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Just Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy in Canada – The Basics

November 3, 2022 | Brent Kelly

Image by PIRO from Pixabay

Image by PIRO from Pixabay

I shared my story in the first article: growing up in an oil and gas household in Calgary, Alberta, involvement in environmental and social justice activism in my university years, and working for the provincial government on issues relating to the environment and climate change. I mentioned “just transition” in that article. In this article I will discuss the basics of this concept, and in a third article I will discuss some of the personal actions I have taken.

What is just transition and why is it important?

The concept of just transition refers to a planned, controlled, and ethical way to shift the economy away from oil and gas resources towards less and eventually net zero carbon emissions. Planning for a managed decarbonisation of the economy is important, as we need to ensure that workers in carbon-intensive industries are given a fair chance for meaningful participation and gainful employment in a decarbonised economy. Failure to do so will not only make the transition more difficult – it will also cause untold hardship for workers and their families.

What do Canadians and Albertans think of a just transition?

A 2020 Abacus Data survey shows an energy transition to low-carbon sources has the support of the majority of Canadians and Albertans.

  • 71% of Canadians and 63% of Albertans think “an energy transition is certain or likely to happen”, and
  • 75% say the transition will “benefit Canada in the longer term,” while 61% say it will benefit Alberta

On the role of the federal government in this transition,

  • 68% of Canadians and 49% of Albertans feel the government should “offer help to Alberta workers to build new areas of economic opportunities for the future”, while
  • 32% of Canadians and 51% of Albertans think it should “do more to help protect and grow Alberta’s oil sector.”

There is broad support by Canadians and Albertans for the energy transition, with help provided to impacted oil and gas workers.

What might a just transition look like?

A just transition policy would include programs and incentives for training, re-training, and transitioning workers into new fields. Governments at different levels (federal, provincial, municipal), the private sector, and community level organizations such as labour organizations will work together to develop and implement these programs.

There are already such emerging programs – the University of Alberta has recently started offering the Renewable Energy Technologies certificate to equip workers with skills valuable in the growing renewables sector. Iron and Earth, an organization representing workers in the fossil fuel industry who wish to act on climate change, has a Climate Career Portal which connects job seekers with opportunities in the net-zero economy.

What does all this mean?

In Canada, discussion of a just transition and policy development is still in early stages. Shown below are some recent developments.

  • The federal government launched in the summer of 2021 an initiative to gather input from industry, Indigenous groups, and the public on the elements of a just transition policy and legislation, with an accompanying discussion paper.
  • The federal 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan was published in 2022, where just transition features prominently.
  • The March 2022 “Supply and Confidence Agreement” between the governing federal Liberals and the New Democratic Party states a common goal of creating green jobs and proceeding with the formulation of a just transition legislation.

In 2022, the Canada’s Auditor General Office released the report “Just Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy”. The report notes efforts by the federal government falls short of a just transition for coal workers, and also in supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy. This points to the long road ahead for just transition. Stay tuned for more postings on this important topic!

Brent Kelly

Brent Kelly holds a BA and MA in Political Science from the University of Alberta and works at Alberta Environment and Parks. In his spare time he enjoys volunteering for different social justice and environmental initiatives, spending time online and in-person with friends and family, and hiking in the mountains. The views expressed on this site do not reflect those of his employer.

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