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New research finds Canada at risk of losing jobs in clean energy transition

Updated: Jan 10, 2022

Meeting the Paris emissions targets will create more jobs than it destroys. Such are the optimistic findings of a study released last week in the journal One Earth, based on work from a team of researchers in Europe and Canada.

According to the study, the growth in jobs worldwide required to manufacture and deploy clean energy in the coming decades more than outweighs the jobs lost in fossil fuel industries worldwide on the path to net-zero emissions.

The report found that if the world is to meet our targets under the Paris Agreement, jobs in the energy sector could increase from 18 million globally today to 26 million in 2050.

That’s the good news.

The bad news? The authors found that the opposite is true for Canada. Despite a positive balance of job growth worldwide, this research shows the ledger is negative in countries—like our own—with significant fossil fuel sectors.

If the world achieves our climate targets, the results project stagnant job growth in Canada’s energy sector, even as jobs increase by nearly 50% in the rest of the world.

These results should give policymakers across the country significant cause for reflection. For me, it highlights a few important reminders about how Canada must approach the coming transition:

Providing support to workers in transition needs to be a priority

If Canada is to reach our climate goals, it is likely that the coming decades will see many fossil fuel workers put out of work. Providing robust transition supports to these workers will be essential, including retraining programs, job creation and improved social security.

Fortunately, many new workers will be needed to support a booming clean energy economy.

Canada’s fossil fuel workers are some of the most capable and best trained in the world, and—with strategic support—could be well positioned to transfer those skills to jobs in clean energy. For example, with support, the oil and gas workers of today could become the pipe fitters, technicians, and engineers of tomorrow’s hydrogen economy.

Because the net zero transition will fail if a significant number of Canadians feel it represents a threat to their livelihoods. All Canadians—including those in fossil fuel industries—must see the transition as in their best interest.

If those practical reasons for action weren’t enough, it’s also the case that supporting these workers in transition is just the right thing to do. We wouldn’t abandon workers in any other industry whose livelihoods came under threat—the same must be true for fossil fuels.

Double down on energy sources that create good jobs here at home

As the report makes clear, when it comes to jobs not all energy sources are made equal. Energy sector jobs that are not tied to a location—such as manufacturing parts—are subject to immense competition between jurisdictions.

For Canada, we may be hard-pressed to win this competition. Previous experience has shown that it is difficult to attract and retain these jobs when faced with competition from lower-cost jurisdictions.

As Canada scales up our clean energy efforts, we should think carefully about the type of jobs we are supporting. Are they overwhelmingly resulting in manufacturing and resource extraction that happens in low-cost jurisdictions? Or do they support local, unionized workforces like those that run our nuclear and hydroelectric plants?

We can no longer take Canada’s energy independence for granted

Thanks to a strong fossil fuel sector, abundant hydroelectricity, and a world-leading nuclear industry, Canada has long enjoyed a level of energy independence that is the envy of much of the world. While not completely independent, our country has sufficient domestic energy to not be overly reliant on any one outside partner for our critical infrastructure.

But as we phase out domestic fossil fuel production, this independence could come under threat. If domestic oil sources are replaced with solar cells, wind turbines and batteries sourced from abroad, Canada could find ourselves reliant on global supply chains largely outside of our control.

We can overcome this challenge by investing more in those energy technologies that reinforce our long-term energy independence. Technologies like carbon capture, hydrogen, SMRs, and traditional nuclear generation have an integrated domestic manufacturing base.

This means they can reduce emissions and provide us with the clean energy we need, while still supporting good jobs here at home.

The NII, in collaboration with Bruce Power, recently released a report examining the role of the Bruce site in supporting Canada’s transition to net zero and beyond—including the ongoing provision of good stable jobs.

Check out the report on our website.


Written by David Campbell, former Director at the Nuclear Innovation Institute.


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