Jobs, Economy and Environment

CLC adopts statement seeking meaningful commitments ahead of UN Climate Change Summit

November 19, 2015

The CLC's COP21 statement calls on Canada to commit to ambitious, achievable science-based targets for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

I. Labour’s Urgent Need to Address the Climate Crisis

Canada and the world must respond forcefully and without delay to the climate crisis. Climate change is already having significant negative impacts on workers and their communities, in Canada and around the world. Heat waves, droughts, floods, rising sea levels, and biodiversity loss are causing the displacement of workers and indigenous peoples world-wide. 

In Canada, rising ocean temperatures and prolonged dry spells are affecting production and employment in aquaculture, mining, farming, forestry and even oil and gas extraction. The science is clear: if we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the current rate, the world risks further warming and lasting changes in the planet’s climate system, raising the likelihood of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts on people, economies, and ecosystems. To have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to a rise of 2°C this century and averting intolerable impacts on millions of people, the world community must restrict future carbon emissions to a finite amount, amounting to a “global carbon budget” for the planet. According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, at the current pace of emissions, we risk going beyond the threshold that would get us over the 2°C mark in as little as 20 years.

Limiting the risks and negative impacts of climate change will therefore require immediate, significant and prolonged reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). According the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in order to limit global warming to 2°C during this century, industrialized countries will have to reduce GHG emissions 40% to 70% below 2010 levels by 2050, and to near zero by 2100. G7 countries including Canada have committed to zero emissions by 2100, but it is possible to limit the risk of catastrophic warming and achieve near zero emissions by 2050. 

The primary cause of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas.  To limit the destructive effects of global warming, we must reduce our emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases generated by fossil fuels. This will require:

  • Dramatically expanding the use of renewable energy like wind and solar power to generate electricity, and transitioning to a clean energy economy that depends less and less on fossil fuels.
  • Progressively limiting the amount of carbon that polluters are allowed to emit, and redesigning industries to be more efficient, burn less fossil fuels, and increasingly rely on renewable energy.
  • Insulating and converting homes and buildings so that they are more energy efficient.
  • Improve and expand low-emissions transportation and public transit. 

Climate change is simultaneously the greatest threat of our time, and the greatest opportunity of our era for economic growth and job creation. The CLC rejects the notion that there is a fundamental conflict between the economy and jobs and environmental sustainability. Both a green jobs strategy and a sustainable economic development strategy are needed, placing sectoral strategies and trade policies at the centre of the agenda on climate change.

Full employment can and must be a centrepiece of ecological transition; workers and their communities will be far better placed to succeed in this transition in the context of full employment, income support, and strong labour-market adjustment programs. Conversely, workers and their families will be reluctant to support transitional measures that offer them nothing more than job loss and falling incomes. 

Economic and ecological transformation is possible and achievable, but will require governments to commit to ambitious targets backed by substantial public investments. Other governments have already embarked on this transition. Denmark has committed to achieving 100% renewable energy in electricity and heat generation by 2035 and becoming 100% fossil-free by 2050. Scotland is aiming to reach 100% renewable energy in electricity generation by 2020. Iceland and Norway already generate 99% of their electricity from renewable sources.

Left to its own devices, the market will not undertake this transition fast enough and on the scale required to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic climate change. Nor will business-driven government policy, which since the beginning of the century has fueled the vast and rapid expansion of the oil sands, and led Canada back toward trade dependence on raw and semi-processed exports of resources. 
To break with our unsustainable ecological and economic course, we must develop and diversify our economy and expand, not reduce, public investment. 
Policymakers will not undertake the changes needed without pressure from the labour movement and our allies. The labour movement has always urged elected leaders to play a greater role in directing and shaping Canada’s industrial structure and economy – for the simple reason that workers and their communities have been most heavily affected by commodity booms and busts. A phased-in and fair transition away from the fossil-fuel economy carries the potential to give workers and their communities greater economic stability and sustainability.  The CLC will strongly advocate for compensation, retraining, re-employment and relocation for affected workers and their communities, and demands Just Transition commitments to support those workers who risk being displaced by climate change or by climate change policies and mitigation measures.  

In December 2015, in Paris, Canada must commit to ambitious, achievable science-based targets for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Canada’s current Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) submitted to the COP 21 meetings commits Canada to reducing GHG emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. However, this is below what Canada had already pledged in 2009 which would have meant a reduction of 38% below 2005 levels in 2030. The current INDC commitment of a 30% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 leaves Canada’s emissions-reduction trajectory off-track, weaker than the current US commitments, and even weaker than it appears, since it relies on purchasing emissions reductions from other countries rather than solely domestic reductions. The CLC calls on Canada to commit to a legally binding target to cut our domestic carbon pollution by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 38% by 2030, returning it to the trajectory of achieving 80% reductions by 2050.

