Regional transition centers in coal regions in Canada are being established in order to support the communities during the country’s coal phaseout. The units operated by former coal miners are one of the achievements of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal and Power Workers and Communities, introduced to find a solution for 3,900 workers directly employed in the coal sector.
In 2016, the Canadian government decided to accelerate the phaseout of coal burning as a means to generate electricity, setting a target at 90% for the country’s power generated by non-emitting sources (in terms of CO2) by 2030. Four provinces in Canada still produce electricity from coal – Alberta, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan.
Canada has 17 coal power plants, and nine mines. In 2015, fossil fuel was used to generate 11% of Canada’s electricity and was responsible for 78% of the electricity sector GHG emissions.
3,900 workers are directly employed in the coal sector
In these provinces, around 3,900 workers are directly employed in the coal sector. The province of Ontario had already completed a coal phaseout by 2014. The political decision was taken, among other reasons, to improve the air quality in the province and in its biggest city, Toronto.
Aware of the geographically and socially uneven distribution of the negative effects of a coal phaseout, the Canadian government established the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal and Power Workers and Communities. The task force was instructed to provide knowledge, options, and recommendations to the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change. The overall question was: how can we ensure this low-carbon transition is a fair one, especially for affected coal workers and communities?
How can we ensure this low-carbon transition is a fair one, especially for affected coal workers and communities?
Members of the task force included the majority of workers representatives from trade unions, the coal sector, affected communities as well as advocates and experts for the environment, sustainability and community development.
Early in 2019, after nine months of concentrated work, the task force presented their results in two final reports.
Based on the first-hand exchanges with workers and their families, employers and business representatives, labour union representatives, provinces and local authorities, NGOs and other stakeholders in each of the Canadian coal regions, the task force provided a detailed report on the types and scale of challenges, new economic opportunities, funds to be harvested, policy opportunities and gaps, as well as recommendations on a consultation process regarding skills and training efforts needed to make communities fit for the upcoming transition.
The information gathered was then summed up in 10 recommendations on structuring a just transition plan for the phaseout of coal.
While there are no challenges known to the public that significantly inhibited the task force in their work progress, there are challenges to come in implementing the recommendations into a sound transition strategy.
Not all provinces support the approach to phasing out coal power
So far, the Canadian government has pledged an investment of CAD 35 million (USD 26.3 million), but achieving the goal of a just transition will likely require additional investment.
Not all provinces support the approach to phasing out coal power. Changes in provincial governments (recently in Alberta) as well as potentially on the federal level might reshuffle the cards for energy policy and just transition measures.
The government’s decision to accelerate the coal phaseout can be seen as part of a longer political process: the governing Liberals ran their 2015 campaign for the national elections on an environmental agenda.
Coal is of lower economic importance to Canada compared to oil and gas
However, it must be acknowledged coal is of lower economic importance to Canada than oil and gas. The number of jobs related to oil and gas extraction is more than ten times higher than in coal mining, thus the phaseout of domestic coal use can be considered a moderate challenge within Canada’s climate transition process.
One of the major achievements of the task force was to take affected workers and their families, employers, labour union representatives, municipalities, community members, business representatives, and economic development and non-governmental organizations seriously by engaging directly with them.
Task force took all affected sides seriously by engaging directly with them
To be true to the goal of designing and implementing a just transition, all of these perspectives must be taken and regarded as valid in their own right. By sticking to the principle, the task force gave its recommendations the necessary legitimacy towards the national government and Canadian society.
The government has started to establish the first regional transition centers in Alberta
In the 2019 national budget, in response to the task force’s recommendations, the governments devoted CAD 35 million over the next five years to create worker transition centres and to explore new ways to protect wages and pensions.
CAD 150 million infrastructure fund is to be created – starting in 2020-21
Furthermore, a CAD 150 million (USD 112.7 million) infrastructure fund is to be created – starting in 2020-21 – to support priority projects and economic diversification in impacted communities.
Most importantly, the government has started to establish the first regional transition centers in Alberta – centers which support the communities through cutting edge technology to help provide education, make government services more accessible, give assistance with government forms, facilitate meetings, work on business opportunities, and help with the search for jobs.
What is unique about these centers in Canada is that former coal miners provide assistance to fellow miners who are looking for new employment opportunities.