Some labour union reflections on COP26

In “After Glasgow : Canadian Labour Unions Confront The Most Exclusionary COP Conference In History” (Our Times, Dec. 16), Sune Sandbeck and Sari Sairanen of Unifor describe their experiences as union delegates to the events – where unionists and even some countries were vastly outnumbered by the 503 delegates from the fossil fuel industry . The article asserts that, despite much disappointment in the COP26 results,

“Trade unions were instrumental in securing the Just Transition Declaration, whose signatories included Canada, France, Germany, the UK, the European Union and the U.S. And although just transition was omitted from early draft texts being negotiated, it would eventually make its way into vital passages of the final agreement. In fact, the Canadian labour delegation played a key role by drafting last-minute text proposals that would see just transition included in a crucial paragraph in the final COP26 decision.”    

The article names the following unions who sent representatives as the Canadian labour delegation at COP26 :  the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC ), the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), Unifor, the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE), the United Steelworkers (USW), and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada.  

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) wrote a brief reaction to events in “COP26 – workers must focus on solutions, not empty promises”, calling for a focus on concrete steps for job creation in a green economy.  CUPE cites the agenda of the international Trade Union Program for a Public Low-Carbon Energy Future, launched on November 4 at COP26. It states: “Focusing mainly on the power sector, the Program is an attempt to rally the international trade union movement behind an ambitious political effort to bring about a fundamental shift in climate and energy policy. This shift is needed both to correct the failures of the market model and to ensure that the energy transition is socially just, economically viable, and effective in terms of reaching climate goals.”  

The Canadian Teachers Federation reflected on COP26 and climate education with: “Turning of the oil taps begins in the classroom”, advocating for the important role of teachers. Much of the same thinking appears in the Education International reaction “COP 26 key outcomes: Why is this important for education unionists?” . That response notes that progress was made in the form of a pledges by government ministers regarding teacher training, student participation and climate resilience in education systems, and noted that youth activists stressed the importance of teacher support and student collaboration in reforming curricula across the world. However, the language of the formal negotiations for climate education ( part of the mandate of the Action for Climate Empowerment ) fell short, calling only for climate education to be “encouraged”.

From the international federation IndustriALL: “Trade unions at COP26: what we did, what we achieved, and what we need to focus on now” chronicled union events at COP26, and on December 14, the union published a more analytical piece “What happened at COP26 and what it means for workers” . Speaking about fossil fuel jobs, an IndustriALL delegate states: “… Rather than making our members believe that we can defend these jobs indefinitely, we must be honest with them and help them to prepare for the future. Our urgent task is to develop concrete frameworks for Just Transition that we can implement through social dialogue.” 

And to those who are suspicious that the claims of Just Transition are just “more of the same”,  the article has this: “Why should we believe it will be different this time?

“It won’t be different if we leave it to our politicians. But it can be different if we are engaged in driving the transition. We are facing an unprecedented shift in the global economy – the end of the age of fossil fuel, and the beginning of a new age that is yet to be defined. Unlike previous changes, this is a managed process, with space for unions to influence policy. The world’s governments will spend unprecedented amounts of money. It is up to us to ensure that this spend delivers good jobs to our members – and that we build a better world in the process.”

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 .

Canadian Pension fund managers pledge climate action; Unions can push for more

In the run-up to COP26, and on the same day that Canada’s Big Six Banks joined the United Nations Net-Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA), Canadian institutional investors and some of its pension fund managers also hit the news, by releasing a new Canadian Investor Statement on Climate Change. Coordinated by the Responsible Investment Association (RIA), the statement signed on October 25 states: “We recognize that a transition to a net-zero economy will involve a major transformation of sectors and industries. We encourage all companies and stakeholders to facilitate a just transition that does not leave workers or communities behind. We also recognize that the financing required for transition activities and climate solutions presents an investment opportunity….. We further recognize that Indigenous Peoples have managed collective wealth for millennia – including lands, waters, and …..We support a transition to a net-zero economy informed by Indigenous perspectives, that supports Indigenous economic opportunities, and encourages business practices that align with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”

The Statement sets out specific expectations for investees which include just transition, and pledges five actions for the investment community, such as integrating climate-related risks and opportunities into the investment processes and developing a climate action plan to achieve net-zero by 2050.  Further, the 36 signatories pledge to “ Ensure that any climate-related policy advocacy we undertake supports a just transition and the ambition of achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner, and engage with our industry associations to encourage climate advocacy efforts that are consistent with these goals.”  

Pension funds which have signed on to the Statement  (so far) include:  British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, British Columbia Municipal Pension Board of Trustees, British Columbia Public Service Pension Board of Trustees, Canada Post Corporation Pension Plan, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Ontario Pension Board, Pension Plan of The United Church of Canada, University of Toronto Asset Management (UTAM), and the University Pension Plan.   

 “Only Labor Can Force Canadian Pension Funds to Divest From Oil “ (Jacobin, October 19)  puts this lofty new institutional Statement in perspective, as it takes a more critical look at one of the leading pension fund managers, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, and its September announcement that it would quit all oil production investments at the end of 2022.  After also highlighting examples of the fossil and mineral exploration investments of some of Canada’s major pension funds, the article concludes: “ ‘Financial sustainability’ — despite the Caisse’s announcement — will continue to take precedence over climate justice.” 

