IRENA report findings released alongside the launch of new Sustainable Energy Jobs Platform during 10th Assembly
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 10 January 2020 – Renewable energy could employ more than 40 million people by 2050 under the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) climate safe energy path, according to a report published by the Agency during its 10th Assembly. The report finds that total energy sector employment can reach 100 million by 2050, up from around 58 million today should the international community utilise its full renewable energy potential.
Entitled ‘Measuring the socio-economics of transition: Focus on jobs’, the report offers detailed insights on how the energy transition will impact employment at both global and regional levels. The analysis highlights the potential of regional disparities in job creation with job gains in some parts of the world outpacing losses in others. The identification of policies to balance the impact of the transition while maximising the socioeconomic opportunities is noted as key.
IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera spoke of the importance of the Agency’s work to understand the socioeconomic benefits associated with the energy transition. “Everybody is talking about a just transition but not many know how to make it happen. We all have to work on this subject to present a clear voice that supports an inclusive transition.
The report findings were presented at the launch of a new joint platform during the IRENA Assembly. The Sustainable Energy Jobs Platform brings together a number of development actors in pursuit of an inclusive and just transition for all. The cross-section of international public and private sector organisations involved seek to present and promote an integrated approach to the achievement of sustainable development goals seven and eight.
Speaking at a panel discussion on the new Sustainable Energy Platform, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation’s (UNIDO) Industrial Development Officer, Rana Ghoneim touched upon the centrality of renewables to sustainable industrial policy noting that renewables are increasingly becoming a focus of the organisation’s work. UNIDO are a platform member together with GGGI, GOGLA, GWNET, ILO, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, SELCO Foundation and Power4All.
In addition to emphasising gender balance, diversity in the workforce, and rural economic development, the platform highlights the need for educational and skill-training policies that keep in mind workers and communities whose livelihoods rely on fossil-fuel based industries in order to facilitate their participation in the new energy economy.
There were times when I was taking home about $3,500 a week.” That was in the oil sands, during the boom before 2014. Lliam Hildebrand was a young welder who had come to the Athabasca oil sands for work.
Before that, the Victoria, BC, native spent his first eight years after high school in heavy machinery repair and steel fabrication, often on oil field equipment such as flare stacks and rig platforms. He says serving the oil field’s needs was “the bread and butter” of his work, with an occasional job building renewable-energy equipment such as parts for a biofuel facility.
“I really loved that job,” he says, but opportunities in the North called and he spent the next half dozen years in the oil sands, doing similar work, primarily during spring and autumn, when sites get set up and stripped down. He found it exciting, interesting—and lucrative.
Then came the downturn. As international market forces sent the price of Western Canada Select plummeting from close to $100 per barrel to at times less than $20, oil sands operations struggled to survive, especially as the break-even price for many operations was as high as $80 per barrel. The opportunities that brought thousands like Lliam north evaporated.
“It was crazy,” he says. “Every single day in the lunchroom we were having conversations about who was getting laid off… and when would we be laid off?”
Worldwide, the price crash saw more than 440,000 petroleum jobs disappear. Bloomberg UBS predicts that between a third and as many as half of those 440,000 jobs will never return. In Canada 46,000 oil and gas workers were laid off, mostly in Alberta. Pipeline purgatory and the spectre of fossil fuels’ decline dominate public and political rhetoric on the subject.
What hasn’t been at the forefront is talk of an escape plan for tens of thousands of oil workers. In the past, when industries from carriage makers to cod fishers suddenly crumbled, workers were abandoned. Now the hope is for a “just transition.” The concept of just transition holds that when an industry or sector declines, particularly if that decline is mandated by government policy, the workforce is entitled to planned support to move people to new gainful employment, ideally in their own community.
In theory it’s a grand concept and one of the best ways to gain support for climate change policies from the affected workforce. In practice, “just transitions” have had mixed results.
Alberta and Canada had a practice run in coal. Canada’s coal phase-out got its start in 2012 when the Harper government imposed emissions limits for coal-fired power plants that effectively guaranteed their shutdown. Technological solutions that would sufficiently lower emissions at these generators weren’t cost-effective, especially in the face of coal’s declining competitiveness worldwide.
Alberta followed suit in late 2015 when the Notley government announced similar limitations as part of its Climate Leadership Plan and soon after mandated that at least 30 per cent of Alberta’s electricity grid be powered by renewable energy by 2030. At the time, coal fed over half of the province’s electricity needs, and its production here was greater than all other provinces’ combined. Coal directly supported roughly 3,150 jobs in Alberta, mostly in mining and processing rather than plant operations. Coal workers include engineers, welders, mechanics, electricians, heavy equipment operators and maintenance staff. The economies of some 20 communities were tied tightly to the industry.
Pipeline purgatory and the spectre of fossil fuels’ decline dominate public and political rhetoric.
Hanna is one of those coal towns, and perhaps the poster child for the phase-out thanks to its vocal mayor, Chris Warwick, and the town’s concerted efforts to meet the phase-out head on.
Hanna’s population is 2,500, 210 of whom work in the nearby Sheerness coal mine and power plant. The mine operations prop up the town’s economy, inflating incomes above what would be expected in a remote farming community, allowing business and public services to thrive where they likely wouldn’t otherwise.
While Warwick’s efforts have focused on the town’s economic transition, councillor Connie Deadlock devotes her time to the workforce. “There have been a lot of conversations about just transition from the provincial and federal governments, as well as everyone else,” she says. The mine and the power plant are still operating, but the town is already affected by the inevitable changes, and residents are anxious.
“Not only do we have to worry about the direct job losses, there is no other industry, so many people and families will have to relocate,” Deadlock says. “Housing prices have already been declining, our schools are affected, our businesses, and the list goes on and on.”
