14 From Clean Growth to Climate Justice
In the wake of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s remarks at the opening of the Paris climate change conference in December 2015, the term “clean growth” has become a popular mantra in Canadian climate policy. Canada’s federal-provincial climate policy framework, released a year later, is titled the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (Canada 2016). The BC government also adopted this language in naming its Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council, appointed in October 2017. Outside government, prominent NGOs, such as the Pembina Institute, have made “clean growth” a prominent feature of their recent news releases and reports.1
Given that “clean growth” is a relatively new expression, it is worthwhile asking what it means and why climate policy is being framed this way. The term was first formally used in the March 2016 Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change, a work plan for federal, provincial, and territorial governments that emerged from a meeting of Canada’s first ministers. The declaration opens with a bold claim:
Canada stands at the threshold of building our clean growth economy. This transition will create a strong and diverse economy, create new jobs and improve our quality of life, as innovations in steam power, electricity and computing have done before. We will grow our economy while reducing emissions. We will capitalize on the opportunity of a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy to create good-paying and long-term jobs. (Canada, First Ministers 2016, 1)
In November 2017, in announcing the creation of his department’s “Clean Growth Program,” natural resources minister James Carr took the opportunity to reiterate the federal rhetoric:
Clean growth is good for our planet and our economy. It also plays to Canada’s competitive advantage with the clean technology innovation that will make our country a global leader in the transition to a low-carbon economy. Strategically developing and using clean technologies in our natural resource sectors is one more way we can make Canada stronger and more sustainable, future-proof our economy and create new opportunities for generations to come. (Quoted in Natural Resources Canada 2017)
In this chapter, I argue that “clean growth” is, at best, a reassuring but conveniently elastic and vague term that functions as a means of providing green cover for a business-as-usual expansion of fossil fuel production and exports. In unpacking the term, I review debates about economic growth in the context of environmental protection and examine the dubious usage of the adjective “clean.” I also review past efforts by governments, notably in British Columbia and Alberta, to persuade citizens of their “action” and “leadership” on climate change under the banner of clean growth. I then examine clean growth in practice and, in particular, the components of the federal Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.
In place of clean growth, I propose an alternative framework of climate justice, based on the research findings of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative’s Climate Justice Project (CJP), a project that I have led since its inception in 2007. This research has emphasized structural changes and collective action to equitably meet aggressive carbon emission reduction targets. A range of research findings from the CJP—spanning carbon pricing, transportation, household energy use and energy poverty, and green jobs and industrial strategies—is considered as a counterpoint to the corporate-friendly climate denialism of clean growth.2
The Rhetoric of Climate Policy in Canada
Canadian climate policy is full of terminology coined by governments to communicate that the government in question is in charge and is getting things done. The term “climate action” came to prominence in British Columbia in 2007 as part of a whole-of-government exercise that spawned a Climate Action Secretariat and a 2008 Climate Action Plan. With a carbon tax as its centrepiece, the BC government claimed the plan would achieve 73 percent of the province’s legislated target of a 33 percent reduction in emissions by 2020 relative to 2007 levels. Unfortunately, within a few years the BC government lost its zeal for climate action (see Lee 2017a).
The more self-congratulatory term “climate leadership” emerged in British Columbia and Alberta in 2015, in the lead-up to the Paris climate conference. The BC government launched an expert panel, the Climate Leadership Team (CLT), to provide policy advice. The CLT recognized that the province would not be able to meet its 2020 target largely because of government plans to develop a large liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry. The CLT proposed a replacement target (40 percent below 2007 levels by 2030), but its recommendations for reducing emissions were left out of the subsequent Climate Leadership Plan, released by the government in August 2016. As Shannon Daub and Zoë Yunker (2017) discovered, BC government officials consulted extensively with industry leaders in Calgary and essentially gutted the CLT’s recommendations.3
Alberta’s claim to climate leadership is somewhat different, although equally dubious. In the summer of 2015, the province’s then-NDP government convened a Climate Change Advisory Panel, which submitted its final report, Climate Leadership, that November, following which its recommendations were essentially adopted by the Alberta government as its Climate Leadership Plan. The plan contains some bona fide climate policies, including a carbon tax and a commitment to reduce leakages of methane gas, and a commitment to phase out coal-fired electricity (Alberta Climate Change Advisory Panel 2015, 5–8).
