Time to transition to a just low-carbon economy

By: John Cartwright

Contributor and President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council

Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019


The global climate crisis is real. Canada is warming at twice the global rate. Recent polls show the majority of Canadians are very concerned about climate change, even while unsure of carbon pricing. But while evidence of climate change is becoming harder to deny, we are running out of time to make a just transition to a low-carbon economy.

Around the world this past year, millions of students have walked out of school and dozens of global cities have declared climate emergencies. The disproportionate impact upon racialized communities and Indigenous people is well-documented.

Meanwhile, the Trudeau government purchased and forced through the construction of a pipeline and Conservative provincial governments are systematically dismantling existing environmental protections. The ballot question this October is about whether we’ll have more of the same — or worse — or whether we’re ready for real change.

To those who say taking action could hurt the economy, the response is clear: there are no jobs on a dead planet. If humanity is to survive, we must challenge powerful corporate interests that relentlessly press governments around the world to expand fossil fuel extraction.

Worldwide, governments, companies, unions, and individuals are taking real steps toward environmental sustainability. Among many important examples, we’re seeing workers and communities adopting the concept of a “just transition.” This year, Canada’s Just Transition Task Force issued its report calling for a phase-out of coal while supporting affected workers and their communities.

There’s no doubt that changing our economy will take hard work, but we do have an important guiding precedent. Four decades ago, Canadian unions challenged the accepted norm of workplace accidents and deaths by building a health and safety movement. We had to confront employers and politicians, educate our members, build alliances, fight for regulations, and win laws for the implementation of workplace health and safety committees. We succeeded in dramatically reducing fatalities and occupational disease in Ontario.

We are ready to do it again, and the Labour Council’s document Greenprint for Greater Toronto maps a path forward.

Toronto’s labour movement is committed to help make the transition. Here are three steps that could help take our society closer to a sustainable future:

  • Mobilize a network of activists to take the issue of climate justice to every workplace and community, explaining how failing to act now means we’ll pay much more later.
  • Create joint environment committees in every major workplace to help guide the transition to low-carbon operations.
  • Partner with racial justice and environmental organizations to help deepen society’s commitment to equity, community benefits and good jobs for all.

We need to demand more of governments and political leaders, and to call out those who are taking us backwards. Our environment — and our livelihood — is at risk. Each individual and organization has a role to play. We are called upon to build a broad social movement to fight for climate justice.


John Cartwright is President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council.

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