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.

U.K. Citizens Climate Assembly report reveals a window on public opinion

On September 10, after meetings which spanned 5 months and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Citizens’ Climate Assembly issued its final, 556-page report, The Path to Net-Zero, with over 50 recommendations on how the U.K. should reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The 108 member group, ages 16 to 79, was selected to be representative of the country in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, education, rural versus urban, geography and level of concern about climate change.  Their recommendations, summarized by The Guardian here and by Carbon Brief here, were built on agreed-upon principles that included urgency and fairness – “Fair to people with jobs in different sectors. Fair to people with different incomes, travel preferences and housing arrangements. Fair to people who live in different parts of the UK”.  In general, participants preferred protecting and restoring nature over technological solutions, and stressed the value of ‘co-benefits’ of improved health and local community and economic benefits.  Specific recommendations included measures to decarbonize transport  (including a ban on SUV’s and a frequent flyer tax for air travelers) and a reduction in  meat and dairy consumption by between 20% and 40%.

The recommendations will be tabled and debated in the U.K. House of Commons, and the six select committee chairs that commissioned the report will provide responses.  A press release by the Assembly describes the process further.