She says that because the power plant will convert to run on natural gas, not everyone will lose their jobs, but the new operation will require far fewer employees.
Immediately after the phase-out announcement in 2015, Hanna’s leaders scrambled to find a way not only to keep the town alive but to maintain its quality of life. They contracted Calgary’s Urban Systems to make an analysis of the town’s predicament and attributes and outline a path forward. The resulting Cactus Corridor Economic Opportunities Report has good news and bad for the little town.
“Be realistic,” it recommends. “Living in a community/region can make one unrealistic about its potential.” Also, expect some decline, because “it’s unlikely high wage primary industry jobs can be replaced. If workers in these industries want to stay in the community, they may have to accept a reduction in income and work with less status.” Don’t rely on ongoing subsidies or bailouts, it adds; don’t look for a panacea; establish a sense of urgency.
Coupled with the phase-out, Hanna, like many coal communities, is also rural. It is already subject to the pressures of rural decline, making it even harder to replace coal in its economy.
Hanna does have some business opportunities. Urban Systems points out it has some of the best solar power potential in the country, and likely good wind power possibilities too. As a farming community, it is surrounded by arable land and a fair water supply.
Government hasn’t abandoned Hanna and other coal towns, either. In addition to setting an end date for coal, the NDP government had the foresight to consider the transition—especially important given the phase-out only had 50 per cent public support province-wide. The government wanted widespread support as it made major changes to the way Alberta dealt with climate change issues.
The provincial government gave Hanna $450,000 to set up community action teams and help establish an economic plan. Unfortunately, Hanna was left off the list when the government committed funding at the end of 2018 for the municipal training centres many people say are integral to a successful labour transition.
“Our community has so many ideas for business and expansion, but no funds to bring them to fruition,” says Deadlock. “The employees at the mine don’t feel they will benefit very much from any programs that are offered. There needs to be some significant changes.”
Disconnect between what workers say they need and what the transition programs actually offer is a pervasive problem in Canada’s just transition efforts for the coal industry. “The most requested thing is for the government to offer training and other programs while people are still employed, [but] none of the programs are a benefit while still working,” says Deadlock. “Employees feel that if they could do some upgrading, training or education while still working and having an income, they would have a better chance.”
In response to how initial transition programs were designed, Jamie Kirkpatrick of Blue Green Canada says, “I think that was stupid.” Blue Green is a collaboration of labour unions and civil and environmental groups that has spent the past 10 years advocating for workers affected by environmental issues. It has primarily focused on the fate of Canada’s coal workers as coal-fired electricity comes to an end. Kirkpatrick says requiring workers to lose their jobs before they can begin retraining for a new career sets them back from the start. He and Deadlock agree the reason transition programs often don’t resonate with labour is because many of the plans were made without on-the-ground consultation.
“You actually learn more talking to people who are going to be affected by this than telling them what’s going to happen,” Kirkpatrick says.
Governments issuing decrees rather than including affected groups in the decision-making has been a major sticking point among workers and labour unions throughout the phase-out, seriously eroding any support the decision may have garnered from those most immediately affected by it. MORE
Now, last year’s global inferno looks to Naomi Klein, the author and intellectual godmother of the Green New Deal movement, like a lit fuse to a fascist future.
“We’re in a moment where we are literally flammable,” Klein, whose latest book “On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal” was published in September, said on a recent afternoon. “But we are also politically flammable.”
In 2019, some factions of the global far-right that gained power in the past decade started to abandon their traditional climate denialism and adopt new rhetoric that looks increasingly eco-fascist, an ideology that defends its violent authoritarianism as necessary to protect the environment.
In France, the leader of the far right, Marine Le Pen, refurbished Nazi-era blood-and-soil rhetoric in a pledge to make Europe the “world’s first ecological civilization,” drawing a distinction between the “ecologist” social groups who are “rooted in their home” and the “nomadic” people who “have no homeland” and “do not care about the environment.” In Germany, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party’s Berlin youth wing urged its leaders to abandon climate denialism. The manifestos posted online by the alleged gunmen in massacres from Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas, explicitly cited climate change as a motivation for murdering immigrants and minorities.
“This is what it means to have people so close to the edge,” Klein said. “There is a rage out there that is going to go somewhere, and we have demagogues who are expert at directing that rage at the most vulnerable among us while protecting the most powerful and most culpable.”
The solution, she said, is to enact the kind of Green New Deal that progressives in the United States and elsewhere started fleshing out over the past year. The proposal ― more of a framework than a policy ― calls for the most generous expansion of the social safety net in decades. It promises good-paying, federally backed jobs for workers displaced by the transition away from fossil fuels, and those struggling to get by with stagnant wages and insecure gig-economy and retail jobs.
Klein, a journalist and author whose work over the past decade thrust pointed critiques of capitalism into the mainstream debate over climate change, has campaigned in recent months for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as he runs for the 2020 Democratic nomination on a platform that includes a sweeping, $16.3 trillion Green New Deal.
HuffPost sat down with Klein to discuss her latest book and what comes next in the climate fight.
In Spain, there are competing versions of a Green New Deal. In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo called his clean energy proposal a “green new deal.” The European Commission is pushing a “green deal.” Are you worried about Green New Deal branding being coopted by advocates of austerity and centrism? How do you fight back against that?
Any phrase can be coopted and watered down. The main reason why I wanted to write the book is to help define what a transformational Green New Deal has to mean, to put more details out there. Any vague proposal is vulnerable to what you’re describing. The reason why I’m using the phrase now is because it is being used in a climate-justice context and the parameters that have been put around it by the resolution sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) — and further supported by the Sanders campaign and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) campaigns — have made it more detailed.
Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein speaks to the media before speaking at the Willy Brandt Foundation in December. CARSTEN KOALL VIA GETTY IMAGES
But I still think there are parts of the discussion that we need to talk about — like the danger of a Green New Deal inadvertently failing to lower emissions in line with what scientists are telling us we need to do, and what sort of mechanisms need to be in place to prevent a carbon bubble that could be generated by rolling out a bunch of new infrastructure and creating a whole bunch of jobs.
How has the emergence of the Green New Deal changed the way we talk about neoliberalism? The movement seems to take the governing ideology of the past five decades as a given, yet we still have certain pundits questioning whether “neoliberalism” even exists.
It’s so interesting, this. I’ve been trying to understand what the insistence on refusing to understand neoliberalism is all about. In most parts of the world there was a discussion about the phenomenon of neoliberalism and there was a name for it, while in the United States, people were always asking what neoliberalism was. It was always about what hegemony means and that it was an ideology that didn’t want to recognize itself as an ideology. Rather, it sees itself as seriousness and commonsense. The very fact of being named as an ideology, as a contested ideology that had opponents at every stage, was antithetical to the project. How it’s possible to still deny that there is a thing called neoliberalism ― understanding that the term gets thrown around, and every term gets used and abused ― but the insistence that it doesn’t exist is about a desire to not debate it on its merits, to not reckon with the history of how it was imposed through tremendous violence in many parts of the world.
A true Green New Deal platform makes visible that the failure to act in the face of the climate crisis is not the result of something innate in humans. It’s the reality that the things that we need to do to lower emissions while avoiding a massive backlash ― while bringing the population along with you, which is what you have to do in a democracy ― require breaking every single rule in the neoliberal playbook.
Can you briefly define it?
Neoliberalism is a clear set of policy frameworks which used to be called the “Washington consensus.” It’s privatization of the public sphere. It’s deregulation of the corporate sphere. It’s low taxes for corporations and all of this offset with austerity and public cutbacks of the social sphere. That in turn creates more of an argument for privatization, because you starve the public sphere. And all of it is locked in with technocratic-seeming arrangements like free trade deals.
And a progressive Green New Deal would be a reversal of these trends?
That is what the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has told us we need to do. We need unprecedented transformation in every aspect of society: Energy, transportation, agriculture, built environment. That requires huge investments in the public sphere. It requires regulating corporations. It requires getting some money from somewhere, and usually involves raising taxes on the wealthy. And if you want to do it democratically, you need to do it in a way that is fair. That means creating a lot of well-paying jobs and improving services, so you’re not just adding burdens onto people’s daily lives.
Besides the obvious, what are some obstacles to this project?
It so happens that we have a lot of trade agreements that our governments have signed that make a lot of the things we need to do illegal under international law. So, a lot of those trade agreements are going to have to go.
The reason why we haven’t done these things is we’ve been trying to do them in the constraints and confines of the neoliberal imaginary. That’s the only reason we’re actually now finally talking about solutions: We’re in the midst of a democratic socialist revival, which is breathing oxygen into the political imagination and made us think that maybe we can do things again. The Green New Deal has made visible the constraints, the actual barriers to what it would take to deal with this crisis.
Why can’t a market-based solution deliver on those goals?
The Green New Deal is certainly making visible the tremendous costs of the neoliberal project. There have been so many attacks on public goods, on public services like transportation, on trade unions, on worker rights of every kind, on living standards. Climate policies that adhere to a neoliberal framework ― like introducing a marginal carbon tax or a buying a fleet of electric buses (but you want to do it in a “fiscally responsible” way, so then you increase bus fares) … We are seeing these huge, popular resistances.
It’s the reality that the things that we need to do to lower emissions while avoiding a massive backlash … requires breaking every single rule in the neoliberal playbook. Naomi Klein
We saw it in France when President Emmanuel Macron introduced a tax on gasoline. We saw it in Chile with President Sebastián Piñera, ahead of the U.N. climate summit, when they bought a whole bunch of electric buses in order to make their public transit appear green. But, of course, because Chile has been the laboratory for neoliberalism since 1973, they have rules in place that say all of your expenditures have to be offset, so they increased transit fares. That was the spark that set off the Chilean uprising.
A thing I’ve been thinking about a lot, which you write about in the book, is the looming threat of eco-fascism. It’s been hard not to think about that over the past few months, as you’ve had these different shooters in El Paso and Christchurch citing environmental concerns in their manifestos and you have somebody like Marine Le Pen talking about borders as a climate policy and “nomadic” people having no appreciation for the need to make France an ecological society. How quickly do you think this kind of right-wing, climate fascism is going to spread? What besides adopting equitable policies can you do to fight back against that?
These types of policies that make life more secure for people, that could tamp down the political flammability of the moment we’re in, are absolutely necessary. I don’t think they’re sufficient. I don’t think there’s any way that we move forward without a frontal confrontation with white supremacy. Which isn’t to say “Oh, just fund schools and hospitals and create lots of jobs and it’ll take care of itself.” We need both: We have to address the underlying supremacist logics in our societies and we also need to do what is necessary to be less flammable.
I want to be clear: I don’t think there are any shortcuts where we don’t actually have to battle supremacist logics. And it’s different in different parts of the world. In the United States, it’s white supremacy, it’s Christian supremacy, it’s male supremacy. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India right now, it’s Hindu supremacy; under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it’s Jewish supremacy. It’s all very, very similar. As I argue in the book, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that supremacists have come to power at the very moment when the climate crisis becomes pretty much impossible to deny.
Do you think that’s a blindspot for the climate movement at large? It seems like there has been this consensus for a long time that, if only we could exorcise denialism from the polity, then people would embrace social democratic policies to deal with emissions. Is there any evidence for that?
