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Budget 2022: Disappointment on climate action, Just Transition

A properly funded Just Transition is essential to allowing us to effectively respond to the climate emergency and ensure no one is left behind. 

Ottawa (08 April 2022) — "We are in a climate emergency, but the federal government isn’t acting like it,” said Larry Brown, President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), in response to yesterday’s federal budget. “The climate-related aspects of the budget largely represent incremental steps when transformational change is required.”

Window for action is closing

This federal budget comes in the wake of this week’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which found that the world needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 °C (IPCC). 

The report found that, while there is still a pathway forward, the window is closing, and governments need to urgently strengthen their targets and plans. The report identifies solutions, emphasizing the need for the phaseout of fossil fuels and the need for transformational change towards a more just economy.

Continued support for fossil fuel industry 

Despite climate scientists’ call for action, the federal government has released a budget that says little about the phaseout of fossil fuels. 

In fact, a major piece of this budget is a corporate tax credit for carbon capture and storage (CCUS). One former Shell executive has described it as an unreliable technology and called government support for CCUS "misguided" (The Hill Times). Academics have also raised concern that it will reinforce our dependence on fossil fuels. This tax credit is, effectively, another subsidy to the fossil fuel industry.

It must be noted that, just this week, the government approved the Bay du Nord project, a new fossil fuel project. Advocates have pointed to this as an example of this government’s “climate hypocrisy” (Climate Action Network).

In the face of global crises, now is the time to accelerate efforts to transition to a greener economy, not double down on fossil fuel dependency (Green Economy Network).

Just Transition

Crucial to the discussion about the energy transition is involving affected workers and communities in the decision-making processes. NUPGE is among the many voices that have been calling for a Just Transition for affected workers and communities

People know that major changes are needed to respond to climate change, and there is widespread support for the government taking bolder action. But people are also concerned that, without the necessary government planning, supports, and dialogue with those affected, they will be left struggling, or existing inequalities will persist. A properly funded Just Transition is essential to allowing us to effectively respond to the climate emergency and ensure no one is left behind. 

Although the budget acknowledges the need to create “sustainable jobs,” and makes a single reference to Just Transition, it does not allocate resources, nor does it address the government’s 3-year-old promise for Just Transition legislation. It also does not address the impacts of the transition on broader communities. 

Climate justice needed 

Environmental degradation and climate change have disproportionately negative effects on vulnerable and marginalized communities. While the budget does include the odd reference to this fact, a climate justice lens is missing, and the budget does little to address these unequal impacts.

The budget does little to support people experiencing energy poverty or the workers and communities who will be affected by the inevitable transition away from fossil fuels. Many of the references to Indigenous communities relate to consultations, rather than committing to honouring Indigenous rights and sovereignty when it comes to land and resources. 

Invest in public services

There are new investments in climate action in this budget, consistent with what was promised in last week’s Emissions Reduction Plan. There are important investments in adaptation, including monitoring and responding to wildfires. But the government could have gone farther. 

This budget reveals the government’s emphasis on technological solutions and attracting private investment, rather than public spending and investing in public services. For example, there are significant investments for zero emission vehicles (ZEVs), but not for public transit. 

It’s been 6 years since Via Rail first proposed high-frequency passenger rail service between Toronto and Quebec City, but the project still hasn’t received the support to get past the planning stage. Instead, the government appears to be wasting time looking for ways to privatize the proposed service. And even though other countries are showing that improving passenger rail is an effective way to reduce emissions, the federal government isn’t even looking at what could be done outside of the Toronto to Quebec City route.  

There are also few details about the Canada Growth Fund, which the government claims will accelerate private investment to decarbonize the economy. 

The government itself is uniquely positioned to be able to invest at the scale required, as NUPGE has emphasized. This budget suggests that the government is shying away from this role—its obligation, arguably—to facilitate the transition to a just and sustainable economy.