However, the Alberta plan contained no emission reduction targets. The government’s own modelling showed that, at best, emissions would be flat over the coming decades. This is because emission reductions from the above policies are set against growing emissions from the oil and gas industry. While the plan included a cap on oil sands emissions, the cap was sufficiently high that it allowed emissions to grow 40 percent above current levels. In short, under this vision of climate leadership, Alberta’s emissions would have gone down only if other countries had simply stopped buying Alberta fossil fuels.
The Emergence of Clean Growth
In the face of climate policy that is full of jargon—from the underlying climate science to technical issues of regulation and carbon pricing—it is too easy for governments to pat themselves on the back for setting targets and making rhetorical calls to action. Meanwhile, the status quo of growing fossil fuel production and exports remains unchallenged, with the result that stated emission reduction targets are rarely met.
Clean growth follows in this tradition of promising change without fundamentally disrupting the existing economic and social order. “Clean growth” is a purely political term that frames mitigation policy in terms of opportunities for business and away from the need for individual and collective sacrifice to avert future horrors (that is, the harsh reality painted by climate science). The rhetoric of clean growth evokes decarbonization, the replacement of fossil fuel energy with renewables.
The practice of clean growth, however, includes paradoxical claims that also accommodate expansion of oil sands and fracked gas production, accompanied by new bitumen pipelines and LNG terminals. While the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change includes some positive steps, it lacks the urgency that climate science calls for and fails to confront the entrenched power of the fossil fuel industry. The federal government has gone so far as to nationalize the Alberta-to-BC Trans Mountain Pipeline in order to ensure that a new pipeline along the same corridor (opposed by the BC government) takes place.
It is telling that economic growth gets first billing in the Pan-Canadian Framework. Since at least the middle of the twentieth century, the federal government has been obsessed with growth as its top policy priority, and growth is viewed as synonymous with progress and prosperity. Such calls mask ideological disagreements about the determinants of economic growth in advanced capitalist economies. The common neoliberal prescription for growth by means of tax cuts, deregulation, and free trade is, however, but one perspective. Progressives have often made the case for increased public infrastructure and services within the framework of growth.
There is a long-standing critique of economic growth from the standpoint of ecological limits. A thorough review is beyond the scope of this chapter, but a central point is that economic growth—through both increased population and increased consumption per capita—has been directly correlated with the use of fossil fuel energy and thus growing carbon emissions. In addition, a narrow focus on carbon emissions neglects other serious ecological challenges, including waste, environmental degradation, and a loss of biodiversity and the extinction of entire species (Jackson 2009).
From an economic perspective, the critique of growth extends to the use of gross domestic product (GDP) as the measured entity that must be grown. As Peter Victor (2008, 9) notes, GDP captures the growth of expenditures for items such as pollution control devices and home security systems that indicate a worsening of external circumstances, while leaving out the growth of such things as unpaid household work, voluntary labour, and environmental degradation. These shortcomings of GDP have prompted scholars to develop alternative and more comprehensive economic indicators, including the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (Daly and Cobb 1989) and the Genuine Progress Indicator (developed in 1995 by Redefining Progress, an organization dedicated to economic sustainability). Moreover, a relatively new branch of economics studies the determinants of well-being and happiness to promote a broader conception of what policies seeking progress and prosperity should entail (more on this below).
The focus on growth also glosses over extreme and growing inequality—the other “inconvenient truth.” For example, in 2016 the top 20 percent of households controlled 67 percent of total wealth (assets less debts), while the bottom 40 percent held a mere 2 percent.4 Inequality also shows up in terms of who benefits from consuming fossil fuels. The carbon footprint of the richest 20 percent of Canadians is almost double that of the poorest 20 percent, thanks to bigger houses, additional cars, greater frequency of travel, and higher levels of general consumption (Lee and Card 2011).
Thus, while “clean growth” is a convenient rhetorical shortcut, it is ultimately deceptive in light of the energy transition that is needed. That the power of the fossil fuel industry is unchecked in Canada’s climate change program speaks to the limitations of the current approach. As Blue (2016, 76) comments,
An underpinning assumption is that the same logic that precipitated the climate crisis can be used to fix it…. While proposed solutions demand that people undergo changes in lifestyle, behaviour and expectations, this is only to be accomplished within the existing system of economic and political relations in which technological and market-based solutions reign large. The problems associated with climate change are not perceived to be the result of existing political and economic systems as such but of excessive behaviours within these systems.