It’s a massive blindspot. The assumption that the biggest problem we’ve had is just convincing the right to believe in the scientific reality of climate change was a failure to understand that the right denied climate change not because they didn’t understand the science, but because they objected to the political implications of the science. They understood it better than many liberals understood it.
This is the argument I made after spending some time at the Heartland Institute conference and interviewing [co-founder] Joseph Bast, who was very honest about his motivation. He understood that if the science was true, then the whole reason for the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank that exists to advance the neoliberal project, would crumble. He said to me that if it was true, then any kind of regulation would be possible, because in the name of safeguarding the habitability of the planet, you’d need to regulate.
It was never about the science or needing someone to patiently explain the science to you. It was always about the political implications of the science.
That said, I think there are lots of people who are not hardcore climate deniers but who are just exposed to a certain kind of right-wing media and haven’t heard the counter arguments, and could absolutely be persuaded. But if you’re talking about the hardcore denier, it’s an epic waste of time, because you’re dealing with somebody who has an intensely hierarchical worldview, which is what all the studies show. That’s just a nice way of saying somebody is racist: It means you’re OK with massive levels of inequality, you think the people who are doing well in the world are doing well because they’re somehow better and the people who are poor and suffering are experiencing this through some cultural or biological failure of their own making.
White nationalists march on the grounds of the University of Virginia ahead of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Many of the white supremacists in attendance chanted “blood and soil.” STEPHANIE KEITH / REUTERS
So what happens when those people stop denying climate change?
If you convince those people climate change really is real, or if it just becomes so obvious that they can no longer deny it, they don’t suddenly want to sign onto the Paris Agreement. What actually happens is they apply that intensely hierarchical supremacist worldview to the reality that what climate change means is that the space for people to live well on this planet is contracting. More and more of us are going to have to live on less and less land, even if we do everything right. It’s already happening. So if you have that worldview, then you will apply it to people who are migrating to your country and to those who want to migrate to your country. We will harden the narratives that say those people deserve what they get because they’re inferior and we deserve what we have because we’re superior. In other words, the racism will get worse.
One last question. Former Secretary of State John Kerry just announced a new project, this star-studded effort called World War Zero, saying we’ve got to have war footing on climate change but we’re not married to any specific policy. John Kasich, the Republican former governor of Ohio, was quoted in The New York Times saying he was on board because it’s policy agnostic and if there were a “no frackers” provision, he wouldn’t join. Is there a danger to these elite, “let’s just do something about climate change” efforts?
There would be a huge danger if there wasn’t a powerful movement today pushing for a Green New Deal at the same time. The idea that what we need to just scare people in this moment, or just get people to understand that we’re in an emergency and once we’re on emergency footing, this will somehow solve itself, that’s a very dangerous theory of change.
I began writing about climate change while I was writing about something I called the “shock doctrine,” which says that for the past four decades, states of emergency have been systematically harnessed by the most powerful and wealthy forces in our society to impose policies that are so harmful and unpopular that they are unable to impose them under normal circumstances.
I get my back up when people just say all we need to do is get people to understand we’re in a crisis. There are many ways of responding to a climate emergency, and a lot of them are very harmful. You could decide to dim the sun with solar radiation management. You could decide that you need a massive expansion of nuclear power and ignore the impact on the people whose lands are being poisoned. You could decide to fortress your borders. There are any number of emergency responses to climate change that could make our world much more unjust than it currently is.
That said, I’m not too bothered by the idea that there’s going to be a lot of people out there just screaming “fire!” For the first time since I’ve been involved in the climate movement, there’s now a critical mass of people out there who have a plan for putting out the fire that is robust, justice-based, science-based and has a movement behind it. That’s the movement for a Green New Deal. There are enough of us out there who can harness that energy and direct it in the right way. But we certainly have our work cut out for us. SOURCE
A man walks between flooded houses in Constance Bay northwest of Ottawa on April 26, 2019. Photo by Kamara Morozuk
Countries across the world need to make their 2030 emission targets much more ambitious if the world is to stand a chance of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a major research report says.
And Canada is one of the biggest laggards, far from reaching its own targets which are themselves far from enough to keep warming to that level.
The annual “Brown to Green” report from the Climate Transparency partnership said Canada is far from contributing its fair share toward the 1.5 C goal, with the third most energy-intensive economy in the G20. And that’s despite having one of the cleanest electricity grids.
“South Korea, Canada and Australia are the G20 countries furthest off track to implement their NDCs,” the report said, referring to the nationally determined contributions countries committed to as part of a global response to the climate crisis.
The climate report card on Canada is pretty grim. Canada’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are much higher than the G20 average, at 18.9 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person. Much of Canada’s failure to limit overall emissions is due to energy-inefficient buildings and rising pollution from two provinces: Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Those two oil-rich provinces shut out the Liberals and their carbon price in the federal election in October.
On the campaign trail, Trudeau pledged to exceed Canada’s 2030 targets and achieve net zero emissions by 2050 with legally binding five-year targets, but with few details about how to do that. Now the Liberals are back in power, but with a weakened mandate, and facing big questions about how to implement climate policies with a minority government and a divided country.
Researchers who worked on the Climate Transparency report acknowledged the regional differences that complicate national policy-making.
Canada is one of the biggest laggards in the G20 when it comes to climate action, a new report from @ClimateT_G20 says, with emissions from buildings that are twice the G20 average.
“It is definitely not the same to decarbonize Saudi Arabia, or Alberta in Canada, than it is to become a nice Costa Rica,” said Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis, from Argentina’s Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Environment and Natural Resources Foundation).
Costa Rica is working to be carbon-free by 2050, with a plan for electric passenger and freight trains in service by 2022, nearly a third of its buses to be electric by 2035, and nearly all cars and buses on the roads to be electric by 2050.
“This brings a lot more challenges. You have a big piece of your economy depending on that … you have an entire population, or part of society, that was built on that production and you are actually telling them that actually has to be gone very soon.”
