It is time for a just transition off fossil fuels. This is what it could look like

·4 min read
Lori Lee Oates says there should be just solutions to the climate crisis now. (Nicholas Hillier Photography/Submitted by Lori Lee Oates - image credit)
Lori Lee Oates says there should be just solutions to the climate crisis now. (Nicholas Hillier Photography/Submitted by Lori Lee Oates - image credit)
Nicholas Hillier Photography/Submitted by Lori Lee Oates
Nicholas Hillier Photography/Submitted by Lori Lee Oates

This column is an opinion by Lori Lee Oates, a lecturer at Memorial University. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

The International Energy Agency recently released its Energy Outlook 2021, calling for more ambitious policies on emission reductions at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26), beginning in Glasgow, Scotland on Oct. 31, than have been achieved to date.

The outlook maintains that for climate targets to be met, the world must achieve peak oil by 2025.

This news is highly problematic for the future of oil developments such as the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Bay du Nord project in the Newfoundland offshore industry.

The time for putting off a just transition is over. This raises the question of exactly what a just transition should look like.

The future of oil

Angela Carter, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo, recently spoke at an event for Memorial University's Harris Centre on climate change and the future of the province's offshore industry.

She argued that a just transition should:

  • Redirect supports from oil to lower-carbon sources of energy.

  • Invest in renewable energy, not including mega-hydroelectric projects.

  • Support oil workers in transitioning.

  • Have oil companies pay for their own liabilities, referring to decommissioning of orphan wells and projects.

  • Address the ethics of putting large amounts of downstream emissions into the natural environment.

  • Create the institutions that are needed to address this 'code red for humanity'.

One of Carter's most important points was that our governments must now support renewable energy the same way they did with oil in the past.

The recognition of inequality that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light also necessitates doing better for workers and vulnerable populations in the future than we have done in the past.

Academic institutions need trade and degree programs created for those who want to work in wind and solar energy. Tuition should be free for those wishing to transition from working in oil to renewable energy. Carter suggested the province also needs a Master of Energy Transition degree program.

There must be renewable energy research and development funding, with incubators for renewable energy projects. We also need supports for those who wish to start renewable energy businesses, especially for oil workers who wish to do so.

Displaced oil workers should be given preference to work on energy efficiency retrofits. Research in the U.S. indicates that 4.5 times as many jobs are created for every $1 million of investment in retrofits, compared with 0.7 jobs when $1 million is invested in the oil and gas sector.

Provinces that rely economically on the oil industry require federal just transition funds with clear guidelines as to how the money can be used. Joint federal-provincial boards must be set up to administer these funds.

Todd Korol/Reuters
Todd Korol/Reuters

This money absolutely cannot be for oil companies to keep oil projects going or for oil companies to become renewable energy companies.

In offering business supports for transition, preference must be given to companies that are socially and environmentally responsible. There is evidence that some oil companies have used deceptive language on climate change for decades.

Oil companies must stop asking governments for subsidies. A recent study published by the International Monetary Fund found that oil is subsidized at the level of $11 million a minute. All supports for oil must cease.

Green energy jobs must be unionized, well-paying jobs with benefits, stability and safe work conditions. Labour groups must be involved in planning for the just transition.

Indigenous groups must also be at the table as full partners.

To learn more about this, I got in touch with Indigenous leader and climate activist Amy Norman. She told me how interesting renewable projects are already happening in Indigenous jurisdictions, such as "Nunatsiavut's wind energy program and solar-powered arena, and basically everything in the Yukon."

She added that groups such as Indigenous Climate Action and Indigenous Clean Energy are leading the transition to renewables.

"The transition is already happening, Indigenous peoples are leading the way, and settler structures of governance need to catch up," she said.

Finally, access to public transit and better municipal planning must be part of the just transition, in rural as well as urban areas.

Our last best chance

The time for empty talking points is long past over. Rhetoric must finally be replaced with effective policies.

Nothing less than immediate and drastic emission cuts will do if you want your children and grandchildren to have a stable future.

Workers, women, children, people of colour and rural communities did not create these problems. However, they are suffering the worst impacts of inaction.

They deserve just solutions to the climate crisis now.

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