A recent report by the Columbia Institute concluded that getting to “net zero” emissions by 2050 could generate nearly 20 million jobs in Canada. (See our post on the report)
According to the authors, Jobs for Tomorrow is the first study to predict potential impacts on the construction industry if Canada implements policy and investments, both public and private, to meet our Paris Agreement goals.
The study found that serious efforts to decarbonize the Canadian economy will create significant opportunities for those in construction trades.
ACW caught up with Columbia Institute’s executive director and research team leader for the report, Charley Beresford, in Vancouver. We also spoke with Lee Loftus, who is Business Manager of BC Insulators Local 118, and Executive Director of The British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council, which is a partner organization with the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW) project. The report was commissioned by Canada’s Building Trades Unions.
ACW: Charley, in what important way does your research further our understanding of the relationship between climate change mitigation and adaptation, and employment?
CB: This is a significant contribution to climate action dialogue and practice; here at home in Canada and in other countries too. We are already getting broad enquiries. Jobs for Tomorrow looks at job opportunities as we transition to a low carbon economy through a new lens — Building Trades — and its clear that we can’t transition to a low carbon economy without the active participation of people who work in the building trades. We will need huge build outs in clean electricity systems, greening our buildings; both new and old, and in our transportation systems. These are the three pathways to Net Zero that we focussed on in our report, but it should be noted that there are building trades implications in all sectors and the jobs numbers we have described in the report are consequently conservative.
ACW: Were either of you surprised by the findings?
CB: Yes, we were. When you consider that we will need new infrastructure and that it is the building trades who build things, it’s logical, but the scale of our findings surprised us.
LL: I was not surprised by the findings. The work we do in the construction sector is always leading edge in both technology and design, so as we move to a lower carbon economy I would expect our industry to be the builders delivering the infrastructure that will help us meet Canada’s commitment to 2050 and Net Zero. The numbers are larger than I expected and I am glad they broke out direct and in-direct jobs rather than trying to lump them together.
ACW: The report avoids the use of the term “green jobs.” Why so?
CB: The term “green jobs” has many interpretations. Some think it applies only to those jobs that are directly interfacing with our natural environment. We think it applies to those jobs that contribute to a reduction in green house gas emissions. In the case of Jobs for Tomorrow, we are not talking new types of jobs, we are talking about existing skills applied to new types of projects.
LL: Green Jobs are great jobs, but there is too much confusion in the term. We avoided this job description even though many will claim the green projects are green jobs, but they are just an extension of what we do today. The electrical, Run of the River and Dam construction, district energy, bio mass is work we have been doing since I started in construction back in the 1970’s. So to call them green would be miss leading as nothing has changed.
ACW: Lee, do workers constructing “green buildings” require special training? If so, should infrastructure spending include any training needed for the workforce?
LL: That’s an interesting question. The construction industry is always embracing tech change and the required training. There will be some additional training required, but not that much. What really needs to be reinforced is the need for infrastructure spending to require mandatory apprenticeship training. The Building Trades believe that its workforce should be made up of 25% of workers to be in training at all times.
ACW: Charley, how will reducing emissions from the highest emitting areas of the economy – Canada’s mining, oil and gas industry – impact efforts to create jobs in other sectors? Is there a need for “just transition?”
CB: As Canada transitions to a low carbon economy, investments and jobs will follow. Oil and gas will play a different role in the economy. Investment is already driving change, as evidenced by International fossil fuel companies divesting themselves from oil sands projects. No one is suggesting that there will be an immediate reduction, but there will be a transition.
ACW: Is there a danger that the billions of dollars committed to be spent on infrastructure by governments could be directed toward projects that will not help to reduce Canada’s GHG emissions? e.g. highways instead of transit? If so, what impact would that have?
CB: Our opportunity to take action on climate change through our infrastructure investments is here now. How we choose to build our infrastructure will influence our low carbon economy trajectory. It’s important that infrastructure investment decisions be accompanied by a climate impact analysis.
ACW: The study suggests a small increase in hydroelectic power and a large expansion of wind power. With public resistance to new dam construction in BC, and new wind farms in Ontario, for example, will public opinion have to adjust in order to achieve these job-creation goals?
CB: The reaction to Manitoba’s wind farms was very different than in Ontario. Farmers there welcome the income the wind farms bring. How programs roll out matters. Distributed energy — producing electricity closer to where it is being consumed is one of the pathways forward – for hydro and other sources of clean electricity, and community engagement is essential.
ACW: Lee, what effect do you hope the release of the report and its findings will have on government policy, and public opinion?
LL: We think this report will provoke government to looks for a pathway concerning jobs and climate change. We think this is well thought out and will become a basis for public policy at all three levels of government.
As to the Public Opinion, we are hopeful that the public will better understand the role of the construction industry plays in our economy and how we have been leading change for generations. Any new design, any new technology, any new shift in public policy is always delivered by those who build it and that’s what we do, we build things. We want them to know none of this is new to us and hopefully they will see a future in joining our workforce to take an advantage of good paying and community supporting jobs.
This document is something we have been lacking for our members. We never (or rarely) promote the work we do, we just move to the next job. The report will allow us to explain to our members that the work they do today and the Jobs for tomorrow are the answers to Net Zero by 2050. It will allow them to tell their children at the dinner table, that what they did at work today is helping save the environment. It should change the conversation on the jobsites and in the lunchroom to a positive. It should allow our members to look beyond a specific project and look to the bigger picture.
CB: We are hoping this landmark study points the way forward to accelerated investment in the low-carbon infrastructure we need for a low carbon economy! The jobs numbers are reassuring for those who may be worried about whether there are jobs in a low carbon world. In the meantime, we know we must exponentially intensify our climate commitments to keep the hope of staying within 2 degrees of warming possible. Our study shows that the more intensely we build out the low-carbon infrastructure we need, the more we create good, family supporting jobs. Good for the planet and good for our economy!
ACW: Thank you Charley Beresford and Lee Loftus!