Canada will need to have a plan to help oil and gas workers, the report said, similar to what is being set up for dislocated coal workers as that energy source is targeted for a full phase-out by 2030.
The 2019 federal budget proposed a dedicated $150-million infrastructure fund to support affected coal communities, in addition to funding for coal worker transition centres.
Ipek Gençsü from the U.K.’s Overseas Development Institute said that various levels of government must work together to solve these tough problems.
“Not everyone can be retrained, we know that, so it’s just having to answer these very real questions,” she said. “But definitely not delaying it and not hiding behind sort of unrealistic scenarios of how much the sectors can continue to provide livelihoods for people, because it’s simply not true anymore.”
Canada’s fossil fuel industry accounts for 1 per cent of the national workforce, concentrated in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador provinces.
Yet even Canada’s goal to reduce emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030is insufficient, the report said, since hitting it would reduce emissions to a range of 518 to 557 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) and Canada needs to get to 327 MtCO2e.
If all countries merely hit their existing 2030 targets, global mean temperature would increase to around 3 C by 2100, said the report, which looked at emissions relating to the production of electricity, transportation, buildings, industry and agriculture.
Keeping the global temperature increase to 1.5 C cuts down the average drought length by more than two-thirds compared to a 3 C rise, limits the growing season’s shrinkage and the reduction of rainfall, and sharply cuts the risk of heat waves that ravage crops.
“G20 countries will have to ratchet up their 2030 emissions targets in 2020 and significantly bolster mitigation, adaptation and finance measures over the next decade,” the report said.
Membership of the G20 consists of 19 individual countries plus the European Union. Collectively, the G20 economies account for roughly 90 per cent of gross world product, and two-thirds of the world population and the world’s land.
Canada could improve its overall performance by adopting a clean fuel standard and enhancing measures to boost zero-emission vehicles, including light and heavy-duty trucks and undertaking deep energy retrofits of existing buildings, a country profile attached to the main ‘Brown to Green’ report said.
Canada’s emissions from buildings — including heating, cooking and electricity use — make up a fifth of its total CO2 emissions.
On the plus side, Canada has reduced the energy intensity of its buildings by almost 10 per cent between 2013 and 2018, although on a per capita basis they remain more than double the G20 average.
Renewables and cleantech aren’t growing at a pace to absorb the hundreds of jobs the oilpatch sheds monthly. And then there’s the question of skill sets
It was on Monday, Oct. 21 — Election Day — that Jeff (not his real name) got his layoff notice from Husky Energy Inc., the Calgary-based oil and gas company. The coincidence of the timing wasn’t lost on him.
“I had voted Conservative literally hours before I was informed I would lose my job … because I knew a Conservative government would help our oil and gas sector and get that damn pipeline built,” he said.
The election results — a minority victory for a Liberal Party that has long been viewed by many in the West as not supportive of the oil and gas industry — only added to Jeff’s feeling of hopelessness that day. He is in his late 40s and had worked at Husky in their head office for a little more than 20 years, primarily in an administrative role, although he said he gained significant technical know-how about the sector over the years.
“I kind of knew this was coming, because everyone around us has been losing jobs over the past five years,” he said. “I just didn’t think it would be me, right on that very day.”
Canada’s oilpatch has been struggling since oil prices bottomed out in late 2014, so its troubles are not exactly a new development. Roughly 50,000 jobs have been lost over the past five years, and an estimated 7,600 positions are at risk of being lost in 2019, according to Petroleum Labour Market Information, a division of Energy Safety Canada. The unemployment rate among young men in Alberta is now at a whopping 19.9 per cent, up almost four percentage points from a month ago.
Policymakers have been scrambling to keep up with the traditional energy industry’s downturn and quell a brewing sense of resentment and hopelessness in the Western provinces. On the election trail, the rhetoric of “retraining oil and gas workers” to transition to jobs in renewable energy or cleantech was frequently touted as a solution, but the reality of that transition is incredibly complex, and involves far more than just retraining.
For starters, renewables and cleantech are not growing at a pace that can absorb the hundreds of jobs that the oilpatch is shedding monthly. There is also the question of skill sets, since working as a reservoir engineer does not exactly qualify someone to scoop up a job on a solar farm, simply because of how technically different those industries are. Salaries in the oilpatch — even in an administrative position like Jeff’s — are also comparably high, a disincentive for many to seek work outside the industry.
“The jobs are not returning,” said Cheryl Knight, the former chief executive of PetroLMI who is now an independent consultant researching labour trends in the Canadian energy sector. “So the answer to the question of how to help underemployed and unemployed oil and gas workers is individual in some ways. It depends on how motivated the person is, how much training is required, and how much time it takes to get there. It is not as simple as saying, ‘We’ll just retrain people.’”
The jobs are not returning
Knight has spent nearly three years researching what kinds of jobs are being lost in the oilpatch and what sectors could potentially absorb the newly unemployed. They include, but are not confined to, petrochemical manufacturing, cleantech and power generation from both renewable and non-renewable sources such as wind and solar energy.
Rooftop solar programs created roughly 4,300 private-sector jobs, contributing $850 million to provincial GDP, between April 2017 and March 2019, according to data from the provincial agency Energy Efficiency Alberta.
Over time, the solar industry could have the capacity to create up to 10,000 jobs, said David Kelly, chief executive of SkyFire Energy Inc., one of the largest solar providers to residential and commercial buildings in Alberta.
“I just hired six people over the last three weeks,” Kelly said. “There are many ongoing jobs in electrical and maintenance work. Just about every electrician I have hired has done work in oil and gas.”
Such news might seem promising, but resource economist Sven Anders, a professor at the University of Alberta, cautions it is unlikely that the renewable energy sector alone will be able to generate the number of jobs needed to absorb job losses in the long run.
