Canadian fossil fuel workers want victorious Trudeau to keep his retraining promise

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi announce the start of construction on the Green Line at Calgary Transit’s Oliver Bowen maintenance facility in Calgary, Alberta, Canada July 7, 2021. REUTERS / Mike Sturk / File Photo

CALGARY, Alta., September 22 (Reuters) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s narrow election victory this week has bolstered Canada’s commitment to achieving zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but workers in the The country’s major fossil fuel sector said they also expected it to keep its promise to recycle them for jobs in a clean energy economy.

Oil workers’ advocacy group Iron & Earth estimates Canada will need around C $ 10 billion ($ 7.8 billion) over 10 years to retrain fossil fuel workers, but is skeptical of the promises government to help after past commitments fail to materialize.

“When does it stop being promises and start being actions? These are people’s livelihoods at stake,” said Luisa Da Silva, executive director of Iron & Earth.

Da Silva said the country risked losing the skilled workforce essential to a clean energy economy if the government did not prioritize funding for the transition, which the Paris Climate Agreement 2015 recognizes as important in ensuring that no worker is left behind as the world decarbonizes.

As the clean energy economy takes off, it will generate some 640,000 jobs by 2030, a 50% increase from 2021, with strong growth in Alberta, according to forecasts by the industry organization Clean Energy Canada.

But Steve MacDonald, CEO of Emissions Reduction Alberta, a provincially-funded organization that invests in emission reduction technology, said it would be difficult to recreate the sustained economic contribution associated with the oil and gas sector.

Two years ago, the Liberal Party announced a “Just Transition Law” to support and retrain oil and gas workers, but did not launch consultations to shape this legislation until July, and then did so. suspended in August when the elections were called. Trudeau announced a similar program worth C $ 2 billion during the 2021 election campaign.

The oil and gas industry is the most polluting sector in Canada, accounting for 26% of all carbon production. Yet Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of oil and some 450,000 jobs directly or indirectly related to the industry are at risk over the next three decades as the country cuts its climate-warming carbon emissions, TD Bank estimates .

So any discussion of shrinking the sector is tricky, especially in the decidedly conservative energy core of Alberta, where many oil and gas workers live in remote communities dotted across the prairies and northern boreal forest. Trudeau sparked fury among them in 2017 when he spoke of the “phasing out” of the tar sands.

These remarks helped eliminate the Liberals in Alberta in the 2019 election, despite the Liberal candidates leading or being elected in two seats in the 2021 election that just ended. Failure to help retrain workers could hurt local economies and undermine support for government efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

“With the loss of any job in the oil and gas industry, the effect reverberates sevenfold due to the loss of economic fallout,” said Gerald Aalbers, mayor of Lloydminster, a city of 31,000 people who straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan border where an estimated 15% of jobs depend on the fossil fuel industry.

“The costs of re-equipping the economy and businesses, not to mention the employees, will be enormous.”

“ONE CITY WITH ONE INDUSTRY”

Canada’s petroleum sector, which includes the extraction and refining of oil and gas, contributes about 5.3% of the national GDP.

The Trudeau government is working with big producers like Suncor Energy (SU.TO) to develop technologies like carbon capture to allow companies to bury their emissions underground rather than cutting production. Read more

Nonetheless, downsizing the industry seems inevitable if Canada is to meet its net zero target for 2050 and an interim target of reducing emissions by 40-45% from 2005 levels by 2030. read more

In the oil sands hub of Fort McMurray, where nearly a third of all jobs are in fossil fuels, workers are nervous.

“We’re a one-industry city,” said Dirk Tolman, 59, a heavy equipment operator and union leader at Suncor, who has worked in the oil sands since 2008. “Without the oil sands, I don’t know if anyone ‘one would stay in Fort McMurray.

Even if clean energy jobs replace oil and gas jobs, they are unlikely to be in the same place.

Sean Cadigan, professor of history at Memorial University of Newfoundland, who studied the impact of the collapse of Atlantic Canada’s fishing industry in the 1990s, said oil and gas communities need new industries to grow alongside any cessation of fossil fuels.

“(Otherwise) it will lead to a deep dislocation of the population and it will always have a serious impact on the communities left behind,” he said.

($ 1 = 1.2822 Canadian dollars)

Reporting by Nia Williams Editing by Denny Thomas and David Gregorio

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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