Workers and environmentalists agree

Kyoto can be met without sacrificing jobs
May 1, 2002

The national debate on ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on climate change has become embroiled in conflict over the accord's alleged economic costs and benefits.

Premier Klein and his cabinet have been leading the charge against ratifying Kyoto, alleging that massive job losses and economic dislocation will occur if Canada follows through on its commitments. However, the vast majority of research does not support the economic doomsday predictions.

Nor is everyone in the energy industry following Premier Klein. On April 30th the leadership of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers' union (CEP) union tabled a policy recommending to their membership that they endorse Kyoto.

The CEP is the largest energy union in Canada, with members in oil and gas processing, on offshore rigs, in coal mines, and in petrochemical plants across the country. CEP members have weighed the costs of Kyoto against the environmental imperatives posed by global warming, and have concluded that Canada must ratify Kyoto.

CEP knows that there will be an economic impact if Canada implements the Kyoto agreement, but the union's research indicates that it will be nothing like the scenario painted by the oil industry lobby. Importantly, the union's support for Kyoto is coupled with a call for "Just Transition" so that any costs of change are not disproportionately put on the backs of workers and communities.

This key link between implementing Kyoto and Just Transition for workers and communities is also supported by the David Suzuki Foundation.

These ideas have been brought together by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in a new study that counters the fear-mongering about job loss and economic instability, and provides optimism about economic and job opportunities in the wake of Kyoto.

Making Kyoto Work: A Transition Strategy for Canadian Energy Workers shows that, though some energy workers could lose their jobs in the short term, these losses will be offset by the creation of new jobs in the renewable energy and efficiency industries that are rapidly growing across Canada.

The problem, however, is that the workers and communities that could be affected by meeting Kyoto targets may not necessarily be positioned to benefit from the economic growth in other energy sub-sectors. This is where the CCPA's two-pronged Just Transition plan comes in. We can meet the Kyoto goals, and have transition for workers and communities. We can have both jobs and the environment.

The first element of the plan involves retraining and educational opportunities for displaced energy workers. Smart, adequately-funded, regionally focused transition programs have the potential of making this large scale social and economic change relatively worker-friendly.

We estimate this component would cost approximately $1 billion over ten years-a small price to pay relative to current annual federal surpluses and the projected economic growth with a Kyoto plan.

The second part of this transition strategy focuses on encouraging investment and job creation in emerging energy industries. Canada could establish energy efficiency funds (modelled on the successful Toronto Atmospheric Fund), shift subsidies from nuclear and fossil fuel energy to renewable energy production, and fund public transit.

There are tremendous economic opportunities in becoming more energy efficient and developing new technologies in alternative fuels, fuel-efficient vehicles, and wind, geothermal, solar, and tidal power. Over the next decade, global demand for renewable forms of electricity is expected to continue the double-digit growth it experienced every year in the 1990s (there are over 12,000 jobs in the Danish wind industry). Making industries, residences, and businesses more energy efficient will only make the Canadian economy stronger.

The federal government could pay for these smart investments out of the income raised by auctioning-off tradable emission permits. In other words, a Just Transition strategy could be entirely revenue neutral.

Doing nothing about climate change also carries costs, in the form of increased air pollution and other public health impacts, destruction of natural resources and ecosystems, and more extreme weather events such as droughts and forest fires.

It is clear from the encouraging and newly-released federal analysis that climate change can be addressed in a cost-effective manner. We can also address the unintended consequences of changing and restructuring the Canadian economy with a Just Transition program.

All that remains is for the Prime Minister to exercise the necessary leadership and implement the solutions already at hand.

Dale Marshall is a researcher with the BC office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Brian Payne is National President of the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers union.
Gerry Scott is Director of Climate Change at the David Suzuki Foundation.