“Take wind, for instance,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of employment for the period in which the wind farm is being built. But once that construction has been completed, you basically just need a handful of engineers for maintenance.”
Knight’s research shows that tradesmen coming from oil and gas have highly transferable skills and employment opportunities in wind and solar, but project managers and design engineers are more likely to require renewable energy experience.
Kelly said that perhaps 30 per cent of his workforce comes from oil and gas, but most of them are electricians because they have the most transferable set of skills between both industries.
Adam Yereniuk, director of operations at Kuby Renewable Energy Ltd., another solar company in Alberta, said it has been difficult to find the right employees, especially those who have the technical know-how to work in solar.
“We try to hire out of NAIT and SAIT, because we know those graduates have specific knowledge,” he said, referring to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, two popular polytechnics that offer specific programs tailored toward retraining oil and gas workers.
But complicating the hiring process is that wages in the solar and wind sectors are simply not as high as in oil and gas.
“We don’t really hire directly from oil and gas, because we just cannot compete with the wages that sector pays. I can’t pay as much as Suncor,” Yereniuk said.
Case in point, Oksana Treacy, a project manager at SkyFire who formerly worked at Encana Corp., had to invest in pursuing a master’s degree in sustainable energy at the University of Calgary, in addition to taking a pay cut, before she could enter the solar industry.
“I was laid off right at the beginning of 2015, and I looked for a job unsuccessfully for about a year,” she said. “I leveraged all my contacts in oil and gas, but not a single person was hiring.”
Treacy said she felt her oil and gas experience was not taken seriously when she tried to apply to renewable companies.
“There was just so much competition,” she said. “I was lucky that I had been making good money and I could afford to retrain myself.”
Bruce Wilson, a former engineer at Royal Dutch Shell PLC., who currently works as a consultant for Iron and Earth, a B.C.-based organization that helps transition oil and gas workers into the renewable energy sector, believes that the potential of renewables is being severely understated.
For one thing, he said, clean energy costs are continuing to fall. He points to a research study conducted by the Rocky Mountain Institute that shows how wind, solar and energy technologies have improved and dropped “precipitously” in price, so much so that clean-energy portfolios comprised of these technologies are currently cost-competitive with new natural gas power plants, and provide the same reliable service.
“If we make a conscious decision to power our world, our industry and our homes with renewable energy sources, we could create that demand for jobs,” Wilson said.
But in the meantime, that leaves thousands of people without jobs. PetroLMI data show the bulk of the job losses in the oil and gas sector over the past five years have come from those involved in exploration and production, and oil and gas services. In other words, the engineers, geologists and business and project management staff that help find new oilfields.
There was a sharp increase in jobs related to pipeline services in late 2017 and early 2018, because of the number of pipeline projects ramping up back then. The former NDP government in Alberta forecast that the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline could bring the region an additional 15,000 jobs.
But Knight notes that these jobs will be unsustainable in the long run if they don’t directly involve the de-carbonization of the oil and gas sector.
The re-elected Liberal federal government has pledged to turn Canada into a carbon-neutral nation by 2050, in line with international climate goals. Whether or not that will materialize, most climate experts agree that meeting even part of that goal will require a monumental shift in Canada’s fossil fuel industry that sees it either transitioning into renewables or making massive investments in emissions-reduction technology such as carbon storage.
Energy companies in Alberta and Saskatchewan have started focusing heavily on investing in clean technology innovations such as carbon offsets, methane emissions reductions and environmental regulation compliance, all potential sources of new employment for those already in the sector.
Clean technology ventures related to the oil and gas sector accounted for $615 million in GDP and generated more than 4,500 jobs in 2018, according to Calgary Economic Development.
“Many of the services and occupations required to implement cleantech already work in oil and gas, and they pay well,” Knight said.
For example, chemical, mechanical or environmental engineers, as well as welders and electricians should be able to seek direct employment in any kind of venture related to reducing methane-emissions.
But these jobs are focused on innovations designed to reduce emissions, not eliminate them altogether, and are ultimately still in the oil and gas industry.
“We can’t have it both ways,” Wilson said. “You can fix the problem of jobs with five bucks now or 10 bucks later. We will ultimately need to transition out of the oil and gas industry altogether.”
To be sure, there are also startups sprouting up in Calgary dedicated to non-oil and gas cleantech solutions, such as using hydrogen as a low carbon fuel, particularly for heating, transporting energy and lower-emission vehicles. But in the short term, these startups do not generate nearly enough jobs to compensate for those lost in the oilpatch.
“Cleantech employers are small employers and they operate completely differently in terms of how they hire and who they hire,” Knight said. “There are a lot of word-of-mouth introductions that happen and those who don’t have existing networks in cleantech do not do well in that ecosystem.”
That leaves people such as Jeff, the Husky Energy employee who was laid off on Election Day, feeling “lost” as to what to do next with his career. Granted, he worked in an administrative role at Husky, so transferring his skills might perhaps be easier for him, but he is reluctant to leave the oil and gas sector.
My uncle, my brothers, we all work in oil and gas. We’ve done this forever
Jeff, former Husky Energy employee
“The idea that the sector is shutting down — because that’s what I hear people saying — is just very difficult for me to process,” he said. “My uncle, my brothers, we all work in oil and gas. We’ve done this forever.”
Understanding the West’s pride in their homegrown industry is something that Anders at the University of Alberta believes is severely lacking from any of the political decisions or announcements focused on the oil sector. For example, the Liberals in their most recent budget pledged a multitude of tax credits under the banner of “The Canada Training Benefit” program with the aim of helping transitioning workers from one sector to another.
