This morning the federal government announced a $1.6B bailout for tar sands producers. Instead of responding to the urgent climate crisis, shrinking oil prices, and the successful efforts to block tar sands production and pipeline construction by investing in a just transition towards a sustainable economy, the federal government has decided to double down on one of the most carbon-intensive and expensive reserves in the world.
According to CBC:
“The federal government is promising more than $1.6 billion — most of it in loans — to support the ailing energy sector as political tensions in the Ottawa-Alberta relationship run high.
“The bulk of the money — $1 billion in commercial support — comes from Export Development Canada, the national export credit agency. It's meant for oil and gas exporters who want to invest in new technologies and diversify their markets.
An additional $150 million is pegged for clean growth and infrastructure projects — $50 million of it coming from Natural Resources Canada's current Clean Growth Program, a $155 million investment fund for clean technology research and development.”
While this ‘clean growth’ allotment may sound promising, the $150M slated for ‘clean growth’ is less than 10% of the total amount. In addition, the federal government doesn’t specify what these ‘clean’ initiatives are, and still supports the major energy companies that have an alarming degree of influence over our democratic institutions. This ‘clean growth’ funding is certainly not going towards the community-based renewable future we need to build.
Coupled with the Alberta government’s recent commitment to purchase new rail cars and tankers to transport oil, this subsidy demonstrates both provincial and federal support for tar sands production for years to come. Recall not only the 11 year timeline for taking dramatic action to curb climate change, and that the Trudeau government promised as recently as May 2018 to stop subsidizing fossil fuels (and then promptly bought the TransMountain pipeline and now has offered a $1.6B bailout to the industry).
These actions are not only economically unwise, they also demonstrate the governments’ particular brand of climate denial: refusing to take appropriate action in the face of hard science calling for more.
We need good, green jobs
Workers in the tar sands have certainly suffered in the last few years, and they need to be supported to find good, steady work into the future. It’s clear that given the state of the climate and the economy that now is the time to invest in a sustainable energy sector, not the economically volatile and highly toxic tar sands.
The provincial and federal governments have had years to invest in moving workers out of the clearly dwindling tar sands industry and into new sectors. In 2016 oil prices tanked, and now the prices are tanking again. The IPCC and other scientific bodies have issued multiple reports calling for an urgent transition away from fossil fuels, and social movements have shut down new tar sands infrastructure again and again. These were all opportunities for our governments to support the move to a new economic future. Instead of taking these opportunities they gambled workers’ security and the stability of the climate by putting more and more eggs in the tar sands basket.
In place of this reckless $1.6B bailout, the federal government could have invested in renewable energy production, Alberta could reduce its emissions by 5-7 megatons while creating 19 000 jobs, according to the Green Economy Network’s One Million Climate Jobs report.
Like we said last week when Notley cut tar sands production limits: this moment could be the beginning of a managed and just transition away from the sector and towards renewable energy and other low-carbon sectors. Instead, the federal government is doubling down on climate-forcing fossil fuel production.
This shows our movement is working
It is in this absence of any meaningful climate action that the movement to stop new oil sands pipelines has sprung up and it has been overwhelmingly effective. Diverse coalitions using a variety of tactics have stopped or stalled all but two of seven large-scale (over 150,000 barrels per day) proposed pipelines for oil sands expansion since 2005: Northern Gateway, Keystone XL, Energy East, Line 3, and the TransMountain Expansion. While rail transport of Alberta bitumen has expanded dramatically, the new rail that has come online or is set to still pales in comparison to what these new pipelines would have added.
These pipeline-stalling efforts are a large part of the reason that there is a supply glut in the oil sands right now, and why Notley has called for a temporary cut in production (though it is important to note again that this glut is not as economically damaging as Alberta's UCP, NDP, or media would have us believe.)
Our movement’s successes are hard to topple. Even Bloomberg says that today’s bailout won’t address the political problems of getting pipelines built. Our movements to block fossil fuel infrastructure is having real impacts on the world, and when government and industry do finally embark on a managed transition towards a just and sustainable future we can claim that as a victory.
But this "climate policy from below" is not enough for us to make adequate progress. On top of these powerful 'NOs' we need to have a more concrete and hopeful vision to push people towards.
We need a real transition
Rachel Notley's and Justin Trudeau’s governments could have told a different story, that we need to be planning for the world to move on from oil, instead of trying to out-Kenney Kenney at squeezing out as many barrels as we can. This has meant adequate climate action continues to be outside of what's politically possible. But I do think this is a reality we can shift. Whenever we talk to people in person about the need to transition, what that transition could look like, and how we can protect workers through it, they are overwhelmingly open to it.
So in addition to keep-it-in-the-ground efforts to curtail oil sands expansion, we also need to knit all the climate solutions we know into a more compelling and tangible vision. We need to call more loudly than ever for funding for renewables, energy efficiency, health, education, ecological agriculture, and other low carbon sectors. We need to call for worker retraining, clean up of abandoned oil projects, making our cities walkable, bikeable & transit-friendly, and upholding Indigenous rights. We need to call for a Green New Deal as the progressive wing of the U.S. Democrats, amongst many others, are calling for these days.
Already in communities across Canada we’re seeing plans and visions for the just transition popping up. In Nova Scotia communities have come together to create the 2030 Declaration, in the Northwest Territories they have build the Common Front, and across the country people have been supporting the Leap Manifesto. These are certainly not the first visions for a transition – the 1 Million Climate Jobs from 2015 lays out specific investments the government could make and details how they would create a million jobs across Canada. This transition is possible, and our movement has the power to create it.
If we do it right, the next time the Alberta government calls for a supply cut, it will be part of a managed transition plan to a better future, and not a questionable strategy to keep a dying industry afloat.