Thus, the main point of the Jacobin article is to urge unions to take action:

 “….the unions who represent the beneficiaries of these pension funds can fight to make sure that the deferred wages of workers are used for the common good. In many cases, unions appoint trustees to boards of investment funds. If the labor movement chose to organize around these issues, it would be a game changer. …. Public sector funds are subject to legislation and can be reformed through political action. Although they’ve been carefully designed to be free of democratic accountability, they are not immune to external pressure. Sustained organizing by unions and their members can lead to greater amounts of worker control over the use to which these large sums of money are put.”

Labour and climate activists make recommendations for fossil fuel workers in new joint report

At a press conference on October 13, representatives of Climate Action Network Canada , Blue Green Canada, United Steelworkers, and Unifor launched a new report,  Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers in Canada’s Energy and Labour Transitions.  The report considers the challenges to the fossil fuel industry, including automation, and projects that 56,000 alternative jobs will need to be created for current Canadian oil and gas workers in the next decade. The report offers seven recommendations for a Just Transition, building on policy proposals from Canada’s Just Transition Task Force for Coal Workers and Communities, the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, and Unifor (whose most recent statement is their submission to the Just Transition consultation process here. ) Key recommendations include: “Recognizing the expertise of workers, through consultation with workers and communities, Canada must create Just Transition policy / legislation that holds the government accountable to developing transition strategies. Similar policy / legislation should be adopted by all provinces with an emphasis on the oil and gas producing provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.” Funding is seen to come from Covid recovery funds and the Infrastructure Bank, with another recommendation: “Tie public investments to employers meeting conditions on job quality, including pay, access to training, job security, union access and representation through mandatory joint committees.”

Summaries of Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future appear in the press release from Climate Action Network, and in “With Canadian fossil fuel jobs about to be cut in half, it’s time to talk about a just transition” (National Observer, Oct. 15).  The latter article highlights the enhanced impact of the bringing labour unions and climate activists together, and also emphasizes that workers must be included in all transition plans, using the cautionary tale of Algoma Steel. As explained in “Why Mike Da Prat boycotted the prime minister’s Algoma Steel announcement” (Soo Today, July 6 2021) the union was not adequately consulted on transition planning when the government awarded $420 million in July 2021 to help Algoma Steel transition from coal to greener, electric-arc furnace production.

Illinois sets U.S. standard for equity and labour standards in new Climate and Equitable Jobs Act

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act  (SB2408) is a 900-page bill signed into law by the Governor of  Illinois in September 2021.  It is summarized by Natural Resources Defence in a blog titled “Illinois Passes Nation-Leading, Equitable Climate Bill”, by David Roberts in  his new blog, Volts, and by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition press release

Why does David Roberts call it  “ one of the most environmentally ambitious, worker-friendly, justice-focused energy bills of any state in the country”?   Some highlights:  the CEJA requires Illinois to achieve a 100% zero-emissions power sector by 2045 (including their coal power plant), while encouraging electrification of transportation and buildings, and reforms to the utility rate structure. It increases the existing Solar for All funding (by 5 times) to help low-income families to switch to solar energy, creates a Green Bank to finance clean energy projects. For workers, the Act requires that all utility-scale renewable energy projects must use project-labor agreements, and all non-residential clean-energy projects must pay prevailing wages. Diversity hiring reports will be required to prove that projects have recruited qualified BIPOC candidates and apprentices. The Act also provides funds for 13 Clean Jobs Workforce Network Hubs across the state, to deliver workforce-development programs to low-income and underserved populations.  According to David Roberts, “The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Department of Employment Security will work together to develop a “displaced worker bill of rights,” with $40 million a year to go toward transition assistance for areas dependent on fossil fuel production or generation.”    

The CEJA is a model not only for what it contains, but also how it was achieved.  Roberts calls it “a model for how diverse stakeholders can reach consensus” and describes the years-long process in detail: “The state’s labor community was sensitive to the fact that it had largely been left out of the 2016 bill; the legislation contained no labor standards, and recent years have seen Illinois renewable energy projects importing cheaper out-of-state workforces. Labor didn’t want to get left behind in the state’s energy transition, so it organized a coalition of groups under the banner Climate Jobs Illinois and set about playing an active role in negotiations.   Environmental and climate-justice groups organized as the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. All the groups introduced energy bills of their own. And then they spent years banging their heads together.  A special shout-out goes to the environmental-justice community in Illinois, which used three years of relentless grassroots organizing to build an incredible political force, without which the bill couldn’t have passed and wouldn’t have been as equity-focused.”   The result, according to Roberts,  “As far as I know, this gives Illinois the most stringent labor and equity requirements of any state clean energy program. Similar policies tying renewable energy projects to labor standards have passed in Connecticut, New York, and Washington, but no other state’s energy policy has as comprehensive a package of labor, diversity, and equity standards.”