“These people, their livelihoods and cultures are built around this industry,” Anders said. “Ultimately, the people of Western Canada need to be told that ‘Yes, we value you for what you are doing, but we would like to help you make that next step’, without giving them the impression that we don’t care about how proud they are of their fossil fuels.” SOURCE
Lliam Hildebrand, is the executive director of Iron and Earth, an oilsands worker-led group that is calling for training and opportunities to work on renewable energy projects to assist the Alberta economy. File photo. SHAUGHN BUTTS / EDMONTON JOURNAL
Except for an isolated pocket of skeptics, there is now an almost universal acceptance that climate change is a global emergency that demands immediate and far-reaching action to defend our home and future generations. Yet in Canada we remain largely focused on how the crisis divides us rather than on the potential for it to unite us.
It’s not a case of fossil-fuel industry workers versus the rest, or Alberta versus British Columbia. We are all in this together. The challenge now is how to move forward in a way that leaves no one behind.
The fossil fuel industry has been — and continues to be — a key driver of Canada’s economy. Both of us had successful careers in the energy sector, but realized, along with an increasing number of energy workers, that the transition we need to cope with climate change could not be accomplished solely from within the industry.
Even as resource companies innovate to significantly reduce the carbon burden of each barrel, the total emission of greenhouse gases from all sources continues to rise. We must seize the opportunity to harness this innovative potential in alternative and complementary ways, mobilizing research and development, for example, to power carbon-intensive steelmaking and cement manufacture from hydrogen or to advance hybrid energy storage systems — the potential for cross-over technology is immense.
The bottom line is inescapable: we must reach net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to prevent runaway global warming, which is why we launched Iron & Earth in 2016. Led by oilsands workers committed to increasingly incorporating renewable energy projects into our work scope, our non-partisan membership now includes a range of industrial trades and professions who share a vision for a sustainable energy future for Canada — one that would ensure the health and equity of workers, our families, communities, the economy, and the environment.
An important aspect of the transition away from fossil fuels is that our nation’s energy-sector workers are ideally positioned to help build a vibrant and globally competitive clean-energy sector. This is because fossil-fuel infrastructure has a similar industrial “DNA” to sustainable-energy infrastructures, such as biofuels, biomass, geothermal, hydrogen and many other large-scale steel infrastructure projects. Thus, these projects require many of the same skill sets, the kind of attributes found in abundance in our oil and gas workforce.
A 2016 survey by Iron & Earth of skilled trades workers primarily with experience in the energy industry showed that 63 per cent believed their current skill set could be transferred to build and maintain a renewable energy future with some training, and 86 per cent expressed interest in training and development in renewables.
We need more than incremental change; we need planning and action on a scale and pace we haven’t seen since the Second World War when Canada massively retooled our economy to fight tyranny; we need to once again unite in common purpose to retool, re-invent and re-invigorate our industrial sector in defence of our collective future.
The lead must come from whichever party forms the next government. It will take unparalleled courage and political leadership motivated by an understanding that addressing climate change, while also developing our energy industry, doesn’t have to divide the country. Our only shot at avoiding the very worst of the climate emergency is if we do this together. MORE
‘Empty promises.’ While Alberta Premier Jason Kenney stumps for federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, his province’s coal workers, their jobs phasing out, are angry he’s stalling the deal to financially support them. Photo: public domain.
he coal workers that Roy Milne knows are pissed-off, stressed-out and worried about their futures. Like many Albertans, they figured that voting in the United Conservative Party of Jason Kenney this spring would bring more prosperity and stability to their lives than the New Democratic Party of Rachel Notley. But instead they feel more precarious than ever.
“They’re going ‘hmmm,’” said Milne, who has worked in coal since the 1980s and is president of the United Steelworkers Local 1595 in the town of Wabamun, about an hour’s drive west of Edmonton. “They were mad at the NDP to begin with for phasing out coal so quickly. But they’re equally as mad at the new government for leaving them hanging in the breeze.”
With a federal election on Oct. 21, Premier Kenney has been off in Ontario campaigning for federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
But Milne said back at home, Kenney’s government has at various times frozen and delayed assistance programs for coal workers that were brought in under the Notley government, leaving laid-off workers, along with their families and communities, in nerve-wracking financial limbo.
When Notley unveiled the Coal Workforce Transition Program as part of the NDP’s commitment to phase out all coal-fired generation plants by 2030, it was hailed as a model for how to protect workers while responding to the climate crisis. On that score, “no other provincial government in Canada has worked as cooperatively with workers and communities,” Joie Warnock, Unifor Western regional director, said at the time.
But the Kenney government stalling on that promised support makes workers’ lives “extremely stressful,” Milne said. “You’ve got probably a mortgage, and a family and bills. You can’t sit around and wait.”
Kenney has promised that a decision about whether to continue helping workers shift away from a fossil fuel that is destroying the climate and rapidly becoming unprofitable will be announced on Oct. 24 when the UCP releases its first budget. But until then nobody, not even the mayors of towns most affected by the phase-out, has any clue what’s in store for them.
“If there’s any new dollars for coal transition, I wouldn’t know,” said Wabamun Mayor Charlene Smylie, despite the nearby Highvale Mine expected to lay off several dozen unionized workers by the end of this month.
Milne isn’t so sure it’s a coincidence that news about the support program is coming shortly after the federal election. MORE
A just transition to a low-carbon future must offer support not only to displaced fossil fuel workers but also to the surrounding communities that have suffered the negative environmental consequences of fossil fuel use for decades. WITTHAYA PRASONGSIN / GETTY IMAGES
Two truths lie at the heart of efforts to transition away from fossil fuels. The first is that to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, we must rapidly and dramatically reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. The second is that the resulting decrease in fossil fuel use and extraction will cause displacement of workers and the loss of tax revenue for many communities, and in some cases, it will eliminate entire tax bases.