II. Green Sectoral Strategies

A program of economic diversification and sustainability will require green sectoral economic strategies aimed at developing secondary and value-added industries. With labour participation, sectoral development councils in the automotive, aerospace, rail transportation, forestry and agriculture industries could identify the needs and opportunities involved in reducing emissions and expanding production and employment. For instance, automotive assembly and parts manufacturing in Canada could be re-tooled to support production of hybrids, electric passenger cars, fuel-cell vehicles, and other environmentally-friendly vehicle technologies and components, with the goal of a 5% market penetration of electric vehicles by 2020. A sustainable forestry strategy would engage workers in conservation and producing bio-mass for bio-energy in the short-term, while expanding and improving forest carbon stocks over the long-term. Fostering sustainable and resilient agriculture could promote soil carbon sequestration, energy conservation, and reduced synthetic fertilizer use in the local production of high-quality food.
The federal government should create and backstop a Canadian Green Development Bank to finance the ambitious investment programs identified by sectoral councils. Blanket corporate tax cuts should be reversed and replaced by incentives for new investment in machinery and equipment, research and development, and work reorganization and training.

Domestic procurement of green technologies will create jobs in the manufacturing sector, while paving the way for new technological development in Canada. Green job creation programs should be combined with skills training and jobs development and the increased certification of contractors to support qualified certified trades in a broad range of occupations. A national green skills development initiative is important both to prepare Canada’s workforce for the skill requirements inherent in green jobs, and to ensure that green industries and workplaces do not face a shortage of adequately trained workers. International trade and investment agreements must accommodate sectoral development, domestic procurement and green job creation, or be renegotiated to facilitate these objectives.

III. Renewal and Expansion of Public Transit Infrastructure

Expanded investment in mass transit infrastructure is necessary in all major urban centres and provides substantial opportunities for economic growth and job creation. Under the umbrella of a national transit strategy, all levels of government will identify necessary municipal public transit infrastructure investments and opportunities for reducing carbon emissions. Investment in new rail infrastructure, specifically inter-city, high-speed rail or monorail connecting Windsor to Quebec City, Vancouver to White Rock and Seattle, and Edmonton to Calgary will reduce emissions from trucks, cars and aviation, create jobs, improve air quality, and encourage expanded business travel and tourism. Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions will be backed by strong domestic procurement rules in order to both reduce GHG emissions and generate green industry and jobs in Canada.

IV. Development of Renewable Energy Sources and Energy Efficiency Improvements

Increased public investment in sustainable energy, combined with public regulation of expanding renewable energy sources, will secure our sustainable energy future while promoting economic growth and job creation. Canada lags behind the rest of the world on the use of renewable energy, yet it has more renewable energy resources than most countries. Investment in the research, development, and promotion of clean and sustainable renewable energy will create jobs and reduce Canada’s reliance upon fossil fuel and especially coal-fired power generation. 

Energy efficiency can be increased in existing residential, commercial and institutional buildings through retrofits using qualified, certified and unionized workers. Large scale retrofit programs can yield significant economic growth and job creation; they are the least expensive way to reduce emissions, and create the greatest number of jobs per dollar invested.  In Germany, retrofits of 300,000 homes and apartments each year have resulted in the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Additional energy efficiency opportunities exist with respect to furnaces, water heaters, air conditioners, household appliances, and lighting.  In Canada, a $1.1 billion dollar homes and buildings retrofit program could be designed to leverage $50 billion dollars in private expenditures, enough to create one million person job years of employment.  

V. A National Carbon Pricing System

The Canadian labour movement supports a national cap and trade carbon-pricing system, which will serve to set a maximum emission level, in line with the overall national targets. In many cases, emission reduction activities would result in modernizing plants and improving workers’ health and safety.  

The CLC supports the approach of setting emissions allowances for different industries based on an industry’s ability to reduce their carbon emissions in a feasible but ambitious time frame. The CLC supports increasing the share of allowances auctioned over time, and reducing the provision of free allowances, in order to gradually transition to an emissions trading regime. We strongly support tight limits on the share of an entity’s total compliance obligation during any one period that can be met through the use of offsets.

Such a system would create financial incentives to reduce emissions and generate federal revenue for further reductions. In our view, proceeds from the cap-and-trade scheme should be recycled into industrial adjustment supports and just transition measures for affected workers and communities, as well as initiatives which further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

If Canada is to price carbon through a cap and trade system, a separate carbon-pricing scheme must be developed for imports. This carbon-pricing system would ensure that off-shore producers, particularly transnational corporations, pay the price of the carbon content in the goods they ship to us.

VI. Just Transition

Workers who are displaced or experience wage cuts due to structural economic changes which benefit society as a whole must be compensated, as should families and communities that suffer a negative impact from such changes. Carbon reduction policies must be combined with progressive tax and expenditure policies and the establishment of Just Transition funds.  These funds should be governed by an independent Just Transition board with labour representation. Across Canada, the funds would be allocated in support of retraining workers who lose their jobs due to climate change policies, and to compensate workers for any income losses. Communities should also be eligible for support, and provinces and territories must also be urged to integrate Just Transition funds into their own climate change plans. 

Public education, training policy, and apprenticeship programs will need to be directed strongly toward participation in a low-carbon economy. Income assistance and training funds available through the Employment Insurance program will also help workers transition to new industries and occupations. Above all, this transition must proceed in consultation with workers and unions in the policy development process.  Policies must be phased-in gradually according to a transparent schedule, so that workers and employers alike have the confidence, time and support needed to adjust. 

VII. Global Solidarity

Those who contributed least to climate change are being hit first and hardest, including indigenous populations, people facing poverty, and those in the low-income countries of the global South. The labour movement stands in solidarity with First Nations and front-line communities in Canada who are already experiencing the effects of climate change. 

With different historical responsibilities for climate change and capacities to respond, the effort of emissions reduction should be shared. The CLC joins the global trade union movement in advocating for fair sharing of the cost associated with emissions reduction, so that the poorest do not carry the heaviest burden. Trade unions from developed and developing countries agree on the importance of securing a Just Transition for all workers and communities, providing decent work opportunities in a new, climate-sound economy. 

Unions have called for climate financing, both in terms of adaptation support for developing countries, and to support emissions reductions and changing energy-intensive sectors. Canada and other developed countries have agreed to raise US$100 billion by 2020 for climate-change mitigation and adaptation, partly through the Green Climate Fund. 
Canada should also commit to substantial public finance that would support additional, verifiable emissions reductions from investments in developing countries. The CLC calls on Canada to commit $400 million annually to the Green Climate Fund, and recognize the legitimacy of developing country calls for additional funding, not through the Green Climate Fund, for losses and damage resulting from climate change. We urge Canada to make these new and additional resources available as grants, not loans; adding further to the debt burden of vulnerable countries is counterproductive to the goals of advancing sustainable development and climate protection. 

VIII. Moving Beyond COP 20

Canada and the world must move beyond the unsatisfactory commitments won at the COP 20 in Lima and ensure a fair, feasible but ambitious agreement in Paris containing a ratifiable, legally-binding core component. The core legal agreement should address all key areas mentioned in the Durban (COP 17) mandate, as well as provisions essential to implementation: mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, transparency of action and support, capacity-building, and compliance.  It is important that the Paris agreement also include provisions on human rights and loss and damage from climate change. 

Specifically, the CLC calls on Canada to ensure that any agreement contains ratcheting mechanisms to support upward revision of commitments for both GHG emissions reduction and finance. To permit regular review (and if necessary, revision), the agreement should require or encourage countries to incorporate a number of commitments on a short (e.g. 5-year) time frame. 

Willing groups of states should simultaneously be encouraged to cooperate on initiatives to decarbonize specific sectors as a means of complementing any broad agreement achieved in Paris.  Examples could include a medium-term goal of phasing out electricity-sector emissions, phasing out coal, and scaling up zero-carbon energy innovation.

There should be processes for transparent measurement, accounting and reporting, as well as information sharing, verification and review.  Steps should be taken to simplify the expansion of the agreement by allowing nations to join through rapid and uncomplicated accession to the agreement.

Lastly, Ministers attending the Paris negotiations should commit to negotiating a global climate finance roadmap to encourage the scale-up of international support for finance, technology and capacity-building through to 2020.

IX. Conclusion

Canada has an important contribution to make to the COP 21 negotiations in Paris and to achieving an agreement that sets the world on the path to a sustainable planetary climate. On behalf of its 3.3 million members, the Canadian Labour Congress urges the government of Canada to seize this opportunity and press for an ambitious, realistic, and just agreement to reduce GHG emissions. Significant as the costs of moving to a less carbon-intensive economy are, the costs of inaction on climate change are far greater. Not just the economic well-being of current and future workers hang in the balance, but the health, welfare, safety and security of our families and communities as well. We have a world to win.

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