fossil fuel jobs account for 9.5% of employment – including two well-known examples, Wood Buffalo/Fort McMurray in Alberta and Estevan in Saskatchewan.  The report continues to compare employment in the fossil fuel industry and in the health care sector, Canada’s largest employer. The aim is not to diminish the importance of fossil fuel employment, but to illustrate that employment possibilities exist in other sectors, even within fossil fuel-reliant communities.

Stanford looks ahead and states: “given weakening global demand for fossil fuels, depressed prices, continued infrastructure constraints, and aggressive cost-cutting by fossil fuel employers (shedding labour to protect profits despite lower energy prices), fossil fuel industries will see continued downsizing of their employment footprint.”   He summarizes the employment transitions of other sectors in Canada’s history, notably fisheries, auto manufacturing, manufacturing – as well as other sectors currently transitioning, including retail, transportation, and newspapers and media, and documents the overall dynamics which are always churning labour markets. All these arguments build to the report’s final section, which is to outline the principles and best practices for planning effective employment and community transitions for the inevitable decline of fossil fuels. 

Principles and Best Practices for Transition

Repeating a point he made in a similar report about Australia, Stanford speaks out for younger workers: “Fossil fuels will disappear as a major source of energy within the foreseeable future. Given that reality, it is unhelpful, and indeed cruel, to encourage more workers – including some just entering the workforce – to try to build their livelihoods in an industry that will soon disappear.”

And further

 “ …in an effective, orderly labour market transition….. Most fossil fuel workers will not end up producing solar panels or windmills; in fact, if we manage this transition effectively, most fossil fuel workers will not need to find new jobs at all. As with the climate itself, the sooner we start this transition, the lower its ultimate costs will be, and the greater its net benefits. Delaying these necessary actions only makes matters worse – including for fossil fuel workers. In this context, statements of supposed “solidarity” with fossil fuel workers expressed by some business leaders and political representatives are entirely dubious. Pretending that fossil fuel industries can carry on as “normal” for decades to come (or worse could actually be expanded) is a cruel hoax.”

Employment Transitions and the Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels  was published by the Centre for Future Work, which is a project of the Australia Institute – which also operates in Canada in collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, housed in the CCPA’s Vancouver office.   The report was commissioned by Environmental Defence Canada, which released its own graphically-enhanced summary version, Steady Path: How a transition to a fossil-free Canada is in reach for workers and their communities . 

A Call for Skills Training to support the transition to zero-emissions freight vehicles

The transportation sector represents a quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, and of that, movement of freight currently represents 42% nationally.  Building a zero-emission goods-movement system: Opportunities to strengthen Canada’s ZEV freight sector reviews current Canadian policies to promote zero-emission freight vehicles at the municipal, provincial and national level, and identifies ten “opportunities” to reduce emissions. A unique contribution of this report: one of the “opportunities” recognizes the need for  technical training for EV infrastructure installation and vehicle maintenance. Further, it sees a role for joint, cost-shared government/employer programs.

“Investments in labour market programs to support good paying jobs and this new energy system are essential for the successful deployment and maintenance of zero-emission vehicles in commercial fleets, especially as the sector moves to scale up from pilot to mass adoption.”   …..  “Examples of existing programs include the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program, which provides training and certification for electricians installing electric vehicle supply equipment in North America, or the Electric Vehicle Maintenance Training program offered at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Currently these training programs are concentrated in British Columbia. At a minimum, an investment of $36 million over five years is needed to expand and create new skills-training programs to support the deployment of zero-emission trucks in high-potential and high-demand markets across Canada. Similar to existing labour market programs, a cost-sharing model could be applied between government and employers.”

Although it was only launched in 2020, this is not the first time the BCIT EV Maintenance program has been recognized. (Details of the part-time course are here).   According to “Will there be someone to fix the electric vehicle you just bought? (National Observer, Oct 2020), the program was financed with $325,000 in provincial funding through CleanBC,  and followed a pilot program developed in cooperation with the green-fleet technicians of the City of Vancouver. The National Observer article provides an overview of policy initiatives regarding electric vehicles in general (not specifically freight vehicles), and notes the Green Budget Coalition recommendations made in October 2020, which included a call for $10 million “for ZEV automotive technician training program, modelled on the provincially-supported EV Maintenance Training Program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.”

The labour market recommendations are significant, but form a small part of the message in Building a zero-emission goods-movement system .The report discusses the ZEV policy landscape into four categories: long-range strategic planning and regulations; incentives (financial and non-financial) for vehicle procurement and widespread deployment; charging infrastructure; and fleet-capacity development.   A Technical Appendix offers an inventory of federal and provincial policies, as well as those in six major Canadian cities: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax. This condenses information published by the Pembina Institute in The next frontier for climate action:  Decarbonizing urban freight in Canada  (Feb. 2020). Both reports are part of a Pembina-led initiative called the Urban Delivery Solutions , a national network which includes  businesses (including UPS, Purolator and Canada Post) and researchers (including the International Council on Clean Transportation), as well as environmental organizations .

