Kyoto can be met without sacrificing Canadian workers

By Dale Marshall

Even though the national debate over ratifying the Kyoto Protocol is now over, the stage is set for the next one: how to implement Kyoto. With all the talk of job losses, it is surprising that very little has been said about how to mitigate employment impacts. This has to change.

Premier Klein, his cabinet, and several industry associations have been leading the charge against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. Arguably their most successful tactic is to scare Canadians about massive job losses if Kyoto is implemented. However, it is clear from other actions that Premier Klein and industry spokespeople are not strong advocates for workers, and this situation is no different. 

In fact, organized labour has overwhelmingly supported Kyoto ratification. The largest energy union in Canada, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union, endorsed an energy policy that included Kyoto implementation. Other unions, including the large and influential CAW, have also endorsed Kyoto. Union centrals across Canada, including the Canadian Labour Congress, and the Alberta and BC Federations of Labour have followed suit.

The reason for their support is that they know that job loss allegations made by Kyoto’s detractors are unfounded. Research shows that though some energy workers could lose their jobs in the short term, these losses will be offset by the creation of new jobs in emerging industries in the energy sector and others.

The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) has stated that 450,000 jobs will be lost because of Kyoto, a figure cited everywhere by anti-Kyoto lobbyists. What the CME does not tell us is that over the same time period, 1.8 million jobs—four times as many—will be created. The more recent figure of 244,000 job losses also doesn’t consider the other side of the equation: 1.3 million job gains.
Overall, even under Kyoto, there would be a net increase in jobs in the Canadian energy sector. A 1997 study commissioned by Environment Canada showed that investing in renewable energy creates 60% more jobs that the same investment in conventional energy production. The same investment in energy efficiency creates five times more jobs.
So, post-Kyoto, even the Canadian energy sector will have more jobs created than lost. The problem, however, is that workers who lose their jobs won’t necessarily be the same people who fill newly created jobs. As it is clearly unacceptable to have these workers bear the brunt of climate change action, it is necessary to implement a strategy that allows Canada to meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments while providing transition support and employment for those who may lose their jobs. 
Just Transition acknowledges that when society is facing an imperative to change how it does things, workers should not be left holding the bag. A comprehensive transition plan would have two components. The first involves retraining and educational opportunities for displaced energy workers; income assistance so workers can take part in these programs; and relocation funds for those who have to move to find employment. For the estimated 13,000 Canadian energy workers who will be displaced, this component would cost approximately $1 billion over ten years—a small price to pay relative to current annual federal surpluses.
The second part of this transition strategy focuses on encouraging investment and job creation in emerging energy industries. According to a federal government study, simply implementing policies to reach Kyoto will create additional business and investment opportunities in Canada of at least $90 billion over ten years. From investment opportunities come employment opportunities.

But Canada should also engage in active industrial policy to shift our economy away from fossil fuels and cultivate homegrown sustainable energy industries. The federal government could establish energy efficiency funds (modeled on the Toronto Atmospheric Fund), shift subsidies from conventional energy to renewable electricity production, and fund public transit. 

There are tremendous economic opportunities in becoming more energy efficient and developing new technologies in alternative fuels, fuel-efficient vehicles, and in wind, geothermal, solar, and tidal power. Over the next decade, global demand for these renewable forms of electricity is expected to continue the double-digit growth it experienced every year of the 1990s (there are over 12,000 jobs in the Danish wind industry). 

Making industries, residences, and businesses more energy efficient will only make the Canadian economy stronger. Some companies have already shown that meeting Kyoto can benefit their bottom line. British Petroleum, one of the world’s largest energy corporations, reduced its greenhouse gas emissions to 10% below 1990 levels. Even more remarkable, they did it eight years ahead of schedule and at no net cost. Energy efficiency investments were recouped through savings on energy bills. The federal government can encourage this kind of creative action by giving tax credits to Canadian companies that purchase highly energy efficient machinery.
The federal government could pay for all these smart investments—transitional funds for workers, incentives for sustainable businesses, investments in transit, etc.—out of the income raised by auctioning off tradable emission permits that would be used in a domestic emissions trading program. In other words, a Just Transition strategy could be entirely revenue neutral.
Let us not forget that doing nothing about climate change also carries costs, in the form of increased air pollution and other public health impacts; destruction of natural resources and ecosystems that our economy—not to mention our survival—depends upon; and more extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, and storms.