The second truth does not change the first, and the costs of inaction will far outweigh the cost of decarbonization. But, for a just, low-carbon future, the solutions to climate change cannot exacerbate existing inequities by leaving workers displaced and communities without economic resources. A “just transition” — an energy transition that addresses and mitigates the challenges fossil fuel workers and communities face in a decarbonized world — will be a complex process. It will often require difficult trade-offs. However, proactive planning and organizing can help equitably transition these workers and communities into a low-carbon future.
The Reliance on Fossil Fuel Extraction
There is an increasing acknowledgement that fossil fuel workers must be provided with support during the carbon transition, as evidenced by policies in the Green New Deal and several Democratic presidential candidate climate plans.
Less discussed is the role that fossil fuel extraction plays in economically supporting local and state economies. In Wyoming, the top coal-producing state, taxes on coal extraction provide a substantial amount of the state’s annual budget. As journalist Andrew Graham detailed in the independent outlet WyoFile, coal companies pay the state through four different streams. These include:
Severance tax: There is a severance tax paid to the state when coal is removed from the ground. Wyoming’s 7 percent tax on surface mined coal is one of the highest in the nation.
Federal mining royalties: Approximately half of mining royalties paid to the federal government for coal mining on federal land are returned to the state.
Sale of coal leases: When coal leases are sold, a lump sum payment is paid to the state.
Ad valorem: A type of property tax, ad valorem taxes are paid at the county level and redistributed throughout the state. These taxes and fees are in addition to employing thousands of miners at high wages.
While steadily declining, in 2017, coal contributed more than $891 million in taxes, royalties and fees to the state’s economy. The estimated revenue in the state for the same year was $2.1 billion. While the state is attempting to diversify its economy through initiatives like ENDOW and Next Generation Sector Partnerships, there are steep challenges to attracting industries that can provide the same tax revenue and wages as the coal industry. In 2016, the average wage of a coal mining worker was more than $85,000, nearly twice that of the average for all industries combined. The role the coal industry plays in providing an economic base for the state cannot be overstated….
Who Gets a Just Transition?
The focus on fossil fuel communities and workers can feel misplaced. Other communities, in particular, those that have experienced environmental racism that left them with the negative environmental consequences of fossil fuel use without its benefits, are justifiably wary of the attention and resources devoted to transitioning extractive communities….
Just transition for fossil fuel workers and communities must be in addition to, and not instead of, transition programs targeted at under-resourced, marginalized communities that are hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change. These overlapping transition challenges can be met through expansive programs that both address the challenges specific to the cessation of fossil fuels and mitigate the historic burden placed on marginalized communities from fossil fuels.
Recent research provides a framework of principles that can guide just transition policy development. The principles were developed by analyzing just transition efforts around the world and understanding the short-term (i.e. immediate wage, benefit and revenue replacement) and long-term (i.e. economic diversification and retraining) needs that workers and communities will face. The principles include strong governmental support, dedicated funding streams, strong and diverse coalitions, and economic diversification. MORE
Green party Leader Elizabeth May (centre) and Green candidates announce their commitment to ‘just transition’ for fossil fuel workers in Vancouver on Aug. 7, 2019. Photo by Stephanie Wood
The Green Party of Canada is endorsing the work of a task force formed by the Trudeau government to phase out coal power nationwide by 2030 and help workers transition to new jobs, but wants to take the plan a step further.
Party Leader Elizabeth May said Wednesday that the Greens fully support all 10 recommendations made by the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, which released its final report on coal workers and communities this spring.
At an event in Vancouver on Wednesday, joined by Green candidates from around British Columbia, May said she’d like to implement a similar process with a panel to visit communities dependent on oil and gas.
May said her plan is to ensure no workers are left out of work as the energy industry changes. “We are not at war with fossil fuel workers,” May said. “We are not willing to leave any part of Canada or any community behind.”
National Observer has reported that the task force exclusively researched conditions for coal workers. It recommended a large range of actions, such as $300-million to create a jobs bank, as well as community supports such as transition centres where workers can find information on jobs and training.
The report also found many coal workers felt mistrust for the government, and doubt in its abilities to fulfill promises of a stable transition.
May said visiting communities helped address that mistrust, and will do the same for people in oil and gas. “There’s more trust in honesty. We can say this is the plan, this is the timeline, and how much time do you need to adjust? What are your needs?” she said. “Empowerment and agency are the things that remove fear for all of us.”
She said planning for transitions, as well as oilsands cleanup, should start sooner than later, or else it could result in rushed, inadequate government assistance.
“We have to plan for the cleanup,” she said. “The same guys who drilled the oil wells can help us in reclaiming abandoned oil wells to geothermal power producing.” MORE
Our plan to fight climate change will create at least300,000 new jobs, save families money, and take on big polluters. The time for delay and denial is over – it’s time to act.
…It’s time to fight climate change like we actually want to win. But we also know that a plan that leaves workers or communities behind is no plan at all.
Our plan lays out a path that will make life more affordable, create good jobs, and ensure our environment is protected for our kids and grandkids.
We’ll create at least 300,000 good jobs in communities across the country, and provide training and supports for workers as our economy changes.
We’ll improve the buildings where we live, go to work, and go to school with retrofits that reduce energy demand – while cutting down energy bills for families.
We’ll make it easier to own a zero-emission vehicle, and make sure those cars are made in Canada. We’ll move to 100% electric transit, help communities work towards free transit, and improve access to affordable bus and rail service in rural and remote communities.
And instead of giving billions in subsidies to huge oil and gas companies, we’ll invest in a future where Canadians have good jobs, clean air and water, and can afford to live a good life.
And we’ll do it with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis as our full and equal partners.
The time to act is now. Together, we have the power to change. SOURCE