IndustriALL Europe launches Just Transition campaign

On September 23, the global labour federation IndustriALL issued a press release   announcing that “IndustriAll Europe’s Executive Committee has agreed on a European campaign for a Just Transition for industrial workers.”  From 25 October to 10 November, member organisations will hold a variety of national campaigns and events, which will be accompanied by intensified political lobbying at EU level and a pan-European social media campaign. The campaign is planned to extend beyond the two-week action, with  a series of sectoral round table discussions at regional level and joint actions with IndustriALL Global in connection with COP26 in Glasgow. The political platform statement adopted by the European Executive Committee is titled Just Transition: ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us! . It includes 5 demands, including the completion of “a clear, granular mapping of the employment consequences of a shift towards climate-neutral industries”, and  a “European legal framework…. to ensure workers have the right to co-decision during the transition in their workplaces and regions, strengthening social dialogue and collective bargaining.”   A more complete statement of IndustriALL Europe’s priorities comes in the Strategic Plan 2021-2023  from their Congress in summer 2021.

TUC recommendations to prevent carbon leakage of jobs and “future-proof” manufacturing

Safeguarding the UK’s manufacturing jobs with climate action: carbon leakage and jobs  is a September Briefing paper from the U.K. Trades Union Congress. The report estimates that between 368,000 – 667,000  jobs could be offshored from Britain if industries fail to meet climate targets and the UK falls behind other countries on climate action.  The regions most at risk are the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, and West Midlands; the industries with most jobs at stake are: iron and steel , glass and ceramics, and chemicals.  The report outlines the actions needed to “future proof” British jobs, specifically: 1.  Public investment, which the report states is too low, stating that  the UK’s green recovery investment plans are just a quarter (24%) of France, a fifth (21%) of Canada, and 6% of the USA’s plans (when adjusted for population size). 2. Clear policies on decarbonisation across the economy – aligning actual plans with targets; and 3. Rules on local content – specifically, a local content requirement for offshore wind of at least 80%, with local supply chain commitments required and stringently enforced for all energy and infrastructure projects.  In addition to the call for beefed-up local content requirements, the report calls on the government to: Implement the Green Jobs Taskforce recommendations in full; Level up investments in green infrastructure, including industrial decarbonization, in line with its G7 peers, extending to 2030; Establish a Just Transition Commission, including representation from employers and unions, to oversee the workforce aspect of the transition to Net Zero; • Introduce a permanent short-term working scheme to help protect working people through periods of future industrial change.

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.

Fossil fuel unions in Texas sign on to a climate jobs plan

A July report from the Workers’ Institute at Cornell University Industrial Relations School examines the state of play in Texas and  makes a series of recommendations  “that can help Texas simultaneously combat climate change, create high-quality jobs, and build more equitable and resilient communities.”  Combatting Climate Change, Reversing Inequality: A Climate Jobs Program for Texas identifies the current challenges : a COVID-19 public health pandemic and ensuing economic crisis; a growing crisis of inequality of income, wealth, race and power; and the worsening climate crisis, which has brought weather disasters to the state.   

Texas is an interesting case study: it is the state with the most  greenhouse gas emissions and pollution in the U.S., with 42.4% of emissions from its well-established oil and gas industry.  Oil and gas (including extraction, refining, petrochemical production)  employs over 450,000 Texans, with a state-wide unionization rate of 4.8%.  But Texas also leads the states in wind power installations and has wind power manufacturing facilities. Into this mix, the researchers crafted a series of  concrete recommendations for jobs-driven strategies to achieve a low-carbon, more equitable economy.  These include targets for the installation of wind, solar and geothermal energy, along  with an upgraded electricity grid to handle renewables;  a target of 2040 to electrify school buses and  State and Local government vehicle fleets ; construction of a High-Speed Rail Network between the five largest cities in Texas; a target to reduce energy use in existing buildings by 30% by 2035, and a mandate for Net-Zero Emissions for new construction by 2050; and the creation of a multi-stakeholder Just Transition Commission. The report also applies many of these recommendations for the cities of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.  

Each of these state-wide recommendations is described in detail, with  costing, GHG emissions reductions estimates, and job creation estimates by sector.  Total direct jobs created over a range from 10 to 25 years is estimated at 1,140,186, with another 1,125,434 indirect and 913,981 induced jobs.

The report was written by Professors  Lara Skinner and  J. Mijin Cha, with research assistance from Hunter Moskowitz and  Matt Phillips, in consultation with 27 Texas labour unions. It accompanies the launch of the Texas Climate Jobs Project , an offshoot of the Texas AFL-CIO.  Lara Skinner describes the report and the Climate Jobs Project in “Why Texas Fossil Fuel unions  signed onto a climate plan” (Grist, July 30). A press release from Texas AFL-CIO includes a summary of recommendations and endorsements from various unions.

Climate crisis a key issue in Canada’s election campaign

Apparently prompted by a desire to strengthen his political power, Prime Minister Trudeau called a federal election, to be held on  September 20.  Following this summer of heat, drought and wildfires, the climate emergency is top of mind for voters –  for example, 46% of Canadians ranked climate change as one of their top three issues of concern in the election, in an Abacus Data poll commissioned by the Professional Institute of the Public Service and The Broadbent Institute, summarized here. Two leadership debates are planned, on September 8 (French language) and September 9 (English language).   But as reported by The Tyee, four elders of Canada’s climate community sent an open letter to the head of the Leaders Debate Commission, calling for a special Climate Emergency Leadership Debate as well – described in  “Suzuki, Atwood, Ondaatje, Lewis Call for Emergency Leaders Debate on Climate”  (Aug. 18, The Tyee) . 

