As the planet slides into an era of climate crisis, oil and gas industry groups and climate advocacy organizations in Canada are clashing to shape the federal government’s just transition strategy.
In July, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) launched a consultation period to collect feedback on what principles should guide a just transition away from fossil fuels, who should be on an advisory body, and what is working or not working. Initially, September 30 was set as the deadline, but the consultation was extended indefinitely due to the elections, NRCan said. National Observer of Canada. To date, the department has received more than 15,000 emails about the just transition consultation and has hosted three virtual sessions leading up to the election.
The Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) is calling on Ottawa to make just transition legislation a top priority, and takes note of the NRCan Discussion report lacks details.
“The most obvious and troublesome omission from the discussion paper is any mention of the fossil fuel industry,” writes CCPA Principal Investigator Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood. “Canada must reduce and ultimately phase out the vast majority of oil, gas and coal production over the next 30 years to meet our national and international climate targets.”
That global change is already underway. In May, the International Energy Agency published a historical zero net report which concluded that there is no room for any new fossil fuel development to keep global warming within the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 C. More recently, thousands of experts have endorsed a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, and expects Denmark and Costa Rica to formally launch the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance at COP26 in a few weeks.
“There cannot be a just transition without a transition. Pursuing the former without explicit recognition of what the latter entails serves no one and is ultimately counterproductive, “he added.
The biggest obstacle to phasing out the oil and gas industry is neither economic nor technical, but rather false assumptions that a transition will lead to economic suffering. according to the Center for Future Work. The center’s presentation was largely based on a previous report, written by Jim Stanford, professor of economics at McMaster University and director of the center, and commissioned by Environmental Defense.
“Many fear that this (transition) will profoundly damage Canada’s economy and labor market,” Stanford writes. “Those with vested financial interests in fossil fuels exploit these fears to oppose the policy reforms necessary to better position Canada for a sustainable, carbon-neutral energy future.”
But those fears are overblown, he writes, adding that the fossil fuel industry directly occupies less than one percent of all jobs in Canada, or about 160,000. In addition, the fossil fuel industry lost an average of 6,600 jobs a year between 2014 and 2019. During that same time, for every job lost, an estimated 42 jobs were created in other sectors.
Perhaps most critically, there are only 18 communities where the fossil fuel industry is responsible for more than five percent of jobs, meaning just transition support can be targeted to the most affected communities with relative ease. .
“But even in those communities, other industries (such as the rapidly growing health care sector) are as important or more important than fossil fuel jobs,” writes Stanford.
The federal just transition consultation has been extended indefinitely. Climate and industry groups are already vying for influence. #cdnpoli #FossilFuels
“Surprisingly, most of the jobs related to fossil fuels are in the big cities, with diverse and growing local labor markets; in those cities, the job transitions associated with phasing out fossil fuels will be more manageable, ”he adds.
Mertins-Kirkwood wrote that uncontrolled decline will lead to increased economic suffering for communities. He also explained that a goal for a net zero economy should be to address environmental racism, reconciliation and climate justice to address how marginalized communities are already bearing the brunt of climate change.
In the context of a just transition, Mertins-Kirkwood says it will be important to ensure that everyone affected by the transition is supported.
“Fossil fuel workers are disproportionately high-income white men, but many other workers in fossil fuel communities that are indirectly dependent on industry, such as food and shelter workers, are more likely to be women, immigrants, workers. racialized and other marginalized people, ”he wrote. “If a ‘just transition’ policy doesn’t have broad coverage, it can worsen inequality.”
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) also encouraged its members to submit comments, with high-level recommendations such as allowing the provinces to play a role in electing members to a just transition advisory body and ensuring that any “just transition” policy aims to consolidate Canada as a global supplier of fossil fuels, instead of leaving the industry. .
The debate over the pace of a transition is also related to the revenues that the industry can generate for provincial governments. On Newfoundland and Labrador with cash flow problemsWhere paying off debt represents the second highest cost to the province behind medical care, the offshore oil industry has been a major source of revenue that some are unwilling to let go of.
On Tuesday, the Harris Center at Memorial University hosted a public conversation between Angela Carter, professor of politics at the University of Waterloo and author of Fossilized: Environmental Policy in the Petroprovinces of Canadaand Max Ruelokke, former executive director of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, to discuss the future of the industry.
In many ways, it was a microcosm of the larger national debate, with Carter presenting transition as an inevitability for which he should be prepared, and Ruelokke agreed in principle that a global transition is occurring, but disagreeing on the urgency.
“I believe that once we have done what we can do to reduce the negative impact of the production system on the environment, there is no reason why we cannot produce oil sensibly and sustainably for the next 30 to 40 years,” Ruelokke said, referring to emissions associated with oil extraction and refining.
Carter, meanwhile, explained that only by counting those emissions do you lose the big picture. This is because, annually, NL records around 1.6 million tons of CO2 from extraction and refining, but does not count emissions from the moment the oil is finally burned.
“So far, of the two billion barrels that we have produced, we are just under one billion tons of CO2,” he said. “If we were to take our oil and gas fields to their full potential, which is something like five billion barrels, you can imagine what the cost of emissions would be.”
Both sides agreed that the taps will not be turned off overnight, but Carter said that to be in line with a secure future for the climate, the province should aim for a three to four percent reduction in oil production. annually. Instead, the provincial government aims to double offshore oil production by 2030, new exploration It is planned, and CAPP says the province has “significant growth potential.”
“Those visions of the future don’t line up with what the market, energy and emissions forecasts look like,” Carter said.
Instead, he said the province should focus on “liquidating” the fossil fuel sector, while “liquidating” new economic alternatives to avoid an economic collapse.
John Woodside / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada National Observer