For too long, Canada has dragged its feet on the urgent need to battle climate change, a hesitancy largely caused by concerns over the economy and jobs. It is now clear that we not only must take bold steps in this battle, but we can do this while creating
good jobs and putting Canada at the forefront of the global clean tech economy.
A number of new studies point to the need for this transition and the opportunities it presents. The International Energy Agency’s latest projections show that the global economy will not need any new oil and gas projects to meet our energy needs while we move to a low carbon future. This naturally creates deep concern for workers in the fossil fuel sector who want jobs they can count on.
Iron and Earth, an organization of oil sector workers in Canada, commissioned a report on what workers in the oil patch feel about this important shift in employment opportunities, this “just transition”. In May, that study reported that two-thirds of workers would welcome a transition to new clean energy jobs that have a secure future.
Most of these workers have skills—welding, electrical, carpentry—that will easily transfer to other sectors if the jobs are there.
So where are we in this process? About 180,000 people work in the oil and gas sector in Canada, the same as ten years ago but down from a high of 240,000 in 2014. On the other side of this transition, there are already over 430,000 people working in the clean energy sector in Canada, and that number is expected to grow by almost 50 percent over the next decade according to a recent study by Clean Energy Canada.
That growth of over 200,000 jobs will far exceed any losses in the fossil fuel sector over the same period.
The opportunities for creating new jobs are tremendous. Perhaps the lowest hanging fruit is in the energy efficiency sector, where Efficiency Canada has calculated that we could create over a million jobs if we simply acted on our commitments in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.
Retrofitting all buildings in Canada to new efficiency standards would create jobs in every community across the country and cut our emissions by 25 percent.
The clean energy sector also presents great opportunities, not only in renewable energy projects such as wind and solar, but in cleaning up oil wells abandoned by oil companies and even using some of them to tap into geothermal energy. The kinds of jobs there match almost exactly the jobs being lost in oil exploration and well drilling.
Unfortunately, the federal government has done very little over the past six years to act on this. The very first motion tabled in the present parliament was a proposal for a Green New Deal in Canada presented by the NDP out of frustration for this lack of action.
In 2019, the Liberal government promised a Just Transition Act to guide this process, but nothing happened until two weeks ago, when the Minister for Natural Resources, Seamus O’Regan, announced an engagement process that will ask Canadians how this transition should take place.
That process will apparently result in the formation of an advisory body, and presumably eventually an Act will be written.
As I keep saying in these columns, we know what we need to do. We are past the time for engagement processes on climate action. Iron and Earth, Clean Energy Canada, Efficiency Canada, and other expert groups have provided detailed plans to the government every year on what we should and could be doing.
We just need a government that has the political will to act, creating jobs right now and allowing us to meet our climate targets at the same time.
Let’s just do it.
Richard Cannings is the MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay