A number of CJS organizers just returned from the Just Transitions Summit on Treaty 4 territory in Regina. It was a highly energizing experience. Over 150 folks turned out for the two-day event covering a wide range of topics and starting serious conversations about planning a just transition in Saskatchewan. A major thank you is owed to the organizers of the conference and the other co-sponsors: SaskForward, the Corporate Mapping Project, RPIRG, and UNIFOR.
Here we want to share a few highlights for those that weren’t able to join for the weekend. All of the keynotes and workshops were video and/or audio recorded. Follow SaskForward for that content as it becomes available. We also captured parts of a few presentations and some interviews for our radio show From the Ground Up (CFCR 90.5FM, Wednesdays at 6:30pm) – you can listen to the episode at the bottom of this page.
Effects of a changing climate on SK
David Sauchyn, Senior Research Scientist with the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative, set the stage by outlining climate change impacts on Saskatchewan. His research shows that the province should expect somewhat warmer and fairly dry summers, and substantially warmer and wetter winters as the climate warms. While some politicians and others have posited that northern countries like Canada could stand to benefit from a warming climate, Sauchyn urged caution: while longer growing seasons could result in higher crop yields, the variability in extreme weather from year to year is most likely to result in a roller-coaster of bumper crops and failed crops. Moreover, we’re already beginning to lose the advantages of a very cold winter: control of pests and invasive species and immense amounts of snow. Additionally and related, Saskatchewan is facing serious water security issues in a warming world, which could further strain agriculture. There is no doubt that the province would be best served by keeping rising temperatures as low as possible.
Transitioning energy & power together
Emily Eaton, Professor of Geography at the University of Regina, and Simon Enoch, director of the Saskatchewan office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, dove a bit into Saskatchewan’s oil economy, looking at what’s driving our rising emissions and what’s blocking mitigating action. They noted that while most provinces actually managed to reduce their emissions from 2005-2015, those reductions were completely offset by drastic increases in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In Saskatchewan, those increases are being driven primarily by industry and especially oil and gas extraction. Over that time period residential energy use remained relatively static,with residential electricity accounting for just 16.5% of usage. In contrast, just 35 industrial customers account for 45% of usage. Clearly, placing the burden on residents to lead the transition is disingenuous and won’t work – a comprehensive plan covering industry and a plan for 100% renewable electricity is the only way to make the transition viable. This necessitates challenging power as part of the transition – holding those most responsible to account, and planning to help everyone make it through the process. You can read Eaton’s op-ed published in advance of the Summit, and outlining this argument, here. The bottom line is that Saskatchewan’s current plans are woefully inadequate – not including the carbon credits the government hopes to receive, its plans will result in only a little over 10MT of reductions by 2030.
Labour and the Just Transition in Saskatchewan
Hardian Mertins-Kirkwood from the national CCPA office examined employment numbers in Saskatchewan to outline the challenge from a labour perspective. Fossil fuels account for approximately 19% of the provincial economy, and 3% of our direct employment – this is actually second most in the country, tied with Newfoundland & Labrador behind Alberta’s 7%. In Saskatchewan, this accounts for a little over 15,000 jobs. There are another 6% employed indirectly, including jobs like construction, but these tend to be more easily shifted to other sectors. It was noted too that Saskatchewan now has as many as 25,000 environmental professionals. Certainly, the prospects for creating jobs during the transition are tremendous, particularly focusing on three key pillars: renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean transportation. However, this takes careful planning, particularly to ensure that new jobs are created where they’re needed, which in Saskatchewan includes a large number of rural communities. Furthermore, Mertins-Kirkwood cautioned against over-simplified approaches, such as offering supports in fossil-fuel dependent communities only to those directly employed by the industry. In some cases in Alberta, for example, coal workers are eligible for tuition vouchers, but people working in supporting industries are not, leaving many people unprotected. Indeed, it was emphasized that a just transition must be for everyone. While fossil fuel workers are a key constituency as the most immediately affected, they are far from the only ones, and people in servicing industries are more likely to be minorities and economically disadvantaged to begin with. This further underscores the need for careful planning. On this note, Mertins-Kirkwood was careful to point out that many of the policies needed to help everyone through the transition are features of a robust socialist state – comprehensive benefits and insurance and free tuition, for example.
Decolonization and Indigenous solutions
Finally, Michelle Brass, a member of Peepeekisis First Nation and a steering committee member at Indigenous Climate Action, rounded out the keynote speakers and powerfully asserted the importance of Indigenous knowledge, traditions, and leadership in addressing the climate crisis and making a just transition. She explained that while Indigenous peoples have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions they are often the first and worst impacted by climate change, particularly those that retain close ties to the land. In addition, Indigenous peoples have been the first and most persistent resisters to the continuation of the status quo. As such, Brass called on Canadians to support Indigenous leadership – to really take Indigenous knowledge seriously in discussions about transitioning. In particular, she shared a lot about the work of Indigenous Climate Action, an organization that is working to equip Indigenous communities across the country to deal with climate change and lead the way to a more just future – this is an initiative that deserves broad support. Another Indigenous solution we heard about was One House Many Nations, courtesy of a presentation by Idle No More’s Alex Wilson – you can listen to a CBC interview about the project here.
In addition to these informative and inspiring keynotes, there were a number of presentations and workshops led by other groups and individuals. We at CJS presented on research about phasing out coal, including transitioning the electrical grid and engaging with coal-producing communities, about which we’ll be sharing more on this site soon; Jared Clarke ran workshops for educators on teaching about climate change and transition; the Wascana Solar Coop presented about its renewable energy project; the National Farmer’s Union presented on transitioning agriculture; and various unions ran a discussion on organized labour. Clearly many important discussions were begun, and now we have to see them carried forward. One development worth noting is that the day after the Summit ended, Regina city council unanimously adopted a motion committing the city to becoming 100% renewable by 2050 – a positive step towards the carbon neutrality we must achieve by mid-century. We hope to see the rest of the province – including Saskatoon – following suit soon.
This brief post offers just a snapshot of the critical conversations that took place in Regina last weekend – follow SaskForward for more information, listen to From the Ground Up below to hear more about our take, and watch for further opportunities to continue these discussions.
Media coverage of the Summit
CBC – Indigenous perspective must be heard on climate change, Regina conference told
Global – Regina summit discusses climate change, transition to low-carbon economy
CTV – Regina summit hoping to change Sask. climate change narrative
CBC – Regina summit looks at what shift from coal to renewable energy means for future of Sask. economy
LeaderPost – Drastic overhaul, Indigenous voices essential to tackling climate change, summit hears