Moving Kyoto towards green jobs with just transition
“There are no jobs on a dead planet.”
This chilling indictment cuts to the heart of current debate over the unfettered burning of fossil fuels and their contribution to global climate change.
Health, safety and environmental activists have long worked towards creating ‘green jobs’ — jobs that are sustainable, protect worker health and do no harm to the environment. What’s more they want good jobs and a healthy future for their children.
These long-held beliefs shaped recent debate and labour activities supporting ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and more importantly renewed hope for a sustainable future that restructures the way we produce and use energy.
The high cost of energy
Canada’s seemingly limitless supply of cheap energy, largely from abundant natural resources, has helped build industries heavily dependent upon low cost power but it further supports a lifestyle of massive energy consumption. Canadians are among the biggest energy consumers in the world. But convenience comes with a price.
When fossil fuels, like coal, gas and oil are burned to operate vehicles, run factories and to generate energy itself, tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) are pumped into the atmosphere. The most common of these are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. These create a ‘greenhouse’ effect that traps heat and results in not only increased global temperature, but significant climatic impacts.
You needn’t look far to see the evidence. Within Canada farmers cope with severe drought while other communities battle raging forest fires or floods. Melting permafrost imperils Northern ecosystems and communities and jeopardizes pipeline stability. Warmer winters encourage pine bark infestations that destroy thousands of hectares of forest and in Eastern Canada warmer than average summers result in record-breaking smog days.
According to the government of Canada, up to 16,000 Canadians die prematurely each year as a result of air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial activity. The Ontario Medical Association says 1,900 Ontarians die each year from the effects of air pollution. Toronto Public Health says 1,000 of these deaths are in Toronto.
Working towards Kyoto
Because of its life-threatening impact global warming has been well studied. Fifteen years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established to assess scientific research on climate change. It’s most recent assessment, involving more than 1,000 scientists and scholars and endorsed by 17 national scientific academies worldwide, conclude human activities are changing the composition of the atmosphere. Concentrations of carbon dioxide, stable for 10,000 years, have increased by 31 per cent since 1750 with the increased use of coal and oil.
To help chart a global course to reduce greenhouse gas emissions Canada negotiated the Kyoto Protocol with some 170 countries five years ago. While Canada recently ratified Kyoto in the House of Commons, the agreement will not take effect globally until 55 per cent of the countries responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions ratify it. Under negotiated targets, by 2012 Canada must reduce its GHG emissions by 6 per cent below its 1990 levels. Since 1990 though Canada’s GHG emissions have risen another 15 per cent making it the world’s ninth highest emitter and the third biggest emitter per person behind Australia and the United States. Ontario is responsible for one-quarter of Canada’s GHG emissions.
If Kyoto is implemented as envisioned, it would ultimately reduce energy consumption and overall demand leaving workers in that sector most vulnerable to major restructuring and job loss. The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) representing 35,000 energy workers across Canada, have chosen to focus on ways to protect those vulnerable workers while building a bridge towards new jobs that will sustain their members and the environment.
After a year-long organization-wide review of their energy and conservation policies with input from members and locals, last fall at their national convention CEP introduced and passed its comprehensive energy policy, produced with the help of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Central to CEP’s energy campaign are repeated calls for just transition programs to cushion any blows for workers and their communities that come with measures to implement Kyoto. Transition must involve everything from job training and educational opportunities that allow for skills upgrading to income support for displaced workers and relocation funds for those who must move to find new work.
Joined by major environmental groups, community and labour leaders, CEP spearheaded an intensive lobby of federal decision makers to ratify Kyoto and gain assurances that funding will be available for workers and communities affected by policy measures to reduce greenhouse gases. Brian Payne, CEP national president stated their position simply, “We wanted to put workers and communities in the Kyoto Plan.”
Realizing a net job gain
The CEP policy though also makes the case for potential net job gains in emerging industries focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency and public transportation. Combine this with government investment to provide business incentives in these industries and they say sustainable jobs will be created.
This was the message brought to last fall’s Toronto Kyoto Forum, one of a series held by CEP across the country to generate support for their energy policy and Kyoto ratification. The Toronto Forum was co-sponsored by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council. John Cartwright, TYRLC president was eager to participate not only because the labour council endorsed Kyoto, but last spring they also established an Environmental Forum whose goals include generating practical development projects that promote green manufacturing and sustainable transportation.
Cartwright knows firsthand about the job-creation potential of energy conservation. He reports since 1996, through the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, the Toronto Better Buildings Partnership has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 72,000 tons/year and created about 3,000 contract jobs through energy efficiency and building-renewal retrofits. Says Cartwright, “We created jobs, building owners saved money in energy costs, but the biggest winner was the environment and by extension our health.”