It is clear that climate change can be addressed, and so can the unintended consequences of changing and restructuring the Canadian economy. Environment Minister David Anderson has publicly supported a transition strategy for displaced Canadian workers. Poll after poll has shown that the vast majority of Canadians believe that Canada must act upon the commitments it made to adopt and implement the Kyoto Protocol. 

All that remains is for the Prime Minister and his government to exercise the necessary leadership and implement the solutions already at hand.

Dale Marshall is a researcher with the BC office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and author of the report, Making Kyoto Work: A Transition Strategy for Canadian Energy Workers, available at

Kyoto and Green Jobs

By Jennifer Penney

Ralph Klein and his friends in corporate Canada have been using an old tactic to turn Canadian workers against the signing and implementation of the Kyoto Accord – job blackmail. In February, the Alberta government, seconded by Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters organization, predicted a loss of 450,000 jobs if Kyoto is ratified. A little later, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce warned that signing implementing Kyoto would produce a loss of 200,000 jobs, and a $30 billion cost to the Canadian economy, a position endorsed by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. 

Jim Stanford, an economist with the CAW, calls this the “economics of hot air.” The figures were first produced for a worst case scenario in which Canada implemented Kyoto alone. Since more than 50 countries – including most of Europe – have signed the Accord, that is clearly not going to happen. Moreover, the figures never represented losses of existing jobs but projected decreases in the creation of new jobs.

It’s no big surprise to see such figures being cranked out and misused, however. Job blackmail is a tactic that usually works well for big business and its political allies. Workers and unions have come up against it again and again when pressing for better labour legislation, occupational health and safety protection, and environmental safeguards. The surprising thing is that job blackmail hasn’t worked so well in the Kyoto debate so far. Most polls show that public support for ratifying Kyoto has wavered very little despite the doomsday warnings. A COMPAS poll undertaken in July for the Financial Post showed that 57% of business executives agreed that greenhouse emissions could be drastically cut with little economic impact. And unlike many of their American counterparts, Canadian unions have not joined the forces arrayed against signing Kyoto. On the contrary CEP, CAW, CUPE, NUPGE, the CLC and the Toronto and York Region Labour Council have all supported ratification.

Why is this? There are many reasons, but an important one is that, while Kyoto could mean job loss for some union members, an even larger number of new green jobs will be created by tackling climate change.

In the construction sector, for example, Kyoto could be a real boon. The Better Buildings Partnership, created with the participation of the Buildings Trades Council, has supported these kinds of retrofits for 8 years in Toronto. The program promotes energy conservation retrofits in all types of buildings in the city, bringing together energy service organizations who retrofit buildings in return for a portion of the savings. The BBP has led to retrofits of more than 150 buildings in Toronto, reduced building operating costs by $6 million and reducing 72,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. Oh, and it has created an estimated 3000 construction jobs. More jobs have been created in the industries supplying the retrofit work, in the manufacture of energy efficient windows and insulation materials for example. Expanded nationally, this program cold be a major job creator, as well making a substantial dent in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

Energy unions could increase their numbers with a shift to more renewable energy. Renewable energy from wind power, solar power, small hydro, and landfill gases, has higher labour intensity and lower capital intensity than non-renewable energy. This means that for comparable amounts of energy, more money is spent on workers and less on machines. Wind energy is booming worldwide though Kyoto has not yet gone into effect. Denmark, a leader in wind energy for the last two decades, has quadrupled its production of wind turbines in the last four years alone. More than 15,000 workers are employed in the wind sector in Denmark, with a population of only 5 million people. Jobs in renewable energy are created in equipment manufacture, construction, operations and maintenance. Unions in Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Spain and Australia have all analyzed and promoted the potential for job gains from renewable energy. German unions calculated that Germany could create an additional 58,000 permanent jobs in the energy sector just by doubling the share of renewable energy in the economy, although they also predicted that 13,000 jobs would be lost in conventional energy sectors, including coal mining. Expanding the use of photovoltaics could create 14,000 jobs in manufacturing, distribution, installation and maintenance. The Electrical Trades Union and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union have backed efforts to bring turbine manufacturing and wind farms to a depressed coal mining region in Australia, and create 2000 new jobs. 

