Making the big shift and getting to zero

By Bruno Dobrusin

We don’t have much time. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) November report, we have just over a decade to take drastic action and keep global temperatures below  a  1.5 C increase. To do so, we are going to need to mobilize society and our governments. In a timely intervention, activist and writer Tony Clarke has published a new book, Getting to Zero: Canada Confronts Global Warming.

Clarke combines scientific research with action and takes us through a path to zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, while creating jobs and opportunities that address historic inequalities. The book is a result of Clarke’s well-known activism through the Green Economy Network (GEN), an alliance of trade unions, faith-based organizations and environmental movements that has pushed for massive public investments in retrofitting buildings, public transportation and renewables energies, creating millions of jobs and lowering emissions in Canada. In a concise format, Getting to Zero engages the reader through a revision of the climate plans put forward by the Canadian government since the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and points towards the missing ambition required to get Canada on a sustainable path.

The “big shift” put forward by Clarke and campaigned through the GEN platform, involves investing over 5 per cent of the annual federal budget (just over $80 billion over five years) into energy efficiency, public transportation and renewable energies. The funding is there, but it is a matter of making it a political priority.  The role of public investments is key.

The International Monetary Fund has estimated that the Canadian government provides direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industry for a whopping $46 billion annually. This includes the cost of adaptation and mitigation to the climate effects of the fossil fuel industry, as well as the cost of cleaning-up, which often falls on the public. When pundits ask “how would we pay for such a transformation?”, the answer is in re-directing the massive amounts of subsidies away from fossil fuels.

The shift would significantly cut emissions, putting Canada on a path to zero, while creating a million climate jobs over five years. Investing in the green economy would also guarantee a just transition for workers in the sectors that we’ll need to phase out and involve the communities that have been on the frontlines of the climate fight, especially Indigenous peoples.

Bringing the debate to the federal election

Clarke and the GEN network are bringing their proposals to the federal arena by engaging with Members of Parliament and constituents around the country. By putting together roundtables in major locations, the initiative brings together unions, faith-based groups, environmental organizations, student unions and community groups in challenging the status quo on climate and making the need for ambitious action a central pillar of the federal election.  These roundtables will be organized around the country, bringing together the GEN platform constructed in previous discussions into the electoral debates that will take place throughout the year.

The goal of the campaign is to move beyond the polarizing debate around the “carbon tax” that has conditioned how we view action on climate change. A useful tool, carbon pricing has proven insufficient to significantly alter the behaviour of the fossil fuel industry and to move society into a low-carbon path. Moving beyond that debate and engaging on a larger plan – one that actually stops the expansion of fossil fuel production while addressing socio-economic inequalities – is the core of the strategy being followed by GEN and inspired in the work of Tony Clarke.

Similar debates are taking place in the United States with the proposal of the Green New Deal. This shows that there is momentum to push for ambitious climate policy that engages society by presenting a plan of action. This plan must put working class communities at the centre, create jobs, promote public services and challenge inequalities. As Tony Clarke’s latest book shows, now is the time to be bold; we have no other option.

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