Canada’s Just Transition Task Force as a model for energy and climate policy discussion

The Positive Energy research program at the University of Ottawa released two new reports in September. First,  Addressing Polarization: What Works? A Case Study of Canada’s Just Transition Task Force, written by Brendan Frank with Sébastien Girard Lindsay. According to the authors (p.26): “The primary aim of this case study was to identify specific attributes and processes of the Just Transition Task Force potentially conducive to depolarization over energy and climate issues in Canada …. To do so, we assessed whether the Task Force’s consultation process aligned with principles of procedural justice—consistency, neutrality, accuracy of information, correctability, representativeness and ethical commitment.” Unlike many other studies, this analysis took labour union views into consideration, insofar as it included a review of ENGO and labour organizations’ responses to Task Force activities.

The authors  conclude:

“Several elements of the Task Force’s approach are worth building on and studying further to reduce the risk of polarized opinion over energy and climate issues in Canada. Specifically, this research suggests that anyone designing or leading similar task force processes should pursue opportunities to go beyond the technocratic dimensions of the policy problem, engage with stakeholders in both formal and informal settings, ensure that the composition of the task force is geographically and vocationally reflective of the groups it is consulting, and, crucially, avoid any perceptions of partisanship or politicization. Lastly, given the complexity of Canada’s climate and energy files, it is important to consider the timing of the consultations and situate any policy problem a task force is commissioned to address within the broader policy, political and economic context.”

 

A two-page Brief summarizes the findings and implications for decisionmakers. The authors also wrote “Canada’s Just Transition Task Force can offer lessons for a green recovery” (The National Observer, Sept.18), which emphasizes “Most important were the neutral, non-partisan approach and the demonstration of ethical commitment of Task Force members, aided by a dynamic, iterative approach to consultations that took regional realities into consideration.”

Public Opinion on Oil and Gas and the Retraining of oil and gas workers

A survey was conducted as part of the Positive Energy research in Fall 2019, measuring public opinion on the present and future of the oil and gas industry in Canada, the role of federal and provincial governments, and issues related to transition. The authors summarized the findings in “What Canadians think about the future of oil and gas” in Policy Options (September 17), and in a 4-page Brief titled Polarization over Energy and Climate in Canada: Oil and Gas – Understanding Public Opinion.    Some highlights: there is overwhelming agreement amongst Canadians that oil and gas is important to the current economy, regardless of party affiliation, ideology, region, gender or age. Agreement regarding the future importance of the industry diminishes according to the age of the respondent. When asked if phasing out oil and gas is necessary and whether a phase-out is unfair to people in producing provinces, opinion is fragmented overall and polarized along partisan and ideological lines (but not along regional, age or gender lines).  Overall, there is strong agreement (70%) with the statement: “Canada needs to invest tax dollars into retraining workers as the country addresses climate change.  Positive Energy has conducted surveys of public opinion since 2015, compiled here . “On Energy and climate we’re actually not so polarized” appeared in Policy Options in January 2020, reporting on attitudes to carbon tax and pipeline construction, among other topics.

The Positive Energy project at the University of Ottawa is now in its second phase,  and has published a number of studies previously, including these, which  flew under the radar when released in the early days of the pandemic.  Addressing Polarization: What Works? The Alberta Climate Leadership Plan (March 2020) finds that while the Climate Leadership Plan was polarizing within Alberta, “it opened a policy window across the country. Many of Canada’s subsequent energy and climate policies would not have been possible without it.” The authors conclude that the Climate Leadership Plan was a success in terms of agenda setting and policy development, but a failure of implementation and communication.

What is Transition:  The Two Realities of Energy and Environmental Leaders in Canada  (March 2020), summarized in “Can Language drive polarization in the fight against climate change?” in The Hill Times (April 2020) .  Of this study, it is worth pointing out that the 40 energy and environmental leaders interviewed about their use and interpretation of the term “transition” did not include any labour leaders. (“interviewees were drawn from the energy and environmental communities, including from industry, policy, regulatory, non-government, research and Indigenous organizations”) .

The Positive Energy website provides access to their publications since 2015.

Just Transition policies lacking in federal and provincial climate policies in Canada

In February, the Adapting Work and Workplaces (ACW) project released three  preliminary working papers in a series  called Evaluating government plans and actions to reduce GHG emissions in Canada . The first report,  Federal progress through June 2016 (July 2016)  and the second,  Provincial and territorial progress through October 2016 (November 2016)    provide specific summaries of climate policies in their respective jurisdictions since November 2015, and in general, they conclude that  “Despite missteps, oversights and political backtracking, Canada’s climate policy has evolved to be relatively comprehensive and broadly supported”.  Significantly, the papers point out that “a large ambition gap remains between governments’ GHG targets and their actual emission reduction policies. …. the emissions-intensive production of oil and gas resources has largely escaped stringent, targeted GHG mitigation measures. Indeed, through direct and indirect subsidies, Canadian governments continue to promote oil and gas expansion despite its incompatibility with those same governments’ climate objectives.”

Just Transition policies is the focus of the third preliminary working paper in the ACW series. It  springs from the idea that just transition policy is a crucial and urgent, but under-developed, aspect of Canadian governments’ climate plans.  It characterizes “just transition” as a concept developed by the labour movement. “It is a social justice framework for facilitating the low-carbon transition in a way that minimizes negative employment impacts and ensures equitable outcomes for worker.” In defining “just transition”, the paper differentiates it from “climate justice”, stating, “A just transition is one of the goals of climate justice advocates, but the two concepts are distinct. Climate justice goes beyond workers, for example, to demand the poor are not disproportionately hurt by policies such as carbon pricing.”

The report reviews the latest climate plans published by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, discovering and describing:  1. Policies that provide income supports to laid-off workers; 2. Policies that provide skills training and re-training for the low-carbon economy, and 3. Policies that directly create new jobs, especially in the communities and regions adversely affected by climate policies.  The conclusion:  all Canadian jurisdictions “get a failing grade” on all three subjects. The paper calls for improved income support programs, since policy seems to favour training and retraining over income support in the existing federal unemployment insurance program, as well as in provincial climate policies which allow for reinvestment of carbon revenue, such as Alberta and Ontario. Workforce development policies seem to receive the most attention – while still lacking in most provinces. Finally, job creation policy is judged to be “hands-off”, with governments assuming that new investment in clean energy industries will be sufficient.

All three preliminary reports were authored by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood,  in association with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  A final, consolidated report is anticipated by Spring 2017.