Now is the time to enact a bold, worker-focused green industrial strategy.
Made abundantly clear from the lethargic pace of carbon emissions reduction efforts over the past couple of decades, market forces on their own are unable to provide the kind of transition that will prevent catastrophic climate change. Governments around the world must step up to combat the dire ecological and social threats posed by the climate emergency. Canada in particular, leveraging its wealth and economic power built on a substantial contribution to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, must implement an ambitious climate policy to achieve substantial emissions reductions.
Still, as market forces prevail in Canada’s current approach to tackling emissions reductions, the working class has every right to be concerned. Historically, when governments have not taken the lead during periods of economic turmoil and transition, workers get left behind. During this period of necessary economic transformation in the face of impending environmental catastrophe, governments cannot take a back seat and let the shift to a green economy serve profits over people.
As such, Canada must implement a decarbonization strategy that puts workers first. This strategy must focus on key sectors in need of emissions reductions: namely, transportation, energy, as well as homes and buildings. Additionally, it is paramount that this effort addresses issues endemic to the Canadian economy–such as the current affordability crisis, poverty, and inequality–by promoting climate friendly solutions that distribute resources to those that need them most.
The Government of Canada has declared its support on the world stage for a just transition based on the principles of environmental sustainability, labour rights, inclusivity, and poverty eradication. This, along with Canada’s Paris Agreement pledge, commits the country to reducing carbon emissions by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030 while simultaneously tackling economic deprivation and inequality, as well as supporting workers who will be affected by the shift to a net-zero economy by 2050.
However, by the government’s own admission, it is currently not on-track to meet its emissions targets. Despite passing the federal Emissions Reduction Plan in 2022, Canada remains ill-prepared to reach its 2030 targets. Moreover, the government has not committed enough resources to create new, good jobs in the wake of the inevitable labour market disruptions that will occur if the needed steps to reduce carbon emissions are taken. A significant change in direction is needed so that Canada does not miss this generation-defining chance.
Recently, the Green Economy Network (GEN), a Canadian coalition of trade unions and climate activists, published its updated Common Platform, highlighting the investments needed to achieve Canada’s necessary emissions reductions targets, as well as the good green jobs that will be created by such action.
GEN is calling for massive public investments in public transit, energy efficiency retrofits, and renewable energy that will lower carbon emissions, spur economic growth, and create unionized, sustainable, green jobs. The Common Platform is a tool we invite campaigners and policymakers to use to show Canadians how feasible climate action is when we can commit to building a better world.
The bottom line is this: greening Canada’s economy will require massive public investments. Governments need to make these investments, as market mechanisms have been slow or resistant to promoting green development despite the need to decarbonize rapidly. On top of building things that improve affordability in everyday life–from improvements to energy efficiency, to expanded public transit, to relinquishing dependence on increasingly more expensive fossil fuels–investments of this nature will reduce carbon emissions while improving economic efficiency.
Together, transportation, buildings and electricity account for 43% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, based on the latest available data. These sectors are also reliant on fossil fuels, meaning focusing green investments in them will reduce Canada’s dependence on both domestically produced and imported oil and gas, further augmenting the green transition.
Across Canada, public investments totalling $188 billion over five years in these key priorities are urgently needed to drive a prosperous green transformation. This funding must also coincide with social support, re-employment, and compensation measures for affected parties, and be devised with the participation of workers and their representatives.
The Common Platform calls for a transformative investment of $40 billion dollars across Canada over the next five years to green Canada’s electricity systems.
While some progress has been made with the development of federal Clean Electricity Regulations, leaving market forces to build clean electricity infrastructure has led to slowdowns or failures such as the Atlantic Loop project that have hampered emissions reductions efforts. Further investments and government leadership are needed to build cross-province electricity transmission, renewable energy generation, energy storage infrastructure, and to support community-led electrification projects in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities.
The Common Platform demonstrates how much further we need to go to accelerate energy efficiency retrofits across Canada. Additional funding and more programs are needed to help increase electricity capacity as further electrification puts a heavier load on energy systems. Accelerating retrofits would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use, in addition to helping Canadians amidst the current housing affordability crisis. Government investment can be leveraged to help Canadians reduce their hydro and heating costs, while ensuring present housing stock is restored in addition to building further supply.
To help this sector decarbonize, $65.5 billion over five years is recommended to increase energy efficiency in Canada’s residential, commercial, and public building stock. This is far more substantial than the investments made through the ongoing federal Greener Homes Grant that is expected to cost $2.6 billion over seven years. A serious effort to reduce building sector emissions, especially amidst a housing affordability crisis, will require far more serious investments and create good jobs.
Lastly, in addressing one of the larger sectors responsible for Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions due to its major reliance on fossil fuels, the expansion of intra- and inter-city public transportation services requires massive investments and major government leadership. GEN recommends an investment of $80 billion over five years to expand public transit infrastructure in cities, and build out intercity rail and bus connections.
Reliance on the private sector in this area has only brought delay, and at times failure, in building the transit infrastructure needed to reduce emissions, create jobs, and make life more affordable amid rising gas and personal vehicle prices.
Public-private partnerships for transit infrastructure projects such as the Ottawa Confederation Line, Toronto Eglinton Crosstown, and the proposed VIA Rail Quebec City-Windsor high frequency corridor have been riddled with delays and derailments. They also often go over budget and fail to suit the needs of ordinary Canadians. Time and time again, using the market to cut corners for profits in public transit fails to meaningfully reduce transportation sector emissions, make life affordable for Canadians, and build public capacity to expand these services further.
Projected Employment Impacts of the Common Platform
|$CAD (billions) Invested Over
|500,000 – 640,000
|500,000 – 640,000
|770,000 – 1.09 million
|1.77 million – 2.42 million
Real government leadership is needed to act on the recommended investments outlined in the Common Platform. GEN welcomes policymakers, labour unions and Canadians to take stock of what is needed to fight catastrophic climate change and push for a truly green economic transformation that leaves nobody behind. We cannot afford to delay these critical investments further, as the future costs of inaction far outweigh the price of ambitious investments now.