The full platform statements of the major parties, as of August 25, are here: Liberal;  Conservative, (with the climate plan, Secure the Environment ,in a separate document);  New Democratic Party , (with specific climate action commitments here, plus on Aug. 23 Leader Jagmeet Singh pledged to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies “once and for all”);  and the Green Party , whose proposals are not gathered in one document, but who have made a clear statement on Just Transition  .

The National Observer offers an Explainer summarizing the climate platform proposals of each of the main federal parties, here , and Shawn McCarthy contrasts the Liberal and Conservative platforms in “Climate crisis remains wedge issue on campaign trail ” ( Corporate Knights, Aug. 23). More analysis will no doubt follow – watch the National Observer Special section of the election here; sign up here for The Tyee election newsletter, The Run; follow the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Election coverage and commentary at https://www.policyalternatives.ca/Election44 ; or the Council of Canadians coverage here. New indie newsletter The Breach  also offers election coverage, including “Wielding the balance of power” , analysing the historical record of minority governments in Canada.

What are the demands and proposals from climate and labour groups? 

The Canadian Labour Congress hasn’t so far released specific statements regarding climate policies, but has spoken out against Conservative proposals which might lead to privatization of pensions and restriction to  EI (also criticized by the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE),  and against O’Toole’s outreach to workers – summarized in  “O’Toole’s rhetoric cannot hide his record of hurting workers” by the CBC.

Unifor’s 2021 Election campaign is sponsoring TV and social media ads, targeting O’Toole’s Conservatives as taking Canada in the wrong direction.   

United Steelworkers have a clear statement of support for the New Democratic Party at their election website. Their support statement doesn’t mention any climate-related policies.

Public Service Alliance of Canada surveyed their membership in June, and found approximately half ranked climate change as a top concern, with a focus on what the federal government and military can do to reduce their impact. PSAC calls for a commitment “ to a diversified, green economy that supports workers and communities, serves the wellbeing of society, and drastically cuts our greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) released a statement of  approval  of the  NDP transit and transportation policies.

Let’s Build Canada is a coalition of building and construction trade unions, advocating for candidates and political parties “to commit to supporting Canadian workers and well-paying, middle-class jobs.” This includes: supporting labour mobility in the construction industry; building good green jobs and a just transition for energy workers; and government programs and initiatives to support the workforce. (Coaliton members include:  International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied WorkersInternational Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT); Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART); International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron WorkersUnited Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA); and Canada’s Building Trades Unions ).

U.K. Green Jobs Taskforce recommendations address green skills, Just Transition

On July 14, the Independent Green Jobs Taskforce delivered its report to the government of the United Kingdom, making fifteen recommendations on how best to deliver the green jobs and skills of the future. A summary of the report and steps taken to date appear in the government’s press release. The full Report is here, with an Annex called Sectoral Transitions to Net Zero, profiling specific sectors and occupations.   

The U.K. Trades Union Congress (TUC), which participated in the Taskforce, reacted with a blog post titled, A greener economy can be positive for workers too, highlighting key recommendations – and pointing out real-world examples of best practice, including the example of collaboration between EDF and Unite, Prospect and GMB in the successful creation of transition pathways for workers at Cottam coal power station before it closed.  The Senior Deputy General Secretary of the Prospect union was also member of the Green Jobs Taskforce, and summarized her thoughts in this blog: “It’s time the government moved from lofty climate change ambitions to action”, saying  “ I am pleased that the Green Jobs Taskforce not only uses the language of Just Transition, but recommends the establishment of a new national body to help shape this change and ensure that no worker or community is left behind in the race for net zero. That recommendation is one of many that we on the task force have made to the government, including establishing a ‘green careers launchpad’, making sure that the curriculum reflects the green skills we will need in the future, and publishing a comprehensive net zero strategy ahead of November’s COP26 summit.”

The government will not endorse any of the Report’s recommendations immediately but they  are promised to feed into the development of the U.K.’s Net Zero Strategy; in the meantime, “ a cross-cutting delivery group” has been established “to oversee the development and delivery of the government’s plans for green jobs and skills. This group will maintain the momentum generated by the Taskforce and drive meaningful action across the green skills agenda.”   

The Green Jobs Taskforce was established in November 2020 , and included labour representatives from the TUC and Prospect union, along with academics, business representatives and the training sector, including Construction Industry Training Board, Engineering Construction Industry Training Board, East London Institute for Technology, Retrofit Works, Edinburgh University and National Grid.   

Related reports: Unionlearn (part of the TUC) published a labour education document, Cutting Carbon, Growing Skills: Green Skills for a Just Transition in March 2020, providing discussion and case studies.

California unions endorse a plan for Green Recovery and fossil fuel phase-out

A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in California, released in June, is the ninth in a series of reports titled Green Economy Transition Programs for U.S. States, published by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), and written by researchers led by Robert Pollin. In this latest report, the authors address the challenge of economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and contend that it is possible to achieve California’s  official CO2 emissions reduction targets—a 50 percent emissions cut by 2030 and zero emissions by 2045— and at the same time create over 1 million jobs.  The investment programs they propose are based on the proposed national THRIVE Agenda, (introduced into the U.S. Congress in February 2021), and rely on private and public investment to energy efficiency, clean renewable energy, public infrastructure, land restoration and agriculture. The report discusses these sectors, as well as the manufacturing sector, and also includes a detailed just transition program for workers and communities in the fossil fuel industry.

In Chapter 6, “Contraction of California’s Fossil Fuel Industries and Just Transition for Fossil Fuel Workers”, the authors note that only 0.6% of California’s workforce was employed in fossil fuel-based industries in 2019 – approx.112,000 workers. They model two patterns for the industry contraction between 2021-2030:  steady contraction, in which employment losses proceed evenly, by about 5,800 jobs per year; and episodic contraction, in which 12,500 job losses occur in just three separate years, 2021, 2026, and 2030.  After developing transition programs for both scenarios, they estimate that the average annual costs of episodic contraction would be 80% higher ($830 million per year) than the costs of steady contraction  ($470 million per year). As with previous PERI reports, the authors emphasize the importance of the quality of jobs to which workers relocate:  “It is critical that all of these workers receive pension guarantees, health care coverage, re-employment guarantees along with wage subsidies to insure they will not experience income losses, along with retraining and relocation support, as needed. Enacting a generous just transition program for the displaced fossil fuel-based industry workers is especially important. At present, average compensation for these workers is around $130,000. This pay level is well above the roughly $85,000 received by workers in California’s current clean energy sectors.”  Relief Programs for Displaced Oil & Gas Workers Elements of an Equitable Transition for California’s Fossil Fuel Workers  is a 2-page Fact Sheet summarizing the chapter.

The report was commissioned by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, the California Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers Local 675, which represents workers in the oil and chemical industry.  The report has been endorsed by nineteen labour unions – not only those who commissioned it, but also the Alameda Labor Council, Communication Workers of America District 9 ;  International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21 ; various locals of the  Service Employees International Union ; two locals of the  United Auto Workers; UNITE HERE Local 30 ; United Steelworkers Local 5 ; and the  University Professional and Technical Employees—Communications Workers of America 9119.  

Lead author Robert Pollin is interviewed about the report in two articles: “Labor Unions Rally Behind California’s Zero-Emissions Climate Plan“ (Truthout, June 10) and  “A Green Transition for California”  (American Prospect, June 11), which includes a video of the interview.

Scottish Trades Union Congress calls for a national energy company, and “Climate Skills Scotland”

Green Jobs in Scotland is a recent report commissioned by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), written by economists at Transition Economics.  In a highly-readable format, it sets  out how Scotland can maximise green job creation, along with  fair work with effective worker voice.  It takes a sectoral approach, examining the changes needed, the labour market implications and job creation opportunities of those changes, and makes recommendations specific to the sector, for each of 1.  Energy 2.  Buildings 3. Transport 4. Manufacturing/Heavy Industry 5. Waste 6. Agriculture And Land-Use.  As an example, the chapter on Energy is extensive and detailed, and includes  recommendations to  invest £2.5 billion – £4.5 billion (to 2035) in ports and manufacturing to supply large scale offshore renewables and decommissioning,  2. to  establish a Scottish National Energy Company to build 35GW of renewables by 2050, as well as run energy networks and coordinate upgrades; and 3. Encourage local content hiring, with a target to phase in 90% lifetime local content for the National Energy Company.   (Note that an auction is currently underway for rights to North Sea offshore development, as described by the BBC here).

Overall, the report concludes that smart policies and large-scale public investment will be required, and recommends “the creation of a new public body – Climate Skills Scotland – to play a co-ordinating and pro-active role to work with existing providers ….. As many of the occupations in the energy, construction, and manufacturing industries are disproportionately male-dominated, Climate Skills Scotland and other public bodies should also work with training providers and employers to make sure climate jobs and training programmes follow recruitment best practice, and prioritise promotion and incentives to historically marginalised groups, including women, BAME people, and disabled people.”

Canadian Labour Congress and Climate Action: Pre-convention event June 10; Policy discussion on June 18

The 29TH Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress will be held virtually from June 16 to 18.   Some important pre-convention events are available – notably, A Climate Action Agenda  on Thursday, June 10, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., hosted by Samantha Smith of the ITUC Just Transition Centre, with Keynote speaker  Autumn Peltier, Wiikwemkoong First Nation. Panelists for a discussion of the role of workers and unions include:  Lara Skinner, (Labor Leading on Climate Initiative, New York State Just Transition Working Group);  Matt Wayland, (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers);  Chris Wilson, (Coalition of Black Trade Unionists), and Grace Moyo, (Toronto Community Benefits Network QuickStart Graduate). To attend this event, download an Observers registration form here.

The Climate Action Policy Paper is included in the compendium of policy papers , with the presentation and discussion scheduled for Friday June 18.  Calling climate action “urgent union work”, the Policy Paper highlights renewable energy, green building and retrofitting, green industrial policy, Just Transition, and the importance of the public sector. The introduction sums it up with this: 

“Labour’s Climate Action Agenda aims to achieve ambitious, enforceable renewable energy targets for electricity and transportation by 2030 and to achieve net-zero emissions in our economy by 2050. Crucial to this plan will be ensuring that the transition be democratic and worker-focused, leveraging the power of the public sector to lead the transition. A just transition that aims to create good jobs for workers and communities and that applies a gender, reconciliation and intersectional lens, is essential to all aspects and phases of a Climate Action Agenda.”    

Climate Resolutions are included in the 242-page Resolutions document , in the Economic and Social Policy section beginning on page 25.

Jim Stanford lauds Canadian unions for their climate activism

Well-known Canadian unionist Jim Stanford gave a shout-out to Canadian labour unions in Canada’s Secret Weapon in Fighting Climate Change: Great Trade Unions” , posted in the Progressive Economics Forum on May 3. Stanford is well-placed to make the observations and analysis, after a long career and wealth of experience at Unifor – for example, he correctly recalls the genesis of “Just Transition” here : “For example, it is significant that one of the first uses of the phrase ‘just transition’ was by a Canadian union activist, Brian Kohler: a member of the former CEP who coined the phrase in 1998 to refer to the needed combination of planned energy transition, alternative job-creation, and income supports and transition assistance.”

In this brief Great Trade Unions article, he specifically cites the work of Unifor, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the Alberta Federation of Labour, and supports his assessment of “greatness”  partly by citing the work of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change research project – specifically, the Green Agreements database.  He states:  

“….Many other unions in Canada have used their voices, their bargaining clout, and their political influence to advance progressive climate and jobs policies in their workplaces and industries. This database, compiled by the York University-based ACW research project, catalogues many innovative contract provisions negotiated by Canadian unions to improve environmental practices at workplaces, educate union members and employers about climate policy, and implement concrete provisions and supports (like job security and notice, retraining, and adjustment assistance) as energy transitions occur. It confirms that Canadian unions are very much ahead of the curve on these issues: playing a vital role in both winning the broader political debate over climate change, but then demanding and winning concrete measures (not token statements) to ensure that the energy transition is fair and inclusive.”  

Stanford concludes with high praise for Canada’s unions  

“Of course, the approach of Canadian unions to climate issues has not been perfect or uniform: there have been tensions and debates, and at times some unions have supported further fossil fuel developments on the faint hope that the insecurity facing their members could be solved by approval of just one more mega-project. But in general the Canadian union movement has been a consistent and progressive force in climate debates. The idea of a Canadian union endorsing a pro-jobs climate plan (like Biden’s) wouldn’t be news at all here. And that has undoubtedly helped us move the policy needle forward in Canada.

I have worked with unions in several countries around climate, employment and transition planning issues. In my experience, Canada’s trade union movement sets a very high standard with its positive and pro-active approach to these issues. Our campaigns for both sustainability and workers’ rights are stronger, thanks to our union movement’s activism, vision, and courage.”

Stanford now focuses on both the Canadian and Australian scenes, and posts his thoughts at the Centre for Future Work, where he is Director.

Environmental groups and Unifor agree: 60% emissions reduction goal is Canada’s Fair Share

Towards Canada’s Fair Share  is a new report endorsed by seven of Canada’s leading environmental advocacy groups. It was released just before Prime Minister Trudeau’s announcement at the international Climate Summit on April 22-23 that Canada will increase its emissions reduction target to 40 – 45% of 2005 levels by 2030. Although this is an improvement on the target mentioned in Canada’s  April 19th federal budget  (36% below 2005 levels, it fails to match U.S. President Biden’s announcement of a 50% target, and is far below the more ambitious target proposed  in Towards Canada’s Fair Share – a 60% emissions reduction by 2030.  The report was based on modelling by EnviroEconomics and Navius, and endorsed by Climate Action Network Canada, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Environmental Defence, Equiterre, Stand, and West Coast Environmental Law.   

A recent CBC report, “Union representing energy workers backs stronger emissions cuts — as long as there’s a transition plan” ( April 27), states that Unifor agrees with the Fair Share target of 60% by 2030 – “provided the right framework is in place to help its 12,000 members move out of the oil and gas sector.”   The CBC quotes Unifor representative Joie Warnock:  “Our members in the energy sector have a lot to say about the path to decarbonization. The pathway to a lower carbon economy goes directly through their livelihoods, through their lives, through their communities,…..We’re very concerned that the government hasn’t done the work to plan for a just transition.”  The union accepts that an energy transition is underway, and is working to “get in front of it” – and not only for its members in the oil fields, but also for members in the auto industry, facing the transformation to electric vehicles.

Don’t call it a Just Transition – United Mineworkers announce Principles for Preserving Coal Country

United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts was accompanied by West Virginia’s senior Senator Joe Manchin on April 19 when he announced the UMWA’s new principles for addressing climate change and the energy transition.  Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition is built on three goals: “preserve coal jobs, create new jobs, and preserve coalfield families and communities.” The UMWA statement calls for specific steps to achieve those goals, including enhanced incentives for carbon capture and storage research, with a goal of commercial demonstration of utility-scale coal-fired CCS by 2030; tax incentives for build-out of renewable supply-chain manufacturing in coalfield areas, with hiring preference for dislocated miners and families; and provision of wage replacement, family health care coverage, and pension credit/401(k) contribution, as well as tuition aid. For the community, the principles call for direct grants to coalfield counties/ communities/school districts to replace lost tax revenues for 20-year period, as well as targeted investment in infrastructure rehabilitation and development – roads, bridges, broadband, schools, health care facilities. 

