Canadians are among the highest greenhouse gas emitters on the planet. We are so accustomed to high-emitting products that doing things differently might seem inconceivable. But the climate science is clear: we cannot keep this up. It is time we acknowledge our contribution to the global climate crisis.
While it might be daunting, we need to step up to the plate and transition to a clean economy. We also need to make sure we do this right. We can, and must, do this by pursuing a just transition.
A just transition refers to making economy-wide changes to reduce and eliminate emissions without placing a disproportionate burden on any one sector of society. To transition responsibly, we must consider every Canadian in the process and ensure we do not leave anybody behind. It means keeping our neighbours in mind and remembering that transition for some is easier than transition for others.
According to Energy Exchange, the fossil fuel industry accounts for more than $170 billion (about 10%) of Canada’s annual GDP. When we consider this, and the reality that many of our everyday activities include the use of petroleum products, there is no doubt transitioning presents some major challenges.
So how do we maintain our current quality of life as we transition to clean energy? How do we transition without pulling the carpet out from under the feet of Canadians? What alternatives exist for the petroleum-based products which are so commonplace? What efforts and sacrifices do we need to make to protect the planet we have been entrusted with?
If we are not asking ourselves these questions, we are not taking the problem seriously. Transitioning to cleaner energy is necessary – and we must be careful to get it right.
Cost of Living
Cost is a factor when choosing greener products. Petroleum-based products are so pervasive in our society they are almost universally cheaper than green products. For some, green products are affordable, but for others, they are simply too expensive.
Until we make significant advancements in green energy technologies, a reduction in available oil and gas also risks increasing the cost of living for the average Canadian and making it more difficult for those whose livelihood relies heavily on fossil fuels, such as farmers.
As our society progresses, and as technology is developed, clean energy and green products will become cheaper and more viable for all. The increasing availability and feasibility of developing technologies, such as solar energy and biodegradable plastics, has demonstrated this already.
The astounding advancements made in the field of petroleum products, are now also being replicated – though on a smaller scale – in the fields of clean energy and natural products. We now need more effort and investment.
Employment: Challenges and Opportunities
For many Canadians, transition could impact their employment and income. This is especially true for oil and gas workers, as well as for those who work in industries servicing the fossil fuel sector. Many challenges come up when we try to curtail the fossil fuel industry, but there is hope.
Much about a just transition can be learned from the coal industry. Coal was once significant part of Canada’s natural resource extraction sector. But due to known health and environmental impacts, in 2016 the Government of Canada committed to phasing-out all coal-fired electricity in Canada by 2030 (as part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change). In 2017 they established the Just Transition Task Force for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities and have taken steps to support coal workers and communities in the transition away from coal. There is still much to be done, but already lessons are emerging. Though just one example, a key observation from the coal experience is that when fossil fuel jobs are lost, restaurant employees, store owners, home construction workers, and many others in the surrounding community, feel the secondary effects.
A just transition means protecting our fossil fuel workers while simultaneously supporting those in the surrounding service industries at risk during transition.
Fortunately, investments in home insulation, biofuel, solar, tidal, wind, and other technologies, can all lead to sustainable employment opportunities (160,000 by 2030 according to The Energy Mix) while we transition away from high emitting energy sources. Research and development in green materials (such as algae and hemp-based plastics) will allow us to end our reliance on petroleum-based plastics. And while carbon sequestration methods are not yet as cost effective or proficient as they could be, there is significant potential here that should not be neglected.
The technologies have emerged; now they need investment and development. The time is now to shift gears and strive towards a more sustainable society. This needs to happen yesterday, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
For Canada to follow through with a just transition, these are only some of the factors that need to be considered. We, and our government, need to step up and stand beside those who are most impacted by this transition. Of course, we need to take responsibility for our own actions and emissions, but that is not enough. Let’s do this right. Let’s transition together.