The Great Transition: Climate Jobs, Climate Justice
June 23, 2021
This is the longest blog post I will write, because climate change is simply the greatest challenge facing humanity. It’s a game changer for us all. We must rise to the challenge and lead where other political parties have failed, with bold actions that will create hundreds of thousands of sustainable jobs, meet our emissions targets, and ensure social justice. A Just Recovery for All from Covid-19 is an opportunity to leap into the great transition to a post-carbon way of life.
The Science is Clear
Greenhouse gases (GHGs), like carbon dioxide, drive climate change by trapping heat in our atmosphere like a blanket. We need this blanket, or else the Earth would be an ice cube. But if we make the blanket too “thick”, by adding too many GHGs, we cook. These gases come from our dependence on fossil fuels burned for electricity, transportation, heating and manufacturing; cutting and burning forests; and from industrial agriculture (e.g. methane from factory-farmed animals).
Scientists agree: our current path leads towards 4०C average global warming, compared to pre-industrial levels, by 2100. We are already seeing the effects today of a 1०C increase. Brutal heat waves, fires, droughts, superstorms, floods, mudslides and the extinction of more and more species would become normal, as the heat rises. Polar and glacial melting would cause sea levels to rise by many meters, displacing hundreds of millions from coastlines and island nations. The farmers we depend upon would struggle to feed the world. The U.S. Pentagon warns that without serious action on climate, tens of millions of “climate refugees” would be displaced and more global conflicts would erupt.
We must get to net-zero emissions (i.e. any new GHGs added balanced by GHGs captured/taken out of the atmosphere) as quickly as humanly possible. We cannot do this alone. Canada and 190 other countries set goals for cutting GHGs fast enough to limit global average temperature rises to 2०C, and hopefully 1.5०C, in the 2015 Paris Agreement. That’s the upper-limit for a relatively stable planet. There will be hardships, but we can work to adapt.
Systems Change – 500,000 Climate Jobs in 5 Years
Climate change demands systems change. The NDP is the only party that truly brings together the social, economic and environmental justice movements. We are the only party with a long-history of fighting the profit-driven, short-sightedness of the oil-based economy that got us into this mess. As an environmentalist who came to the movement in the early-1990s fighting smokestack emissions, I can help the NDP tackle climate change in Ottawa.
We face stiff opposition. The corporations who gain the most from business-as-usual continue to resist climate action. The Liberal Party has bought a pipeline project with our tax dollars, and is a clear enabler of the fossil fuel sector. The NDP must lead the struggle for real climate action.
The great transition to a sustainable economy means countless new opportunities for meaningful work. The Federal government can leap into funding, training and purchasing. We can unleash the creativity of problem solvers across the land with start-up funds; help oil and gas tradespeople retrain for renewables and retrofits; spur well paid union jobs in manufacturing by ensuring that energy and infrastructure projects, as well as electric buses, trains and vehicles are “Made in Canada”, as much as possible.
We must also grow essential sectors that are already low-carbon, skill-intensive, and well paid. Let’s expand the diversity of important jobs caring for the physical and mental health and the lifelong learning of others. Let’s invest in eco-services from sustainable forest management and tree planting to green tourism; plus research and multimedia work to generate and spread the ideas driving the great transition.
- Renewable Energy Powers the Future: The NDP has committed to making Canada’s energy systems net-carbon free by 2030 and cutting all fossil fuels from electricity generation by 2050. That means solar, wind, geothermal, sustainable-hydro, power-storage and smart grids with community buy-in and benefits. We must eliminate Canada’s $3-4 billion annual oil and gas subsidies and shut down the Liberal’s multi-billion dollar pipeline project and reinvest this money in the transition.
- Net-zero Buildings and Resilient Infrastructure: Starting with social housing, homes and public spaces, the NDP will initiate the retrofitting of all buildings in Canada by 2040 by providing new incentives for more insulation, new windows, sealed doors, and heat-pumps. New builds should require net-zero construction and solar panels where appropriate, as part of a National Sustainable and Affordable Housing Strategy. From roads, ports and bridges, to flood and drought-prone regions, our infrastructure needs climate-ready resilience upgrades. These community-driven projects will create tens of thousands of jobs for decades to come.
- Electrified, Affordable Transit: The NDP aims to electrify public transit across Canada by 2030, and make it more affordable for all. The Windsor to Quebec City corridor, where almost half of Canadians live, needs a high-frequency, electric train. We will support rural bus routes and active transport infrastructure for cities striving to become more bikeable and walkable. An NDP-led transition to zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) by 2040 will be a huge opportunity for Ontario auto-workers and those installing rapid-charging stations across the country. The NDP has promised to waive federal taxes and provide incentives of up to $15,000 per family for a ZEV.