The document concludes with a statement of willingness to work with Congress, President Biden, and other unions, and with this: “This cannot be the sort of “just transition” wishful thinking so common in the environmental community. There must be a set of specific, concrete actions that are fully-funded and long-term. The easiest and most efficient way to fund this would be through a “wires” charge on retail electric power sales, paid by utility customers, which would add about two-tenths of one cent per kilowatt hour to the average electric bill. This would amount to less than $3.00 per month for the average residential ratepayer.”  

Summaries appeared in: “Miners’ union backs shift from coal in exchange for jobs”  from Associated Press, published in the Toronto Star;  “Surprise news from the miners union gives Democrats an opening against Trumpism” in the Washington Post;   “A coal miners union indicates it will accept a switch to renewable energy in exchange for jobs”  in the New York Times, and “America’s largest coal mining union supports clean energy (with conditions)” in Grist.

At the same press conference on April 19, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin announced that he will co-sponsor the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, as reported by Reuters here. Passage of the PRO Act is also one of the action items in the Mine Workers Preserving Coal Country statement, and a key goal for American unions.

Nordic and German unions collaborate, aim to be Just Transition “frontrunners”

The Council of Nordic Trade Unions, the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung and the German Trade Union Confederation have collaborated to publish six country reports under the project banner, The Road to a Carbon-Free Europe. Each country report, about 25 pages, summarizes the national climate goals and policies, especially as related to Just Transition, for Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland , Norway, and Sweden.  A Synthesis Report brings together the main findings, and presents the resulting policy recommendations, jointly adopted by the Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS) and the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) in November and December 2020.

The Synthesis Report calls for holistic climate change policies to navigate the broad-based transformation of society that will result from climate change, incorporating Just Transition principles as outlined by the ILO Decent Work Agenda and its four pillars: social dialogue, social protection, rights at work and job creation. Because Germany and the Nordic countries are export-oriented economies dependent on trade, and facing similar challenges in the emissions-heavy sectors of their economies, the report sees many common opportunities for zero-emission innovations and technology.

“This report suggests that a collaboration between the Nordic countries and Germany on Just Transition can help the countries to reach the climate targets, and that they should aim to become Just Transition frontrunners. Because of their social models, their technological expertise and their ambition to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, they have the right conditions to do so.”

Survey of oil and gas workers shows little knowledge of energy transition

A report commissioned by international union coalition Industriall examines the geopolitics of fossil fuel producing countries (mainly, the United States, China, Europe and Russia) and the investments and performance of the Oil Majors (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, as well as nationally-owned PetroChina, Gazprom and Equinor).  Energy transition, national strategies, and oil companies: what are the impacts for workers? was published in November 2020, with the research updated to reflect the impacts of Covid-19. 

In addition to a thorough examination of state and corporate actions, the report asked union representatives from four oil companies about how workers understand the energy transformation and its impact on their own jobs, and whether the concept of Just Transition has become part of their union’s agenda.     

Some highlights of the responses:

  • “the union members interviewed showed little knowledge about either the risks that the current transition process can generate for the industrial employee, or about the union discussion that seeks to equate the concern with the decarbonisation of the economy with the notions of equity and social justice. In some cases, even the term “Just Transition” was not known to respondents.”
  • Their lack of knowledge regarding the Just Transition can be justified by the fact that they do not believe that there will be any significant change in the energy mix of these companies.
  • Regarding information about energy transitions within the companies, “Managers are included, but the bottom of the work chain is not”
  • Lacking corporate policies or support, some  employees feel compelled to take responsibility for their own re-training

Echoing results of a similar survey of North Sea oil workers in the summer of 2020, published in Offshore: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, one European respondent is quoted saying: “In the end, everyone is looking for job security, good wages and healthy conditions. It doesn’t matter so much if the job is in another area, as long as it is in good working conditions”.

The researchers conclude that: “Far from being just a statement of how disconnected workers are from environmental issues, these researches reveal a window of opportunity for union movements to act in a better communication strategy with their union members, drawing their attention to the climate issue and transforming their hopes for job stability and better working conditions into an ecologically sustainable political agenda.”

The report was commissioned by Industriall and conducted by the Institute of Strategic Studies of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (Ineep), a research organization created by Brazil’s United Federation of Oil and Gas Workers (FUP). 

What’s ahead for Canadian climate and energy policy in 2021?

The Canadian government has a full climate change agenda ahead when it reconvenes Parliament on January 25, not the least of which will be the debate and passage of Bill C-12, the Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act , analyzed by the Climate Action Network here.  After its introduction in November, C-12 was criticized for lacking urgency and specific plans – for example, in an article by Warren Mabee in The Conversation which calls for three per cent to four per cent GHG reductions “every year, starting now.”