In other words, in the absence of systemic changes in the political and economic relations that underlie the ideology of growth, it is unlikely that climate change will be brought under control.
The adjective “clean” has repeatedly been used to rebrand dirty activities. Among the most popular is “clean coal,” an industry-led renaming of the most polluting fossil fuel in terms of carbon dioxide emissions as well as other air pollution harmful to human health. Clean coal is predicated on carbon sequestration and storage: the idea that smokestack emissions can be captured and piped into underground reservoirs where they will stay forever. In practice, however, such technology has been used to re-pressurize wells so that more oil and gas can be extracted. Moreover, the costs of carbon sequestration have proven to be extremely high, and storage methods unreliable.
“Clean LNG” is another term that greenwashes a fundamentally carbon-intensive activity. The proposed Woodfibre LNG plant near Squamish, BC, is one example. The plant will use grid electricity from BC Hydro rather than natural gas to power the energy-intensive liquefaction process. In this case, “clean” does not apply to the extraction and processing of natural gas, nor does it apply to the downstream emissions when that gas is combusted. Instead, it refers narrowly to electrification at one stage of the supply chain, where gas is chilled to liquid form. This is an extremely energy-intensive process, even if powered by renewables. This narrow focus also ignores fugitive methane emissions, a principal component of natural gas and a greenhouse gas (GHG) much more potent than carbon dioxide. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, over a twenty-year time horizon, methane has a global warming potential eighty-six times that of carbon dioxide (cited in Vaidyanathan 2015). As a result, even very small amounts of methane leakage from a wellhead or during the transportation of natural gas have significant climate impacts.
Even the term “clean energy” is deceptive. While one might assume that “clean” energy means renewables such as wind and solar power, both governments and industry advocates often use the term to refer to a fossil fuel, namely, natural gas. For example, in the Canada-China Joint Statement on Climate Change and Clean Growth (Trudeau and Li 2017), “clean energy” includes natural gas, which is discussed as if it were not a fossil fuel at all. While gas is a cleaner-burning fossil fuel than coal in terms of GHG emissions, the process of fracking for gas has huge environmental implications for water supplies, while also resulting in leakages of methane.
Putting a Price on Carbon
No policy has been as closely linked to climate policy as carbon pricing. A central component of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change is a commitment to a federally mandated carbon-pricing system, which obliges provincial and territorial governments to put in place their own carbon tax or cap-and-trade system or else face a decrease in federal climate-related funding and the imposition of a federal carbon tax (which would return revenues in full to the province). The framework calls for a national minimum carbon tax of $10 per tonne in 2018, rising by $10 each year to $50 per tonne in 2022, with no further increases specified (Canada 2016, 50).
The intuition behind a steadily rising carbon tax is that carbon emissions represent an external cost (or externality) imposed on third parties to a market transaction. That is, people in the future, including those living in other parts of the world, will have to pay for some of the damage caused by fossil fuels, in the form of climate-related impacts, used by Canadians today. Carbon taxes have a long pedigree in economics as a market-based tool such that prices would reflect the costs of carbon emissions on third parties outside the market transaction. Simply put, a rising carbon tax aims to alter behaviour over time by making emissions steadily more expensive. Consumers and businesses respond by changing the decisions they make, and so we achieve emission reductions.
How high would a carbon tax need to be in order to cover the cost of ongoing emissions? Calculating the “social cost of carbon”—that is, attempting to quantify the long-term economic cost to society of emitting a single additional tonne of CO2—is fraught with uncertainties. A number of models exist, each encompassing certain scenarios, and none is regarded as wholly reliable. In 2010, the US government placed the social cost of carbon at $21 (in 2007 US dollars) per ton of CO2 emissions. On the basis of the US analysis, Environment Canada then followed suit, pegging the social cost of carbon at $25.60 per tonne of CO2 of in 2011 (in 2009 Canadian dollars), rising to $31.50 per tonne by 2020 and then to $53.70 by 2050 (Heyes, Morgan, and Rivers 2013, S70).5 In a critical analysis of the methodology used in the US, Frank Ackerman and Elizabeth Stanton (2012) argued that the figure of $21 per tonne was far too low: the cost in 2010 could be as high as nearly $900 per tonne, with the high-end estimate rising to $1,550 in 2050 (14, figures 4 and 5; costs are in 2007 US dollars). As they point out, “a review of scenarios that reach zero or negative net global emissions within this century finds that they often imply carbon prices, and marginal abatement costs, of $150 to $500/tCO2 by 2050” (2).
