Canada: National Task Force on Just Transition for Coal Power Workers and Communities
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Canada has committed to a phase-out of coal power by 2030. This transition is expected to provide economic benefits of CAD 4.7 billion ($3.49 billion) but could also eliminate 42,000 coal-related jobs. In 2018, the Canadian government created the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, which brought together a broad range of stakeholders, including coal workers and community members, to identify what would be needed to ensure this transition was just. The task force made 10 recommendations, spanning governance, research and data, planning, local-level funding, community engagement, and support for workers. The 2019 national budget included funding for worker transition centers, an infrastructure fund to enhance local economic diversification in affected communities and new programs to financially support coal workers. Sustained funding will be crucial to long-term success.
In December 2018, the government of Canada announced plans to phase out coal-fired electricity and produce 90% of its electricity from non-emitting sources by 2030 (up from an estimated 66% in 2018). The economic benefits of the coal phase-out are estimated at CAD 4.7 billion ($3.49 billion), including CAD 3.4 billion ($2.5 billion) in avoided climate change damage, CAD 1.2 billion ($0.89 billion) in health benefits and CAD 40 million ($29.7 million) in overall environmental benefits. However, it would also eliminate 42,000 jobs, according to the Coal Association of Canada.
Policies, Actions and Results
To mitigate the negative impact of the coal phase-out, the government launched the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities in 2018. The Task Force brings together unions, coal workers, the private sector, NGOs, academics and local government representatives to develop recommendations for a just transition plan for impacted workers and the communities. After visiting 15 affected communities, meeting with over 80 stakeholders, holding eight public engagement sessions to hear from the general public in affected areas and touring five generating stations, two coal mines and a port, the task force submitted a report to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change in December 2018. The report provided 10 recommendations:
- “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.”
- “Include provisions for just transition in federal environmental and labour legislation and regulations, as well as relevant intergovernmental agreements.”
- “Establish a targeted, long-term research fund for studying the impact of the coal phase-out and the transition to a low-carbon economy.”
- “Fund the establishment and operation of locally driven transition centers in affected coal communities.”
- “Create a pension bridging program for workers who will retire earlier than planned due to the coal phase-out.”
- “Create a detailed and publicly available inventory with labor market information pertaining to coal workers, such as skills profiles, demographics, locations, and current and potential employers.”
- “Create a comprehensive funding program for workers staying in the labor market to address their needs across the stages of securing a new job, including income support, education and skills building, re-employment, and mobility.”
- “Identify, prioritize and fund local infrastructure projects in affected communities.”
- “Establish a dedicated, comprehensive, inclusive and flexible just transition funding program for affected communities.”
- “Meet directly with affected communities to learn about their local priorities, and to connect them with federal programs that could support their goals.”
The federal government quickly responded by committing to finance the following initiatives in the 2019 budget:
- Worker transition centers that will provide skills development programs and advance projects for economic diversification in Western and Eastern Canada, where there are both coal mining operations and coal-fired generating stations. A total of CAD 35 million ($26 million) has been allocated to fund those initiatives over five years, to be managed by the Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
- A dedicated CAD 150 million ($113 million) infrastructure fund to be established by 2020–2021 to support priority projects and economic diversification in affected communities. The fund will be managed by Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
- Explore new ways to protect wages and pensions for affected workers.
Advocates have called for similar efforts to be made to support a transition away from oil and gas.
- Strong federal support: Strong political will from the prime minister and the minister of environment and their commitment to the Paris Agreement have created a favorable environment to address climate change issues using a just transition approach. In addition, the federal government provided ample support and clear guidance, enabling the task force to carry out its work effectively. The task force was supported by a secretariat in the Canadian Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
- Effective social dialogue: The task force served as an effective social dialogue platform to ensure that the perspectives of the different stakeholders (e.g. unions, coal workers, affected communities, employers and environmental experts) informed the government’s development of concrete Just Transition initiatives and programs under the 2019 budget. The task force’s direct engagement with a wide variety of affected groups gave its recommendations the necessary legitimacy for the federal government to act upon.
Challenges and Gaps
- No clear plan for sustained, larger-scale funding: The resources allocated in the 2019 budget provide crucial funds to start implementing the task force’s recommendations, but the task force itself mentioned in its report that more funds will be required — hundreds of millions. The effort needs to be sustained for at least a decade as well, as the coal phase-out will not be completed until 2030.
- Canada’s Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities. 2018. A Just and Fair Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities.
- Canada’s Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities. 2018. What we heard from Canadian coal power workers and communities.
- Government of Canada. Canada’s coal power phase-out reaches another milestone. 12 December 2018. News release from Environment and Climate Change Canada. Ottawa, Ontario.
- European Commission. 2019. Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities. Case study, Platform for Coal Regions in Transition.