On December 11, the government  released its latest climate plan,  A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, previously discussed in the WCR and noted primarily for its proposed carbon tax hike to $170 per tonne by 2050. According to  “The good, the bad and the ugly in Canada’s 2030 climate plan” (The National Observer, Jan. 18):  “The good news is that …The government’s recently announced A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy plan contains enough new climate policy proposals that, if implemented, will allow Canada to reach its 2030 target. The bad news is….Climate laws enacted by Canadian politicians to date don’t come anywhere close to meeting our 2030 target. With time running out and a gigantic emissions gap to close, Canada needs to enact climate laws now.”

Clean Fuel Standard, Hydrogen, and Small Nuclear Energy Policies released

On December 19, the government released the long-awaited draft regulations for a Clean Fuel Standard, triggering a 75-day consultation period, with final regulations expected in 2021, to take effect in 2022.   According to the government Q&A  website, the new regulations differ from previous drafts in that they apply only to liquid fossil fuels : gasoline, diesel and oil.  Producers and importers of fossil fuels will be required to reduce their carbon content by 2.6% by 2022 and by 13% by 2030 over 2016 levels.  Clean Energy Canada compiled the reactions of several environmental groups here .  The Pembina Institute called the regulations “both fair and cost-effective” in a press release reaction.  Their report , The Clean Fuel Standard: Setting the Record Straight (Nov. 2020) stated: “ The Clean Fuel Standard is expected to create as many as 30,000 jobs as new clean fuel facilities are built, supplied and operated. While some job losses could result from choices made under the CFS, robust modelling shows a net gain for Canadian workers: Energy-economic modelling suggests the CFS will yield a net employment gain resulting in between 17,000 and 24,000 additional jobs.” These projections are taken from on a technical analysis, conducted by Navius and EnviroEconomics consultants before the switch in scope to liquid fossil fuels only.  

Next, on December 16, the Minister of Natural Resources Canada released A Hydrogen Strategy for Canada: Seizing the Opportunities A Call to Action, another long-awaited strategy document which is the result of three years of study, analysis, and consultations, along with collaboration with industry associations: the Transition Accelerator, the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (CHFCA), the Canadian Gas Association, and others . The report states that the government will now establish a Strategic Steering Committee, with several targeted task teams, to implement recommendations.  Key highlights of the Hydrogen Strategy are here; the government’s Hydrogen website is here . 

From page 86, a glimpse into the thinking behind the report:

“The energy transition will fundamentally shift the Canadian economy and alter value chains in many related sectors. One shift of particular importance is the transition away from the direct burning of fossil fuels without carbon abatement. Canada’s energy sector accounted for 900,000 direct and indirect jobs as of 2017, with assets valued at $596 billion . This industry’s significant energy expertise and infrastructure can be leveraged to support the development of the future hydrogen economy in Canada. Hydrogen will be critical to achieving a net-zero transformation for oil and natural gas industries. It provides an opportunity to leverage our valuable energy and infrastructure assets, including fossil fuel reserves and natural gas pipelines, providing a pathway to avoid underutilizing or stranding these assets in a 2050 carbon neutral future. Leveraging these valuable assets will not only be instrumental in achieving the projected economic growth for the domestic market, but also presents the opportunity for Canada to position to become a leading global clean fuels exporter.”

Regarding regulatory changes, the report states: “Policies and regulations that encourage the use of hydrogen technologies include low carbon fuel regulations, carbon pollution pricing, vehicle emissions regulations, zero emission vehicle mandates, creation of emission-free zones, and renewable gas mandates in natural gas networks. Mechanisms to help de-risk investments for endusers to adapt to regulations are also needed.”  There is no mention of training or transition policies, although the report  forecasts a  job creation potential for hydrogen which might reach more than 350,000 jobs in 2050 at the upper end  – “a combination of new job growth and retrained and reskilled labour”. (pages 85 and 86).  

 An article in The National Observer discusses the strategy, the state of hydrogen initiatives in Alberta , and reaction of environmental groups, including a quote from  Environmental Defence, saying: “…. “a focus on fossil hydrogen only serves the interests of the oil and gas sector as they seek to create new markets for their products.” Similarly, Clean Energy Canada released a statement saying, “Canada’s long-awaited federal hydrogen strategy … falls short of what some other nations have put forward in terms of investment and ambition.”   A New Hope, published in October 2020, fleshes out Clean Energy Canada’s recommendations about hydrogen in Canada.

Finally, on December 18, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources released a national Small Nuclear Reactor Action Plan (SMR) , which responds to the 53 recommendations identified in Canada’s SMR Roadmap from November 2018. The list of organizations endorsing the SMR Agenda reflects the entrenched “who’s who” of Canada’s “ 75-year nuclear energy heritage.”  Each of these organizations – governments, public utilities, Indigenous groups, and unions, contributed a chapter to the Plan – available here. Individual endorsements include: the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; The International Union of Operating Engineers ; Power Workers Union – which highlights the pending closure of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in 2025 and the need to transition that workforce; and the National Electrical Trade Council (NETCO) a workforce development organization for Red Seal electrical trades in Canada, jointly led by  the Canadian Electrical Contractors Association (CECA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) .