In view of the uncertainties built into such modelling, these estimates are bound to be imperfect. As Ackerman and Stanton (2012, 20) point out, “we cannot know in advance how large climate damages, or climate sensitivity, will turn out to be.” No consensus exists regarding projections of future growth, the appropriate discount rate to use in translating future costs into present-day values, how best to accommodate the possibility of catastrophic impacts resulting from the crossing of climate tipping points, and so on. Nor can such calculations capture long-term, large-scale consequences of climate change such as the effects of a loss of biodiversity on food cycles or the increased displacement of both human populations. Such estimates are, however, inherently flawed in a more fundamental way. They quantify environmental damage purely in terms of human use value, “implying that climate damages can be perfectly compensated for by increased economic productivity” (Heyes, Morgan, and Rivers 2013, S71). In a sense, then, social cost of carbon estimates attempt to assign a dollar value to nature.
Putting a price on carbon is, moreover, not the same as putting a sufficient price on carbon, or at least to developing a future trajectory of prices consistent with meeting stated emission reduction targets. This has led to excessive praise for pricing at levels that are more symbolic than effective. British Columbia’s carbon tax, for example, was introduced at $10 per tonne in July 2008, rose to $30 per tonne in July 2012. In April 2018, and then again in 2019, the tax was increased by $5 per tonne. The current rate of $40 per tonne, equivalent to 8.89 cents per litre of gasoline, will rise to a maximum of $50 per tonne by April 2021. As Mark Jaccard, Mikela Hein, and Tiffany Vass (2016) comment, moreover, while carbon pricing may be the most efficient way to meet an emissions reduction target, the size of the tax needed to accomplish this will be politically unpalatable (and they thus recommend a package of flexible regulations that would be a better political option).
A deeper concern is that taxes on carbon emissions are endorsed as a market-driven solution to the problem of climate change, a matter of “getting the prices right.” Yet carbon emissions are but one of many environmental hazards associated with fossil fuels. Moreover, an obsession with market solutions distracts attention away from other well-known market imperfections, including inequities in bargaining power between workers and employers, asymmetries in access to information, and the disproportionate market power exercised by large corporations. Each of these issues points to a more complicated reality that merits public-sector interventions in the form of infrastructure, public services, taxes, and regulation.
In the case of British Columbia, the market-friendly nature of the carbon tax was amplified by adherence to the principle of “revenue neutrality,” according to which all revenues should be returned to taxpayers in the from of tax cuts or credits, that was fashionable in academic and policy circles at the time. The theory was that revenue neutrality would yield a “double dividend”: the carbon tax would reduce emissions, while the tax cuts would stimulate growth. The newly elected government removed the revenue neutrality provision in the fall of 2017, recognizing the need for public investments as complementary climate policies.
Letting Industry Off the Hook
With most of the attention on the need for households to reduce their emissions, industry, the largest source of emissions in Canada, was largely spared direct regulations intended to reduce emissions. Indeed, in the name of “competitiveness,” fossil fuel lobbyists are pressing for exemptions from climate policies that affect so-called “trade-exposed emissions-intensive industries.” Any meaningful climate plan would push up strongly against entrenched interests in the fossil fuel industries, and yet this renewed call for climate action in the wake of the Paris Agreement and the release of the Pan-Canadian Framework provoked no scathing op-eds or oppositional campaigns from corporate Canada.
The most notable federal commitment on industrial emissions is a promise, made in June 2016, to reduce methane emissions by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2025 (Canada 2016, 51). This target has been endorsed by the BC and Alberta governments. The subsequent BC and Alberta plans include a narrow focus on preventing leaks in oil and gas facilities and equipment. While such efforts hold promise, there is no accurate baseline: governments do not monitor or measure methane emissions but instead rely on data reported by industry and modelling to develop the numbers reported in the national GHG inventory. Recent scientific studies have found significant underreporting by industry of methane emissions from fracking operations in British Columbia (Werring 2018) and oil sands mining Alberta (Johnson et al. 2017).
The most significant policy in the Pan-Canadian Framework is the phase-out of coal-fired electricity in Alberta by 2030. If all this power were to be replaced by renewables, it would represent a major leap toward the target. But much of the shift will be to natural gas, which will have a much more modest impact on emissions than would a shift directly to renewable energy sources. And in the case of fracked gas, leakages of methane would undermine any benefit relative to coal.
Special treatment for fossil fuels, chemical production, and other carbon-intensive sectors is wrapped in calls for innovation and technology, which seem founded more than anything on wishful thinking. Especially concerning are government efforts to subsidize the very industries causing the problem. Of the $200 million in funding promised in the 2017 federal budget to support the research and development of “clean technology” in the resource sectors, just over three-quarters—$155 million—subsequently went to Natural Resources Canada’s Clean Growth Program, launched in November 2017. Hailed by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna as one of Canada’s “smart and strategic investments,” the program aims to fund “clean technology” projects in the areas of energy, mining, and forestry, thereby “helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve environmental outcomes” (Natural Resources Canada 2017).
Finally, in accordance with the Western Climate Initiative cap-and-trade system, the Pan-Canadian Framework counts as emission reductions planned purchases of carbon credits by Ontario and Québec from California. Notwithstanding the dubious environmental credibility of offsets, and the withdrawal of Ontario from the initiative in June 2018, this assumes that California will have excess credits to sell. It is also an implicit admission that provinces may not be willing to do the hard work of reducing industrial emissions within their own borders.
Growing Fossil Fuel Production and Exports
While the above actions to reduce emissions are inadequate, even worse has been the federal decision to double down on fossil fuel production. More than one-quarter of Canada’s GHG emissions come from the oil and gas sector, but plans for a major expansion of the sector continue unabated. Emissions from the oil and gas sector are anticipated to grow by 21 percent up to 2030 (National Energy Board 2016), an increase that would counter most of the benefit from phasing out coal-fired electricity.
The Pan-Canadian Framework does not put reductions in fossil fuel production on the table. This is, unfortunately, consistent with the Paris Agreement, which places no limits or sanctions on the supply of fossil fuels being brought to market by producing countries. The Paris Agreement is thus a “good deal” for Canada because only half of the fossil fuels we extract get counted in our GHG inventory (Lee 2017b), with the remainder exported and the emissions counted in the place where the fuel is burned. Exported emissions might not be a problem if the commitments made by countries in the Paris Agreement were enough to keep global warming below 1.5°C to 2°C (above pre-industrial levels—about two hundred years ago). But this is not the case. Sinn (2012) calls this a “green paradox,” in that producing countries have a powerful incentive to respond to the Paris Agreement by doubling down on fossil fuels now before their value evaporates. The problem with new fossil fuel infrastructure projects—in particular, LNG terminals and bitumen pipelines—is that they lock us in to a high-emissions trajectory for several decades to come, giving up on the 1.5°C to 2°C limit of the Paris Agreement.
A Climate Justice Framework
In contrast to clean growth, a framework of climate justice offers an alternative approach. The term originates from the international context of climate change and who wins and who loses from the production and consumption of fossil fuels. As Shane Gunster (2016, 62) notes,
[A] climate justice frame insists that the most important thing to know about the problem is the highly unequal and grossly unfair distribution of risks, responsibility and benefits: simply put, those who are least responsible for causing climate change will suffer the most harm from its impacts, while those who bear the most responsibility will not only suffer the least but also are, in fact, the principal beneficiaries of fossil fuel use.
The Climate Justice Project, led by the BC Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, explored the concept of climate justice primarily in the context of British Columbia, with extensions to federal policies. A central premise was that if climate policies fail to take into account inequalities and differing resources, they will likely make things worse for vulnerable people—those who have done the least to contribute to the problem. Instead, the concept of climate justice integrates social justice principles into climate policy for an approach that seeks win-win outcomes spanning employment, health and well-being, and systemic changes that reduce emissions across society. Climate justice is thus an inclusive approach to overcoming political inertia and other barriers to change. It makes the case that effective and fair climate action is also good industrial and employment policy. The theme of rethinking the “good life,” including additional co-benefits in terms of health and well-being, has been at the heart of the CJP since its inception. Done well, the shift away from fossil fuels can provide additional benefits in terms of health and well-being, economic security, and reduced inequality.
Fair and Effective Carbon Pricing
In place of a market-based preoccupation with “getting the prices right,” a climate justice approach recognizes that a well-designed carbon tax perhaps more importantly provides the revenues needed to make public investments that reinforce climate action. A challenge in moving away from fossil fuels is that companies are putting billions of dollars on the table for their investments. While the carbon tax is an ideal source of revenue to support alternative investments in needed services and infrastructure, in order to alter marketplace behaviour, federal and provincial carbon prices would need to be much higher, eventually reaching $200 per tonne or more. For a carbon tax to be both fair and effective, however, some reforms to the revenue recycling regime are needed before the tax is increased.
First, the carbon tax is a regressive tax, applied uniformly across all income brackets, which means that the tax consumes a larger share of the income of low-income households than it does in high-income households. Although carbon-pricing systems (including that in British Columbia) generally attempt to offset this effect by means of low-income carbon credits, these credits typically represent only a small portion of the total revenue from the tax and are often too low to compensate for its regressive nature. In order to address this problem effectively, roughly one-third to one-half of carbon tax revenues should be used to fund a credit that would flow to a broad range of lower-income households. In an earlier publication (Lee 2011), I lay out a credit system based on the Canada Child Tax Benefit model that would provide a carbon credit to roughly 80 percent of all households, with the bottom half of all households receiving more in credits, on average, than they would pay in carbon tax. Under such an approach, the heavy lifting would be accomplished by households with higher incomes—those who already have the largest carbon footprints.
Second, the principle of revenue neutrality must be rejected, with what remains of carbon tax revenues after credits are paid out used to support complementary climate policies. These could include major new public investments that accelerate climate action in the form of public transit, retrofit programs for buildings, green jobs training and just transition programs, and forest conservation and stewardship. Using the revenues to build the infrastructure we need for the twenty-first century would also support green job creation.
Shifting to 100 Percent Renewable Energy
Conservation and energy efficiency are generally accepted as the least expensive, lowest-impact way to meet energy demands. Reductions in consumption through demand-side management, together with improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings, lighting, and appliances, are probably sufficient to offset additional demand arising from population increase and economic growth. The central planning challenge stems from two major sources of demand on the system: residential and commercial buildings that use fossil fuels for heating and hot water and the transportation of people and goods.
Like carbon taxes, electricity pricing must take into account the proportionally greater adverse impact of price hikes on lower-income groups. Low-income households already pay a greater share of their income in energy and electricity costs, and they are far more likely to rent their housing. Yet, as tenants, they typically are not in a position to choose to make improvements to their housing with respect to energy efficiency. Most home energy retrofit programs are geared toward homeowners and so benefit the relatively affluent. Although significant emission reductions could result from energy efficiency investments in multi-unit rental buildings and older housing stock (Lee, Kung, and Owen 2011), the challenge lies in persuading building owners to make such investments.
Complementary initiatives that can reduce the demand for electricity include neighbourhood-scale energy projects. District energy systems produce thermal energy (in the form of hot water) at a central plant, which is then distributed by a network of underground pipes to buildings and houses in a local area. While such systems have a long history in urban areas, they should have a greater profile in the transition. Such systems provide a green infrastructure that enables the reduction of carbon emissions from buildings. The City of Vancouver’s Neighbourhood Energy Utility, which serves Southeast False Creek, is a leading example. By providing space heating and hot water to buildings through the recapture of waste heat from the sewage system, the utility has achieved more than a 60 percent reduction in GHG emissions.6
In addition, new models of public ownership, often described as “energy democracy,” that aim to alter the locus of control over energy resources align well with a potential shift to 100 percent renewable energy. As James Angel (2016, 3) observes, the discourse of energy democracy contests the terrain of energy production by arguing for collective ownership and for systems that reflect the public interest and place social justice and environmental objectives ahead of profit.
Transportation and Complete Communities
In transportation, an area that represents another quarter of Canada’s GHG emissions, the Pan-Canadian Framework (Canada 2016, 19) calls for “increasingly stringent standards for emissions from light-duty vehicles” and the swift development of a Canada-wide strategy for zero-emission vehicles. However, shifting from internal combustion engines to electric cars is only part of the picture for mitigating carbon emissions, and policy makers are arguably focusing too narrowly on decarbonizing tailpipe emissions rather than making investments in mobility through higher-efficiency modes like public transit. While the framework does mention public transit expansion and upgrades, federal funding commitments have thus far been more modest.