In the transportation sector, greenhouse gas reductions will come from reduced car and truck traffic and increased use of public and rail transport, cycling and walking. In 1998, the British unions GMB and Unison worked with Friends of the Earth UK on green job creation case studies. They reported that a plan to reduce traffic and greenhouse gas emissions by 10% by 2010 could create more than 100,000 new jobs in manufacture of buses, rolling stock, bicycles, construction and upgrading rail infrastructure, building bike paths, operations and maintenance of public transport, etc. 

That efforts to tackle climate change can create many new jobs is not news. Investigations in the U.S., Germany, Sweden, Norway, Australia and other countries, have identified and counted jobs already generated by environmental initiatives, including those linked to reducing greenhouse gases. By 1975, environmental laws and policies had already led to the creation of more than a million jobs in the U.S. A 1987 study in Canada found 130,000 new jobs in environmental work. German researchers counted a million environmentally related jobs in that country in 1990. In 1994, world markets for environmental goods and services were larger than those for office equipment, aircraft and pharmaceuticals, and almost as large as plastics. Last year, the Worldwatch Institute estimated that there are more than 11 million environmental jobs worldwide. 

These jobs are not, in the main, terribly different from the jobs which Canadian workers already do. Linemen will be needed to maintain electrical lines from wind turbines, just as they keep up electrical distribution from coal-fired generating stations. Paving bicycle paths requires pretty much the same skills and equipment as paving roads. Assembling buses and rail cars is not much different from assembling SUVs. A 1994 Australian study of new environmental jobs showed that they ran the gamut from labourers and service workers through machine operators, skilled trades and professionals. 

Environmental initiatives can also sustain many existing jobs that business-as-usual policies would wipe out. Farming, fishing and forestry jobs are all threatened by climate change and other environmental problems. Droughts this year – attributed at least partly to climate change – promise to wipe out yet more farms in western Canada. Lower water levels in some of the remaining accessible salmon streams in B.C. have reduced fish reproduction and increased the pressure on fishing communities and jobs in that province. Forest fires from hotter temperatures and dryer summers have multiplied in the last decade, putting at risk many jobs in forestry. A failure to tackle climate change will lead to further disasters in these and other areas. 

Job losses will occur in some sectors if we seriously take up the challenge of reducing greenhouse gases and mitigating climate change. Coal mines, tar sands operations, oil- and coal-fired generating stations will all have to be phased out. Automobile manufacturing and air travel and fossil fuel use will have to be reduced. Most heavy industry will have to change their production practices, and some plants will undoubtedly shut down. The union movement has begun the important work of promoting just transition programs to ease the impact of job losses in these areas. 

However, Canadian unions should go further. Like the CEP, the unions should be investigating how greenhouse gas reductions will impact on their sector, and what jobs – in any – might be threatened. But they should go beyond the defensive posture of just transition. Unions should prepare their own proposals for mitigating climate change in the sectors of the economy they represent, looking for the solutions which will not only contribute to solving the environmental problems, but maximize the creation of good new jobs at the same time for their existing and future members. 

The Danish General Workers Union did this kind of work in the mid-1990's. They set achievable environmental goals for several sectors which they represented – including energy – developed plans for meeting the goals, showed how the work could be financed, and demonstrated the range of new jobs which could be created in the process. This work inspired unions in several other European countries to work with environmental organizations on their own green job plans. This kind of intervention by Canadian unions could introduce job creation objectives into climate change programs and spell the end to job blackmail. 

Jennifer Penney has worked 20 years for the union movement on health and safety and environmental issues. She recently completed a doctoral dissertation on green jobs.