Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

13 Dec 2018

A just transition

Posted by Michael Keating

At the COP 24 global climate negotiations in Poland, thousands of people are struggling to come up with detailed plans on how to control climate change. They are under pressure from a grim report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this fall that gave us until 2030 to start making major cuts to greenhouse gases or face disastrous impacts on our lives. It means transforming the world economy, now mainly powered by fossil fuels, and doing it in just a few years. It’s an unprecedented challenge. As people come to terms with the reality of the transition they face two huge questions. What are the best and most feasible ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and how do we make a transition that is just and fair to people, many of whom will see their jobs vanish and lives altered?

The changes have started. Last month nearly 3,000 General Motors employees in Oshawa were told their jobs will end next year when GM closes the huge car factory as part of a shift to electric and self-driving vehicles. GM is just one of the major car makers to announce a move to cleaner vehicles. There is a huge knock-on effect. The union representing the GM workers said the closure will cost more than 5,000 direct jobs, as well as about 15,000 indirect jobs in the region.

Another sector facing major dislocation is fossil fuels. Some of the  first to be affected are people in the coal industry as Canada moves to phase out traditional coal-generated electricity by 2030. As part of the plan Ottawa launched the Task Force on the Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, including funding for skills development, economic diversification, and transition centres. The federal government said a just transition “…is an approach to economic and environmental policy that aims to minimize the impact on workers and communities during the transition to a low-carbon economy. This approach includes involving workers and communities in decisions that would affect their livelihood. It identifies and supports economic opportunities for the future and helps workers and communities succeed through and benefit from the transition.” For an excellent article on the impact of the move away from coal see The Narwhal article on Alberta miners.

We are just at the beginning. If we are going to reduce greenhouse gases enough to avoid the worst of climate change, it is clear that we have to phase out fossil fuel energy. That will affect tens of thousands of people in the industry and millions more who are involved in the fuel businesses. It will affect everyone who use these fuels to heat their homes and power their cars and industries. The task force for a just transition should be just the first step toward a national strategy to help the nation’s greatest change ever. It needs to be our new industrial strategy for the long term.

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