How to win a just transition for all workers

And it’s gone, finally. The Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) unveiled by the federal government on March 29 puts Canada on a path to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

It won’t be an easy task. In fact, it represents a transformative adjustment for the Canadian economy that must balance fighting climate change with maintaining good middle-class jobs.

No one is left behind must be key words as Canada moves towards 2050.

According to the first indicators, the ERP seems to be a political success, at least in the short term.

Encouragingly, Ottawa’s introduction of the first ERP, setting the stage for 2030, includes investments of $9.1 billion, including $400 million in additional funding for vehicle charging stations zero emissions.

The plan includes advancing the Atlantic Loop — a regional power grid that will help transform Canada’s energy landscape and put Canadians to work.

Commitments to develop new green technologies such as carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) are also encouraging.

All in all, Ottawa has taken a big step forward. But Canada’s net zero emissions goals remain a work in progress. It is clear that a Team Canada approach is needed to make the ERP a long-term political and climate success.

Continued political success should not be taken for granted.

Because success will require a very big transition and it should be clear by now that Ottawa cannot achieve net zero on its own. The transition ahead will require the active support of businesses, workers, financial markets, provinces and territories and, ultimately, Canadian voters.

The best way to ensure public confidence in ERP is to follow the important principle of just transition – preparing the workforce to fully participate in the low-carbon economy while minimizing the impacts of labor market transitions.

It also includes identifying and supporting economic opportunities for workers.

Labor markets need confidence that livelihoods and interests will be protected under just transition principles as Canada follows through on promises of a clean economic infrastructure.

The just transition will mean a long list of tasks to follow the initial success of the ERP:

  • Labor market analysis to determine how employment opportunities in oil and gas will be affected by the transition to net zero emissions to determine and ensure the extent to which it would be possible for oil and gas workers to switch to a job in clean energy.
  • Investing in large-scale infrastructure projects to bridge the gap during this time of transformation until new energy technologies arrive.
  • Public and private investment in new technologies, including CCUS, hydrogen and small modular reactors.

But perhaps more importantly, embracing just transition will help address a problem that has haunted Canada’s climate change agenda for a generation: the zero-sum mentality.

Too many Canadians have seen net zero and action on climate change in terms of winners and losers. A step forward towards zero emissions will mean a step back in fortune for someone.

As a nation, Canada must see a net zero economy as a win for everyone and for the planet. For this to happen, Canadians must be confident that no one will be left behind.

All governments have a role to play in achieving this. We need to work together and treat each other fairly.

Our net zero deadline is just 28 years away. The task before us will not be easy.

But it can be done, and the 600,000 skilled trades members of Canada’s building trades unions are up to the task.

Sean Strickland is the Executive Director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions, which represents over 600,000 tradespeople.

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