- Food can Fight Climate Change: Local organic agriculture can shrink the carbon footprint of our food, while protecting pollinators, diverse habitats and watersheds. We need an ambitious national shift away from industrial animal factories and monocultures towards diversified, local farm, food and seed systems, with less meat and more affordable, fresh foods. The federal government must also lead a restructuring to curb the massive amounts of food waste throughout our society.
- Accessible Funding: These rapid changes require funding support. The NDP has proposed a Canadian Climate Bank, plus funds for public research and development. A Guaranteed Livable Income will empower entrepreneurs to take risks and contribute. Transitional support via Employment Insurance, post-secondary education, job re-training and new business-start up loans will all be essential.
Like Covid-19, climate change hits marginalized communities hardest. It impacts people of colour, including Indigenous peoples, disproportionately – a trend described as ‘environmental racism’. We must listen to people in harm’s way first when making climate policy, and prioritize social justice at home and abroad when taking climate action.
- Ecological Democracy: Big changes require buy-in which comes from having a say. From the energy transition to transit renewal – these changes must be designed by everyone, for the benefit of everyone. We can deepen democracy via citizens assemblies, community boards, live public consultations, and digital outreach mobilizing the creativity of youth and all generations.
- Basic Needs: Sustainable housing, food, water, transport, education and healthcare are essentials that must be affordable and accessible to everyone. These are human rights. The great transition is an opportunity to remake our fundamental systems to help end homelessness; reduce poverty and inequality; make our air more breathable and our cities more livable, while prioritizing the voices and needs of the most vulnerable members of our society.
- International Leadership: Climate jobs and climate justice should drive foriegn policy. Canada must focus technology transfers, education and development funding on the great transition, including supporting the democratic institutions, such as the UN and civil society organizations, required for humanity to work together globally. We must strictly regulate Canadian oil, gas, mining and weapons corporations as well, as we seek to minimize the resource conflicts and climate migration to come. Canada needs more emergency assistance teams to help with extreme weather events at home and around the world, and an immigration policy that welcomes more “climate refugees”.
- Paying for the transition: Carbon Pricing on the things we make and buy requires Canadian companies and consumers to pay for the GHGs we release into the atmosphere. The revenues drive innovation, funding the transition and creating good union jobs. Lower income people, affected disproportionately, need a monthly carbon cashback, which will reduce inequality. Luxury taxes on carbon-intensive purchases, such as mega-homes, super-yachts and private jets, are also needed.
- Hitting our targets: The NDP has called for a new Climate Accountability Office. I want this office to audit not only how we’re doing on our Paris Agreement emissions targets, but also on the climate job and justice targets we set here in Canada. To meet these essential goals, we need carrots and sticks – both incentives and public accountability if we fall short.
For Generations to Come
We cannot fall short. Climate change is an existential challenge facing everyone, everywhere. No community or nation-state can go it alone. We need a federal government that fosters vision, commitment, innovation, democratic debate and cooperation. For real buy-in on all levels of society, we need climate justice.
It will not be easy. We must work across this country, and around the world, to heal the harms of the past and change our whole way of thinking about and relating to each other and the rest of nature. Let us follow the lead of Indigenous peoples in seeing that we are part of an interdependent creation, as some would say, or an interconnected planetary system, as others would prefer. Our differences matter, but we must bridge them across the Earth. Our only home. Now. So we can ensure a livable and peaceful world, for generations to come.
A Just Recovery for All, Council of Canadians website, 2021; https://canadians.org/justrecovery
IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, October 2018; https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/download/
All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, Michael Klare, 2019; https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781627792486
The Paris Agreement, United Nations Climate Change webpage, 2021; https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement
Trans Mountain Pipeline, The Narwhal, Backgrounder 2021; https://thenarwhal.ca/topics/trans-mountain-pipeline/
A New Deal for People: New Democrats Commitments to You, Federal NDP, September 2019; https://action.ndp.ca/page/-/2019/Q2/2019-06-19_Commitments-Doc_EN.pdf
Environmental Racism in Canada, Canadian Commission for UNESCO, Ingrid Waldron, July 2020; https://en.ccunesco.ca/-/media/Files/Unesco/Resources/2020/07/EnvironmentalRacismCanada.pdf