Under the Paris Agreement, a Just Transition is deemed a necessary industrial transformation to ensure a transition to a zero-carbon economy while leaving no one behind. While the Government of Canada undergoes its own consultations on just what a ‘Just Transition’ means, two new reports released this August layout progressive perspectives for a decarbonized economy.
A new report from Unifor entitled Navigating the Road Ahead: Rebuilding Canada’s Powerhouse Auto Sector was launched this August, with the election of the union’s new National President Lana Payne, that lays out recommendations on a way forward for industrial transformation out of production of internal combustion engine vehicles to electric cars.
Decarbonizing the transportation sector is crucial for climate action to cut emissions, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and ensure that the working-class aren’t taken for a ride every time the oil and gas industry decides on increasing profit margins. While building public transit infrastructure and building new communities around people instead of cars are better pathways to decarbonize transport, for much of Canada that is already built around the automobile, electric cars cannot be ignored.
Unifor shows us what policies and plans are needed for a Just Transition in the automotive industry that secure and create jobs while replacing gas-guzzlers with plug-in electric vehicles. This includes active labour market policies that support skills development and funding for union-run social welfare institutions, re-orienting international ‘fair trade’ policies, and the creation of a new ‘Ministry of Automotive Supply Chain Development’ to oversee this transformation. While a whole government department dedicated to the auto industry may be too narrow in scope to be viable, an auto industry ‘sector’ within a full Ministry of Just Transition should be created for a more comprehensive policy around this economic transformation.
In this Just Transition, however, new emphasis is being placed on resource extraction of so-called ‘critical minerals’ which are identified as necessary raw materials for this industrial shift. Unifor’s report highlights the need to plan around Canada’s endowment of materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite and domestically produce the semiconductors and batteries needed to get more electric cars on the road. The report itself acknowledges that, “it is imperative that government strategists and policymakers understand the perils of this plan without a full and proper acknowledgment of Canada’s repressive colonial past and its obligations to Indigeous Peoples and their land.” Unifor calls for alignment of resource extraction projects with Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples requiring “free, prior, and informed consent” (FPIC) before permitting any mining project.
The Yellowhead Institute’s new report Redwashing Extraction: Indigenous Relations at Canada’s Big Five Banks highlights what performative and superficial acknowledgement of FPIC looks like among the extractive investments made by financial institutions.
“Redwashing,” not unlike “greenwashing” is described as the general corporate response to social and legal issues that stem from resource extraction projects that infringe on Indigenous lands and rights by co-opting Reconciliation language and symbolic gestures without substantial changes in the approach to these projects. While employee training in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action may be offered at the Big Five Banks, checklist certifications are bought signing off on Corporate Social Responsibility, and diversity hirings are attempted, these actions do not truly address the needs of FPIC when it comes to investments in extractive industries.
While this report looks primarily at investments made in the oil and gas industry, there are strong implications with respect to how FPIC is advanced in current mining projects for critical mineral supply chains. In order for banks, and extractive industries in mining, to fully adhere to FPIC and the UN Declaration, they must fully incorporate these principles throughout their organizations. For an industrial transformation to decarbonize based on principles of justice is to be realized, within the critical minerals supply chain governments and corporations need meaningful engagement on Free, Prior, and Informed Consent.
While droughts and high temperatures grab headlines, truly implementing FPIC should not be seen as a roadblock to climate action, but instead be seen as an integral part to build trust and smooth relations to reduce transaction costs for a Just Transition. A federal Ministry of Just Transition would be well situated to build relations, convene industry and communities, and ensure that building a green economy also means a fair economy.