Yet with dedicated and sufficient funding for public transit expansion, faster and higher-capacity transit networks could be built within a decade. Investments could also be made in existing public transit infrastructure to improve its efficiency, especially if measures were undertaken to repurpose roadways and parking areas. Indeed, quite apart from carbon emissions, a heavy reliance on automobiles comes with other costs: air and noise pollution, the need for adequate parking space, time lost owing to congestion, and accidents that can cause injury or death. This suggests that well-designed transportation investments could not only reduce emissions but improve the quality of life in many ways.
A climate justice vision is one of “complete communities,” in which people can meet their everyday needs without having to travel long distances (see Condon et al. 2010). Such communities emphasize walking, biking, and transit, supplemented by car-sharing, with homes located close to work, shops, entertainment, parks, and public services. Signs of such a shift are already beginning to appear in some Canadian cities. According to the 2016 census, for example, nearly half of all commuters in the City of Vancouver walk, bicycle, or take public transit to work.7 Complete communities create an inclusive environment for seniors, youth, people with disabilities, and low-income families, one where they can live and move about easily even if they are not able to drive or cannot afford a car. However, affordable housing must be integrated into such communities, with the need for new housing in fact providing an opportunity for redevelopment plans that reinforce complete communities. Public-sector investments in libraries, child care facilities, and community health centres can also help to anchor redevelopment.
Closing the Loop
“Closing the loop” refers to the shift from a linear economic model, in which raw materials are extracted, transformed into consumer goods, and ultimately thrown out, toward a resource recovery model, sometimes called a “circular economy,” in which materials are recycled. Upstream, proactive solutions include aggressive materials reduction, redesign, and reuse before recycling and composting. The goal is a dramatic reduction in the volume of materials that flow through the economy, with corresponding reductions in the amount of energy used and carbon emissions from resource extraction, processing, and transportation. Indeed, carbon dioxide is the single largest waste product by weight. The difference is that carbon pollution goes into the atmosphere, not into landfill.
A climate justice approach rejects incineration (typically rebranded as waste-to-energy), which creates the perception that waste has disappeared. However, incineration only transforms materials into other forms, releasing GHGs and other toxic compounds like dioxins and furans into the air, while still leaving solid waste (toxic ash) that must be landfilled. Incineration also wastes the embodied energy in products that result from resource extraction and processing, product manufacture, and transportation.
A wide range of innovative economic activity is possible with well-designed zero-waste policies, including dematerialization, support of sharing economies, and new leasing models for various services. In a study of reducing GHG emissions by eliminating waste, my colleagues and I estimated that, by 2040, aggressive zero-waste policies in British Columbia could result in 6.2 million tonnes of CO2 savings by displacing organics from landfills and reducing the need for energy-intensive upstream extraction and processing activities (Lee et al. 2013, 37). Well-designed reuse policies can support local economic development and the creation of new green jobs by increasing local capacity to manage and add value to recovered materials. In the same study, we estimated that, if waste exports were reduced and domestic markets for recovered materials developed, approximately seven thousand new direct jobs that would result from 100 percent recycling of British Columbia’s waste (34). Governments can help build this capacity through their procurement policies and by setting minimum recycled-content standards for the marketplace.
Shifting to Green Jobs
Importantly, in comparison to investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, green investments tend to require more labour power and therefore generate a greater number of jobs (see Lee and Card 2012, 38–39). Thus, a well-designed transition plan should have a net positive impact on employment. Investments in low-carbon services would have a similar effect. Key areas include early learning and child care, which would benefit children and families, and seniors’ care, including home and residential care.
We will also need to ensure a “just transition” strategy for resource industry workers. The costs of adjustment should not be shouldered by those most impacted by them. In past resource busts, families have faced extreme instability because of lost incomes, manifest in drug and alcohol addiction, increased domestic violence, and divorce (Cooling et al. 2015). Stable management of fossil fuel industries over a two-to-three-decade wind-down period would better serve workers and communities. This should include averting the boom and bust of commodity markets, with strategic use of limited fossil fuels in the transition to a zero-carbon economy.
Conclusion: From Growth to Well-Being
CJP research has emphasized structural changes and collective action, rather than individual behavioural change, as means of lowering carbon footprints. It also makes the case that effective and fair climate action is good industrial and employment policy. The theme of rethinking the “good life,” including additional co-benefits in terms of health and well-being, has been at the heart of the CJP since its inception.
