"Just as earlier governments used industrial strategies to build our country, our current federal and provincial governments need modern industrial strategies to respond to the problem of climate change." — James Clancy, NUPGE National President
Ottawa (02 Dec. 2015) — As the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris begins, government leaders are all talking about how urgent it is that we take action to reduce emissions contributing to climate change. They’re right.
Actions need to match rhetoric
But as the Prime Minister and provincial Premiers say the right things in Paris, what’s being proposed doesn’t match the rhetoric. There is no plan to commit to the kind of targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are needed to prevent further serious damage to our planet.
"There is also nothing being said about how we transition to a green economy," says James Clancy, National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). "Properly implemented, the changes needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could be an opportunity. Where action is being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, new jobs are being created. But a transition program is needed to ensure workers in sectors that are likely to decline are not left behind."
Governments also need to realize the scale of change needed to deal with climate change will not happen if decisions are left to “the market.”
"Just as earlier governments used industrial strategies to build our country, our current federal and provincial governments need modern industrial strategies to respond to the problem of climate change," said Clancy.
Many federal and provincial policies adding to problem
Federal and provincial governments also need to recognize that, far from responding to the problem of climate change, many of the policies they are implementing are making the situation worse. The examples below show how some governments in Canada are failing in this regard.
Hydro One privatization will add to Ontario’s emissions
When electricity transmission is privatized, the priority becomes increasing profits for investors. In the case of electricity generation, that means increasing the amount of electricity carried to consumers.
In addition to the damage to the environmental impact, an increase in electricity consumption hurts consumers. They’re the ones paying for the additional infrastructure. he only beneficiaries are the owners of the privatized electrical utility who see their profits increase.
A privatized Hydro One will be no different. Its profits will be calculated as a percentage of the value of its infrastructure. If an increase in electricity consumption means additional infrastructure is required, profits for Hydro One shareholders will increase. That gives a privatized Hydro One a very strong incentive to oppose any measures that will reduce electricity consumption. This is what has happened in Nova Scotia where privatized Nova Scotia Power is attempting to reduce funds available for conservation programs.
In contrast, publicly owned utilities have to consider the public good. Because of the cost of new infrastructure and the impact of higher consumption on the environment, that means encouraging conservation.
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) investment and trade agreement could undermine environmental protection
Investor-state dispute settlement provisions give corporations the right to sue governments for lost profits when governments act to protect the public interest, for example when implementing new measures to protect the environment. These provisions in NAFTA are already a problem. Now their inclusion in the TPP will mean one more obstacle to getting the action we need to deal with climate change and other threats to the environment.
Funding for measures to reduce emissions shouldn’t depend on referendums
No referendums were needed to approve funding for measures that increase emissions related to climate change, like tax breaks for fossil fuel production. But when it came to funding expanded transit infrastructure, which would help reduce emissions, the British Columbia government didn’t have the political courage to approve the revenue measures needed. Instead, it passed the buck by holding a referendum — and like most referendums on complex plans where it is easy for opponents to raise side issues, the referendum failed.
It is easy for premiers and prime ministers to make speeches calling for urgent action on climate change on Earth Day or at international conferences. The test of whether they’re sincere is whether they are willing to fund the measures required to deal with the problem.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE