Final Report by the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities: section 5

Executive summary

The devastating impacts of climate change are becoming clearer each year. More frequent and intense floods, storms, fires, heat waves, and droughts are destroying communities and homes, and putting the lives and futures of Canadians at risk. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report on global warming of 1.5°C shows that our window to prevent the worst-case scenario is quickly closing.

We do know what is causing climate change and we can do something about it. We need to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions released into our environment. There are several ways in which we can accomplish this, including wasting less energy and investing in cleaner energy sources. Businesses, scientists, governments, communities, and individuals in Canada and around the world are beginning to prove that you can reduce GHG emissions, invest in reliable and affordable clean energy, create decent jobs, and have stable economies.

Although coal-fired electricity has contributed significantly to Canada’s economic past and present—and provided Canadians with affordable and reliable electricity and heat for many generations—it produces significant amounts of air pollutants and GHG emissions. It has well documented costs to human health and is a major contributor to climate change: approximately 20% of all GHG emissions in the world came from coal-fired electricity in 2013.

Recognizing these facts, and supported by commitments in the 2015 Paris Agreement, Canada and other countries are intent on replacing coal-fired electricity with cleaner sources of fuel over the coming years and decades. In 2016, Canada committed to the phase-out of traditional coal-fired electricity across the country by 2030.

Phasing out coal-fired electricity, however, will have direct and indirect impacts on thousands of workers, dozens of communities, and four provinces, including:

  • Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia
  • nearly 50 communities with nearby coal mines or generating stations
  • 3,000 to 3,900 workers at coal-fired generating stations and domestic thermal coal mines
  • over a dozen generating stations, owned by six employers
  • nine mines, owned by three employers

In reality, the phase-out of coal fired electricity generation is already underway, especially in Alberta.

The extensive personal and societal impacts of the phase-out of coal-fired electricity are reasons why the labour movement has been advocating for a just transition alongside Canada’s efforts to reduce GHG emissions. We cannot leave affected workers and communities behind during the transition to a low-carbon economy. They too must have hope for the future.

In light of the impacts of the coal phase-out policy on workers and communities, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change appointed and launched our eleven-person Task Force in April 2018. Our Task Force was given a mandate to:

  • engage workers and communities in the provinces affected by the coal phase-out
  • provide options and recommendations to the Government of Canada, via the Minister, on:
    • what could be included in a just transition plan for coal power workers and communities
    • how to structure a subsequent phase of consultation and analysis concerning just transition

To deliver our mandate, members of the Task Force travelled to all of the affected provinces. We visited 15 affected communities, met with more than 80 stakeholders, hosted eight public engagement sessions to hear from the general public in affected areas of the country; and toured five generating stations, two coal mines, and one port.

Key messages from this public engagement

  • Affected workers and communities must be at the heart of decision-making during the transition to a low-carbon economy
  • Unions and employers have a key role in supporting a successful transition
  • Those affected by this public policy decision need to be well informed. Providing them with accurate and timely information as soon as it is available will help them to make informed decisions, and develop personal strategies for transition
  • Dedicated and timely Government actions will support workers staying in the labour market to find new employment opportunities, and allow for other workers to retire with dignity
  • The phase-out of coal-fired electricity generation will cause ripple effects throughout affected communities. These impacts may include the loss of tax revenue, the closure of subsidiary business, and the loss of local services
  • The phase-out of coal-fired electricity must be done thoughtfully and with full recognition that there is a duty to care for affected workers and communities
  • A successful just transition for coal workers signals to everyone that there is a path forward as Canada takes action on climate change

Using both the stories that we heard during our community visits, and our individual and collective expertise as members of the Task Force, we have developed ten recommendations which we hope will contribute positively to a fair and just transition for affected workers and communities (see below for a summary). We also identified seven principles for a just transition:

  1. respect for workers, unions, communities, and families
  2. worker participation at every stage of transition
  3. transitioning to good jobs
  4. sustainable and healthy communities
  5. planning for the future, grounded in today’s reality
  6. nationally coherent, regionally driven, locally delivered actions
  7. immediate yet durable support

Recognizing that the Government of Canada has already committed $35 million to this task, we believe it will need to invest considerably more funding, potentially in the hundreds of millions of dollars, through Budget 2019 and subsequent budgets to implement our recommendations.Footnote 1  It would be prudent for the Government to reprioritize and reallocate existing funding, as much as possible, including from infrastructure funds, so that decisions reflect the views of affected communities and workers.

Taking actions to ensure a fair and just transition for Canadian coal workers and communities is critical to creating hope, sustaining the middle class, ensuring good jobs into the future, taking action on climate change, and building public support for these and future actions.

This is an opportunity to demonstrate national and global leadership and best practices in just transition.

The Government of Canada should seize it.

Summary of Recommendations

Embed just transition principles in planning, legislative, regulatory, and advisory processes to ensure ongoing and concrete actions throughout the coal phase-out transition

  1. Develop, communicate, implement, monitor, evaluate, and publicly report on a just transition plan for the coal phase-out, championed by a lead minister to oversee and report on progress
  2. Include provisions for just transition in federal environmental and labour legislation and regulations, as well as relevant intergovernmental agreements
  3. Establish a targeted, long-term research fund for studying the impact of the coal phase-out and the transition to a low-carbon economy

Ensure locally available supports

  1. Fund the establishment and operation of locally-driven transition centres in affected coal communities

Provide workers a pathway to retirement

  1. Create a pension bridging program for workers who will retire earlier than planned due to the coal phase out

Transition workers to sustainable employment

  1. Create a detailed and publicly available inventory with labour market information pertaining to coal workers, such as skills profiles, demographics, locations, and current and potential employers
  2. Create a comprehensive funding program for workers staying in the labour market to address their needs across the stages of securing a new job, including income support, education and skills building, re-employment, and mobility

Invest in community infrastructure

  1. Identify, prioritize, and fund local infrastructure projects in affected communities

Fund community planning, collaboration, diversification, and stabilization

  1. Establish a dedicated, comprehensive, inclusive, and flexible just transition funding program for affected communities
  2. Meet directly with affected communities to learn about their local priorities, and to connect them with federal programs that could support their goals

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