If you take climate change seriously, you must, by definition, be pro-worker.
We took this message to the Offshore Northern Seas conference in Stavanger, Norway last month, one of the biggest energy trade shows in the world. Canada brought a proud contingent to discuss some of the most pressing issues we face. Finding reliable sources of energy now, with a war in Europe. Lowering emissions. Building up renewables. And making it all happen at the same time.
It’s a big challenge, and its success hinges on the support of working people. If workers are not on board — if they think that policymakers are all in star chambers in Stavanger or Geneva or Ottawa, making decisions on things that affect their daily lives — we will have alienated them.
If they don’t feel a part of that process, progress will be stopped in its tracks. The irony is these are the very people who are most essential to this mission. The very people who figured out how to get oil out of the sand in Alberta and Saskatchewan and figured out how to get oil from the treacherous waters of Newfoundland’s offshore are the same people who are going to lower emissions. These are the same people who are going to build up renewables. We can’t do it without them.
So how do we get their support?
For one, we can’t forget how this affects people on the ground. The idea of a looming “transition” makes people anxious.
According to a survey from Abacus Data last year, seven in 10 workers worry the costs of retraining and upskilling will be too much for them to afford, while three in four workers believe jobs in the renewable sector will not pay as well.
We need to provide some certainty. Certainty that people’s jobs will be there for some time. Certainty that their companies will make their jobs sustainable and will invest in lowering emissions.
Certainty that if they learn new skills and train for new jobs, those jobs will be there for them on the other side. A job that pays well or at least not less than their current wage. A job they can take pride in, feel safe, take time off when they’re sick, put their tools down at the end of the day and get some rest.
Unions fight hard for these jobs; industry also needs to fight for them.
Opinion: The opportunity to reinvest in the energy sources of the future is now, given the record profits in the oil and gas sector, write Sean Strickland and @SeamusORegan. #cdnpoli #PuttingWorkersFirst #climatechange
Two, we must build a low-carbon future now. The slightest fraction of a degree of global heating will mean the difference to hundreds of millions, if not billions, of lives. We need to persist as if nothing can stop us. We need to give workers hope for the future. And the oil and gas industry, our country’s largest and fastest-growing emissions sector, must do its part.
The opportunity to reinvest in the energy sources of the future is now, given record profits in the oil and gas sector. From nuclear to hydrogen, to carbon capture utilization and storage, to small modular reactors, to renewables.
Delaying these investments will only raise costs and raise doubt among workers and their communities. To lower emissions now in Canada’s oil and gas sector is to skate to where the puck is going.
Three, we can and must work together on this. Unions, industry and government solving these challenges together. The Norwegians do this well. They’ve built trust, and they’re seeing the results.
The bottom line is that we have no choice. We need workers on board, and we need their expertise, their ingenuity and their sheer bloody-mindedness to lower emissions, urgently. Our kids, our grandkids, our country, our economy and our planet itself depend on it.
Seamus O’Regan is Canada’s labour minister.
Sean Strickland is the executive director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions.