The issue is not whether to ratify Kyoto, but how

September 1, 2002

Kyoto naysayers are predicting gloom and doom if the Chretien government goes through with ratification. They're wrong. The question is not whether we should ratify Kyoto, it's how. The challenge is to ensure that no one region or group of workers bears the brunt of implementation. The good news is that policies exist that can ensure implementation is fair and equitable.

The current scenario-in which Premier Klein denounces Kyoto as a selling-out of Alberta, just as the rest of the country sends the province hay due to an unprecedented drought-is absurd. It shows the extent to which many have focused on the costs of climate change action, but not on the costs of climate change itself.

Those urging the rejection of Kyoto are losing. Here's why. According to the latest forecasts, if Canada ratified Kyoto, our economy would still grow by approximately 30% by 2012, compared to about 31% if we do nothing.

Foregoing 1% of GDP over ten years for any other reason wouldn't garner a single article in any of the country's business newspapers. Finance Minister Paul Martin's spending cuts in the mid-1990s had a far greater impact on economic growth, but we only heard about the necessity of balancing the federal books-nothing about forgone economic growth.

The Alberta government insists that its economy will suffer more than others. That's true. The Alberta economy will grow by 26% with Kyoto, instead of 27%-again, a difference that is out of proportion to the protests from Edmonton. Even the oil and gas sector will grow by 24% over that time (instead of 27% without Kyoto).

When it comes to jobs, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) positions itself as advocate on behalf of the countries' 450,000 workers who, it claims, will lose their jobs if Canada ratifies Kyoto. Half a glance at the CME's study, however, reveals the shoddiness of its research. The corporate lobbyist neglects to consider jobs created from 30% growth in the economy and only considers job losses from an estimated 2% hit due to Kyoto policies (using the worst-case scenario, of course).

Almost every other study show that there will be both job gains and job losses-as you would expect from a shift in the economy-with job gains outnumbering job losses. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, using the same federal data as the CME, found that there would be 13,000 job losses in the Canadian energy sector over ten years, but 16,000 new jobs created. (Incidentally, the Canadian energy sector shed 80,000 jobs over the 1990s, which curiously did not provoke a peep from the CME.)

The Communications Energy and Paperworkers union, which represents most workers in the oil patch, was also not convinced by the CME's "analysis." Neither was the Alberta Federation of Labour or the Canadian Labour Congress. All have endorsed Kyoto ratification.

Yes, some workers will lose their jobs and some communities will be negatively impacted. But the solution is not to abandon Kyoto, especially since tackling climate change will also offer over $90 billion in business and investment opportunities in emerging industries in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and fuel-efficient vehicles.

The key is to include in our Kyoto implementation strategy a fair transition plan for both workers and communities. A worker transition plan would have two elements: training and educational programs for displaced workers; and investment incentives in emerging industries in order to create new jobs.

The federal discussion paper showed that Canada could meet Kyoto and recuperate $4.5 billion per year by auctioning off tradable emission permits. By channeling that money into transition programs for workers and communities affected by climate protection policies, the federal government can ensure that no region of the country bears an unfair burden. That is, after all, the concern of Alberta and, to a lesser degree, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Like the hay donated by Canadians to Alberta ranchers (and, for that matter, the aid given to victims of the ice storm and the Saguenay and Red River floods), it is possible to share both the burden and the bounty that will result from ratifying and implementing the Kyoto Protocol.

Dale Marshall is resource and environmental policy analyst with the BC office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.