Favourable reaction by Canadians to an updated Climate Plan -including a carbon tax rising to $170 per tonne by 2030

On December 11, the federal government released its highly-anticipated new climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, announcing 64 policy measures costing $15 billion. The Plan addresses energy, energy efficiency, infrastructure,  transportation emissions, the Clean Fuel Standard, an adaptation strategy – and a centrepiece policy to increase the carbon tax by $15 a tonne each year for the next eight years, as summarized by the CBC in  “Ottawa to hike federal carbon tax to $170 a tonne by 2030 “. Taken with the proposed Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act currently before Parliament, which formalizes Canada’s target of net-zero emissions by the year 2050, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy lays out the most specific path forward for Canada since the 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework in 2016.

A Backgrounder is here,  and specific initiatives are explained in Annex documents here.  One missing piece, as pointed out in Unifor’s reaction to the new Plan: the previously-promised Just Transition Act.   Also missing: the slightest notice by the international press, even the normally climate-vigilant Guardian in the U.K.  Reaction within Canada was strong, and ranged widely (compiled by the CBC here). In the mainstream media, the conservative-leaning Globe and Mail  approved in its Editorial:  “Justin Trudeau goes all in on the carbon tax. It’s the right thing – for the environment, and the economy”. Political writer Paul Wells uses similar language and  confesses to “startled admiration” in “On climate, at last, Justin Trudeau is all in” in Maclean’s magazine . The National Observer published  “Trudeau goes it alone with new climate plan, proposes carbon price hike”, drawing the contrast with the 2016 Framework, which was drafted in consultation with all the provinces.  The Energy Mix  is less approving in “With $170/Tonne Carbon Price, $15b In New Spending, Canada’s 2030 Carbon Target Still Falls Far Short”  (Dec. 14), which summarizes reaction from environmental groups.

Reaction from Labour and Environmentalists:

Like Unifor , the Canadian Labour Congress highlights the need for more transition measures in the new Plan, and states: “Labour will be looking to the federal government to make good on its commitment to supporting local job creation, skills training, apprenticeships and decent wages for workers, especially to those historically underrepresented in the skilled trades sector, including Indigenous workers, racialized workers and women…. Canada’s unions welcome the government’s emphasis on domestic manufacturing, including developing Canadian supply chains for low-emission building materials, clean tech, and aerospace and automotive investments, and leveraging the power of public procurement. Additionally, unions are noting the crucial commitments made today towards bringing Indigenous communities into the process.”

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Canada (IBEW) commends the Plan and states:  “The highly skilled members of the IBEW are trained and ready to take on these important jobs, and the government’s commitment to investing in green buildings and retrofits, electrified public and private transportation and grid modernization will require exactly the sort of knowledge and skills that IBEW members demonstrate on the job every day.”

From the Climate Action Network Canada, which includes both labour and environmental groups:  “… this plan does not change the fact that Canadian governments continue to double down on fossil fuels, subjecting workers and our economy to the ever-increasing volatility of oil and gas markets…. It’s good to see policies that can, if implemented quickly and with the greatest stringency possible, take Canada’s climate ambitions further than our current insufficient Paris pledge – reducing emissions up to 40% below 2005 levels by 2030. It is also good to see a significant investment of $15B in climate action. However, these numbers pale in comparison to commitments being made by our closest trading partners in the EU and the U.S. (under a new Biden administration)”.

Similarly, from Environmental Defence: “The climate action plan released today has a more comprehensive suite of climate policies than in the past and we welcome the meaningful escalation of the retail portion of the carbon price. We’re also pleased about the portion of the $15 billion investment that is not in effect yet another fossil fuel subsidy. But that amount, which is a small fraction of what other countries are doing on a per capita basis, clearly cannot get the job done. In fact, Canada should be investing $270 billion if it was following the level of ambition of the US or EU.”  West Coast Environmental Law agrees with these points, and also  states:  “While we applaud much of this climate plan, the government continues to ignore the reality that climate leaders don’t build oil pipelines. The recent analysis released by Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer confirms that the Trans Mountain pipeline will lose money if any climate action is taken, let alone the action promised in this plan. If Canada is serious about acting on climate change, the government must cancel this ill-conceived project once and for all.”

Economists applaud carbon tax initiative

The federal government announcement includes a 4-page Annex document about its carbon pricing proposals. The carbon tax will rise by $15 per tonne after 2022 until 2030, when it will reach $170 per tonne. The government is banking on a favourable decision by the Supreme Court of Canada when it rules on the constitutionality of the existing federal carbon tax in 2021. In a politically shrewd change from current practice, carbon rebates will be distributed to households on a quarterly basis, and as now, most households will receive more in rebates than they pay out.

Mainstream economic voices support the carbon tax:  The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices calls the plan “a big deal”, and says: “The government’s emissions projections under a carbon price that rises by $15/tonne per year is consistent with analysis from the Parliamentary Budget OfficeClean ProsperityCanada’s Ecofiscal Commission, and our own principal economist, Dave Sawyer. This is a policy that can deliver on the emissions reductions it promises.” Clean Prosperity states “This is a bold, brave, and wise move that will set Canada on the path to decarbonization. It sends a clear message to investors around the globe that Canada is serious about climate action.…. This was not an easy choice, but it’s the right choice. The government is wisely adopting a low-cost policy option that is good for the economy.”   And Merran Smith, speaking for Clean Energy Canada, calls it a “comprehensive and honest plan…. historically and globally significant. The plan will retool and position Canada’s economy to be increasingly competitive in a low-carbon world.”

