Ottawa leaves behind 170,000 fossil fuel workers, environmental watchdog says

OTTAWA — The federal government is failing to adequately support more than 170,000 fossil fuel workers whose livelihoods are at risk in the global transition to a low-carbon economy, according to a new report by the independent environmental commissioner. from Canada.

The finding was part of a series of audits tabled in parliament on Tuesday that poked holes in the Liberal government’s climate policies. Taken together, the reports criticized the government’s commitment to helping fossil fuel workers through the transition to green energy, questioned the fairness of Canada’s carbon pricing regime and questioned the Ottawa’s claim that it can significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution through its hydrogen plan. fuel.

“The clock on climate change never stops,” said Environment Commissioner Jerry DeMarco, who on Tuesday pointed out that Canada is the “worst” in the G7 on emissions cuts over the past 30 years. years.

“We don’t get second chances to do a lot of these things,” he said. “Our kids are counting on us to get it right, not just to find out later why it went wrong.”

Speaking outside the House of Commons, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault welcomed DeMarco’s reports and broadly endorsed his recommendations. He said the government was moving forward with strategies to support workers and already wanted to improve Canada’s carbon pricing regime, the government’s flagship climate policy.

“Our plan is working, we’re tackling pollution, and (carbon) pricing is one of the many things we’re taking to make sure big emitters are doing their fair share,” Guilbeault said.

In the reports, DeMarco focused on the government’s 2019 unfulfilled commitment to pass a “Just Transition Act” to support fossil fuel workers in the transition to green energy. He noted that the 2015 Paris Agreement, which Canada signed, also includes provisions to support workers in this transition deemed necessary – and urgent – ​​to prevent the worst extremes of climate change in this century.

“It’s been seven years since they were told they had to work on this. It’s disappointing how slowly they work,” DeMarco said, comparing the risks facing Canada’s roughly 170,000 fossil fuel workers to the 1993 collapse of the Atlantic cod fishery. Thirty thousand people lost their jobs when the cod stock in Atlantic Canada collapsed and the government imposed a fishing moratorium, according to the province of Newfoundland, and DeMarco said Tuesday that Ottawa ignored a subsequent recommendation to prepare for similar economic changes in the future.

The government remains committed to the Just Transition Act, and an official in the office of Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said on Tuesday he hoped to present the bill to parliament before the end of the year.

In a recent interview with the Star, Federal Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan said he did not like the term “just transition” because “it causes a lot of anxiety for workers” and implies that there is “a major conspiracy here to … disrupt the entire oil industry. industry.”

He also disputed comparisons with cod fishing, stating “in this case the fish was gone; in this case, oil is not,” and pointed to the government’s new tax credit to encourage companies to spend money on new technologies that Ottawa hopes will capture and store carbon emissions. oil and gas production.

Another report filed Tuesday concluded that the price of carbon for consumers in Canada is stricter than the system designed for heavy industries like cement, fertilizers and oil and gas production. This is because the industrial system only places the carbon price on a portion of a factory’s emissions.

The report says the current price of industrial carbon is so “low” that it risks undermining the “polluter pays” principle which asks those responsible for emissions to cover their costs.

The report also concluded that groups like Indigenous communities and small businesses also bear disproportionately high costs of carbon pricing, for reasons that include vulnerable people who do not receive carbon price rebates through annual tax filings, and the slow deployment of tax-raised funds to help businesses and other groups reduce their energy costs.

“It’s not fair for ordinary Canadians to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden,” DeMarco said Tuesday.

Guilbeault said the government is working to address the impact of carbon pricing on Indigenous communities and is preparing an “equivalency agreement” to ensure carbon pricing costs are more comparable across the country. .

Currently, emissions covered by pricing range from just 54% in Prince Edward Island to 84% in Ontario and 87% in Nova Scotia, according to Tuesday’s report.

A third report criticized the government for using ‘unrealistic assumptions’ to project that its strategy to promote hydrogen energy, which could help replace fossil fuels in transport and heavy industry, could account for 15% of Canada’s emissions reductions by 2030. DeMarco said the government calculated that with questionable assumptions, such as “overambitious” adoption of new technologies and “unrealistic” low electricity costs.

The government responded on Tuesday by pledging to draft a new framework to plan more coherently how policies could reduce emissions.

With files by Tonda MacCharles

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