Green jobs, clean future
Last summer delegates to the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) constitutional convention also passed a resolution in support of Kyoto including creation of a just transition fund no smaller than one per cent of annual sales of Canadian oil, natural gas, coal and uranium to help affected workers and communities. This, and aggressive lobbying of federal politicians last fall, was part of a larger CLC campaign to educate members and communities on environmental sustainability especially through green jobs.
Green jobs are exactly what the Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers (IWA) of Canada envision. Norm Rivard, IWA, third vice-president was on Parliament Hill this fall too trying to secure federal investment in reforestation, intensive silviculture and just transition programs as Kyoto is implemented. Trees he explains are natural carbon sinks, they remove and store carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to plant sugars.
Transportation workers too have closely studied Kyoto especially the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) with one-third of its members employed in the sector. Transportation contributes about one-third of Ontario’s greenhouse gases.
Delegates to CAW Council’s recent meeting in Toronto voted unanimously to adopt a position paper supporting ratification and implementation of Kyoto. CAW president Buzz Hargrove asked and answered, “In the auto industry, will Kyoto mean more work or less work? It is obvious that the industry must adapt in coming decades, to produce motor vehicles that are less environmentally damaging. That will mean more investment, more research, and more spending on the part of the auto companies.”
The work of CAW economist Jim Stanford helped inform the autoworkers Kyoto policy. Stanford shared these insights last fall when he spoke to activists in major auto manufacturing communities across Ontario. The auto manufacturing process he reports contributes less than one per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions leaving Stanford and others to focus on the job-creation potential of fuel efficient, low-emission vehicles; hybrid systems with two engines, the second hydrogen-powered engine emits water as a by-product; and clean fuels using electricity and hydrogen which don’t produce harmful emissions. Stanford sees the need for transition programs in primary metals and trucking but some very good opportunities for job growth in rail, mass transit manufacturing and operations.
Kyoto key to worker health
Stanford’s research also found some natural ties to other health, safety and environment policies. Drawing upon federal government analysis he presented a breakdown of manufacturing sectors generating the greatest greenhouse gas emissions. In descending order, chemicals, smelting and refining, steel, pulp and paper and cement were the greatest contributors of carbon gases. Inside these workplaces devastation is similarly great. Metal extraction and steel manufacturing produces lung and other cancers in workers. Pulp and paper workers have an excess of esophageal and kidney cancers. And refinery workers experience elevated rates of cancer-like melanoma and leukemia.
The information prompted CAW activists also attending the presentations to observe that toxic use reduction and recycling or remanufacturing of products, including automobiles, will help implement Kyoto while protecting worker health.
Certainly, CEP recognizes this side of the issue. In their energy policy paper they raised issues like the ratification of the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty to eliminate 12 persistent organic pollutants and the significant potential harm that carbon-based plastics manufacturing, including polyvinyl chlorides, poses to human health.
The United Steelworkers of America committed as far back as 1990 to addressing pressing environmental issues including climate change. USWA Canadian leadership stated recently, “Our involvement in the mining, smelting, and refining of minerals, in steelmaking, and in manufacturing has taught us a lot about what damages the environment. It has taught us a lot about occupational diseases and cancers our members’ suffer and, we discovered after the fact, also affect our families, friends, and communities because of the pollution from many of our workplaces.”
But like others, USWA experience has taught them implementation of Kyoto cannot be left to market forces or voluntary measures. “Without legislated targets and clear regulatory guidelines, corporations will pursue only their short term profits. The Westray mine explosion in 1992 that killed 26 miners is one of many examples of what can happen when safety and environment are left up to corporate interests.” Of course included within this framework must be “guarantees for individual and community adjustment assistance through a well-funded transition program.”
The promise of renewable energy
As a first step, Ontario’s all-party Select Committee on Alternative Fuel Sources in a report released last June calls for additional incentives for renewable electricity generation and greater use of renewable energy. For example, a Chatham based, Canadian-owned Company has received a five million dollar grant to build a plant that will process corn to produce the green fuel ethanol. The Regional Municipality of Waterloo landfill site is home to a joint partnership to capture landfill gas, which not only reduces the amount of methane released into the environment but generates alternative biomass energy.
Wind turbines, an emission-free source of electricity, are also beginning to dot Ontario’s landscape. Each year in operation a wind turbine displaces up to 378 tons of carbon dioxide, 5,500 kilograms of sulphur dioxide and 1,725 kilograms of nitrous oxide the main ingredients in acid rain, smog and ground level ozone. Ontario Power Generation has installed a wind generating station near its Pickering Nuclear site that currently produces enough power for 600 households.
Much work remains to implement Kyoto requirements in a way that is fair and equitable to workers, industry and to whole communities. Labour leaders have assurances from Federal Environment Minister David Anderson that he will appoint a labour-government committee to address transition measures.
Kyoto is a first step towards sustainability. But it will take everyone’s efforts to live up to its promise and our promise to our children. Failure to act may cost us our future.