Costs of climate change in Canada go beyond wildfires and floods: a call for urgent action to build resiliency

 The Tip of the Iceberg: Navigating the Known and Unknown Costs of Climate Change in Canada was released on December 3 by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, providing eye-popping evidence of the damage of climate change. Using data from the Canadian Disaster Database (CDD) and the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) – (provided graphically here ) –  the report states that insured losses for catastrophic weather events in Canada totalled over $18 billlion between 2010 and 2019, with the Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016 the largest single weather-related insurance loss event in Canadian history, with nearly $4 billion in insured losses and broader costs of almost $11 billion when property, infrastructure, business interruption, and other indirect economic losses are included.  The report also notes the growing trends: the number of catastrophic events has more than tripled since the 1980s, and the average cost per weather-related disaster has soared by 1,250 per cent since the 1970s.

The main message of this report is directed at policy-makers, and goes beyond costing out the catastrophic losses. It warns that other types of climate change damages are more gradual and less dramatic in extreme events, and that Canada lags the U.S. and other OECD countries in assessing the overall and complex impacts of climate change. The report hearkens back to 2011 as the  last examination of the broad range of national costs to Canada, in Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canada, a report by the now-defunct National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, archived in the ACW Digital Library .

The main message of the report appears in this 6-page Executive summary , in the three over-aching recommendations, and in these selected quotes:

 “The imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions tends to dominate the debate over Canada’s progress in addressing climate change. Yet, as a climate solution, adaptation—ensuring human and natural systems can adjust to the spectrum of effects of climate change— will have a critical impact on the well-being and prosperity of all who live in Canada in the decades ahead. Current adaptation policies and investments in Canada fall far short of what is needed to address the known risks of climate change, let alone those that are still unclear and unknown. This has to change…..

……It’s essential to transition from a state of ad hoc responses to a changing climate and weather-related disasters to one of building resilience. This includes continual learning about what works, what doesn’t, and how to plan for uncertainty. Instead of waiting for more information, the uncertainty inherent in climate change requires acting decisively on what we already know while also developing improved foresight.”

 

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices intends to follow up from The Tip of the Iceberg with other reports over the next two years, focused on health, infrastructure, macroeconomics and the North.

 

“Staggering” decline of fossil fuels reported by International Energy Agency

The complexity of the global energy landscape has been changed profoundly, according to the  International Energy Association’s flagship publication, the Global Energy Review , released on April 30.  It forecasts a minimum 6% decline in global energy demand for 2020, (9% in the United States and 11% in the European Union),  stating, “The projected 6% decline would be more than seven times the impact of the 2008 financial crisis on global energy demand, reversing the growth of global energy demand over the last five years. The absolute decline in global energy demand in 2020 is without precedent, and relative declines of this order are without precedent for the last 70 years.”   The accompanying press release describes the decline of fossil fuels as  an “historic shock to the entire energy world” and “staggering”, especially for coal, oil and gas. The IEA forecasts that renewables will be the only energy source to grow in 2020.

Here are a few of the many recent news articles which sum up the dire impacts on oil and gas in Canada:

In “For oil and its dependents, it’s code blue” (The Tyee, April 18), Andrew Nikoforuk predicts that the “great price collapse of 2020 will topple companies and transform states”.

Fossils Expect Permanent Losses, Renewables Keep Growing As Pandemic Crashes Global Energy Demand”  in The Energy Mix (May 3);

What rock-bottom natural gas prices mean for Canada’s aspiring LNG industry” in The Narwhal (May 1);

“‘We are in crisis mode’: Newfoundland calls on Ottawa to fund oil and gas exploration” in the Globe and Mail (April 29);

And Canadian Press stories reprinted by the National Observer on May 1 include:  “Precision Drilling down almost 3000 employees due to oil and gas downturn” (May 1);  “Oil and gas drilling forecast revised to 49-year low”; “Teck Resources leaves energy group CAPP citing cost cutting” ; and “Alberta oil and gas company reports include a loss of $1.3 billion for Vermillion Energy” (April 29) .

Fatih Birol, Director of the International Energy Agency has promoted clean energy in several public statements, including  a March 14 commentary: “Put clean energy at the heart of stimulus plans to counter the coronavirus crisis”, which states, “Governments are drawing up stimulus plans in an effort to counter the economic damage from the crisis. These stimulus packages offer an excellent opportunity to ensure that the essential task of building a secure and sustainable energy future doesn’t get lost amid the flurry of immediate priorities ”   The IEA promises a World Energy Outlook special report in June “that will quantify how clean energy policies and investments can create jobs, support economic recoveries and achieve emissions reductions. The report’s findings and recommendations will inform the high-level discussions at the IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit on 9 July.”