A growing body of research into well-being and happiness tells us to look beyond money and consumption. While income matters a great deal at lower levels—when one is poor, a little money makes a big difference—once basic needs are met, higher income does not necessarily translate into gains in happiness. Research points to substantial benefits to be had from a more equitable distribution of wealth; inequality manifests in weaker performance on a range of social and health indicators (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009). Social fairness in terms of income and employment distribution may, in fact, be vital for achieving the changes required for a transition to a sustainable economy. Some key insights into well-being relevant to climate justice include the following:
- Full employment and decent work. Unemployment has been shown to have huge negative consequences for our well-being. The quality of the work we do also affects our well-being because it gives us purpose, a challenge, and opportunities to develop relationships with others. Work not only provides income but helps to sustain social relationships. A green jobs program that promotes work that has meaning and purpose fosters precisely the type of work that contributes to higher levels of well-being.
- Time and work-life balance. The amount and quality of leisure time is important for well-being, in view of the physical and mental health benefits associated with recreation, whereas long work hours may harm our health and increase stress. Time pressures from work can also reduce time available for family activities, for caring work, and for volunteering. Reducing long commutes can also liberate time and increase well-being.
- Community and social cohesion. The most important factors contributing to happiness seem to include having close relationships with family and friends, helping others, and being active in community, charitable, and political activities. In large urban areas, participation in community and thus the ability to psychologically flourish can be constrained by social isolation and loneliness.
These findings have led to a growing understanding that focusing on economic growth is a flawed approach to well-being. This expanding body of research is broadly consistent with the notion of climate justice. As the authors of the 2012 World Happiness Report comment,
The environmental debate could be importantly recast by changing the fundamental objectives from economic growth to building and sustaining the quality of lives, as assessed by those whose lives they are. This will depend crucially on the human capacity for cooperation…. People gain in happiness by working together for a higher purpose. There can be no higher purpose than promoting the Earth’s environmental balance, the well-being of future generations, and the survival and thriving of other species as well. Sustainability is an instrumental goal, because without it, our health and prosperity are bound to collapse. But environmental sustainability is also an end goal: we care about nature, we care about other species, and we care about future generations. (Helliwell, Layard, and Sachs 2012, 96)
Resistance begins when we recognize the damage done to us by those whose values prioritize self-interest over respect for nature and basic human needs. Canada is a wealthy nation with abundant geological, physical, and human assets that should enable it to make a fair and effective energy transition. Being a climate leader means developing a coherent program of green investment, job creation, and industrial policy and not indulging in vacuous rhetoric about “clean growth.”
- 1. See, for example, Pembina Institute (2017), as well as the institute’s comments on Budget 2019 (Turcotte 2019). Nor has Canada been alone in embracing the term: witness the United Kingdom’s 2017 “Clean Growth Strategy.”
- 2. Much of the CJP’s key research has been conducted in partnership with academics, environmental NGOs, labour unions, and others through a multi-year SSHRC grant (2009–15).
- 3. Chapter 9 in this volume offers an in-depth discussion of British Columbia’s evolving climate policy, including an account of these closed-door consultations.
- 4. Calculated from data in Statistics Canada, Table 11-10-0049-01 (formerly CANSIM 205-0004), “Survey of Financial Security (SFS), Assets and Debts by Net Worth Quintile, Canada, Provinces and Selected Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs),” Statistics Canada, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1110004901. Here, I have expressed the figures for the second and for the highest net worth quintiles as percentages of the figure for total net worth.
- 5. Clearly, these dollar values are not directly comparable, owing to differences in both currency and unit of measurement (a ton is roughly nine-tenths of a tonne). The estimates are, however, closely similar. https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/forms-publications/previous-year-forms-publications/archived-rc4152/archived-average-exchange-rates-2007.html.
- 6. “Southeast False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility,” City of Vancouver, n.d., accessed February 28, 2020, https://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/southeast-false-creek-neighbourhood-energy-utility.aspx. See also Lee (2015) for a detailed study of the system.
- 7. “Census Profile, 2016 Census: Vancouver, City [Census Subdivision], British Columbia and Greater Vancouver, Regional District [Census Division], British Columbia,” Statistics Canada, last modified August 9, 2019, https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=CSD&Code1=5915022&Geo2=CD&Code2=5915&SearchText=Vancouver&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&B1=Journey%20to%20work&TABID=1&type=1 (“Journey to work,” view by Rank). The breakdown is 29.7 percent by public transit, 13.7 percent by foot, and 6.1 percent by bicycle.
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