Just Transition: Tending the Moral Summons

By Sue Wilson

An increasing number of voices in Canada are calling on the federal government to tackle climate change and inequality together.

At first glance, this might seem overly ambitious. Just addressing climate change alone will require big changes. To achieve the government’s commitment to net-zero emissions as early as possible, we will need to both accelerate our transition away from the production and consumption of fossil fuels and to curtail carbon emissions from every part of the economy.

It’s a lot. And that takes us to the crux of the matter. Solutions to climate change require profound economic shifts, from the current extractive economic model, rooted in the exploitation of people, species, and the planet, to a low-carbon economic model, rooted in care for the planet, people, and all species. If these deep structural changes are made with attention to mitigating and adapting to climate change as well as upholding the sanctity of all people by creating inclusive access to decent work, we will have a generational opportunity to set the world on a different trajectory.

Just Transition

The term most often used to hold onto the integrated vision of climate justice and social justice is a “just transition.” But different groups mean different things when they use the term.

For some, there is a narrow emphasis on support and skills-training programs for workers who will lose jobs in coal, oil, and natural gas sectors. For others, it is a wider concern for all workers, businesses, and communities in regions with economies that are currently dependent on fossil fuel production. Finally, as mentioned, a growing number of groups understand a “just transition” as a way of integrating efforts to tackle climate change and inequality at the same time, by addressing their similar underlying causes.

For people of faith, the concept of a just transition is also a moral issue, often theologically rooted in an understanding of the sacredness of creation with its interconnected web of relationships. Our care for the earth and the climate is inextricably bound to our care for the whole human family and for all species on earth, all interacting endlessly in complex ways; all part of God’s communion.

The breath-taking interconnectedness of life urges us onto a path of profound solidarity, intentionally shaping a more just, inclusive, and sustainable society and economy in and through our responses to the climate emergency. That’s why the moral summons is to lean into transformation and reconciliation; to choose the deep systemic change which enables us to face the challenges of climate change and inequality together.

What might this look like in Canada?

An economy rooted in solidarity and interconnectedness will leave no one behind as it forges new patterns of relationship:

  • The phase-out of the carbon energy sector will be combined with intense investment in clean energy, green technology, and skills training, to create widespread high-quality employment.
  • All workers, in all regions and all sectors of the economy, will need the protection which comes from strong labour standards and regulations. This includes migrant workers, many of whom have been forced to leave homelands significantly impacted by climate change. Likewise, everyone will need easy and full access to adequate unemployment protections and skills-training.
  • Indigenous communities, so many of whom are providing strong leadership in addressing climate change, will need the autonomy and resources to determine their own unique ways of moving toward a decarbonized future. At the same time, Indigenous communities will need equitable access to financial resources and social protections to support the transition.
  • Care of healthy ecosystems will create employment opportunities while enhancing resilience to climate change. Likewise, our commitments to care for one another, such as health care, elder-care and childcare, will create low-carbon jobs while making our societies more resilient.
  • Canada’s high per capita emissions will make it incumbent upon us to be a place of welcome for climate change refugees, with strong support systems to help refugees thrive in our society and labour market. In addition, we must sharply scale up our commitments to fund adaptation and mitigation measures in the Global South, with additional funding for loss and damage.
  • Governments will need more revenue to fund a comprehensive just transition. This means raising taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, while also eliminating tax avoidance and loopholes, ensuring everyone pays their fair share.

These are just some of the threads of solidarity we can weave together to create a just transition if we are willing to choose a path of transformation. It is a critical moment, and one for which faith communities should be well prepared. In the coming weeks and months, as the federal government releases its plan for a just transition, will faith communities tend the moral summons? Will we be a catalyst for deep change?

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